Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sin is No Match for the Spirit of God: The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our Readings for this Sunday may seem dour at first, dominated by discussion of going to hell and the merits of self-amputation, but the First Reading actually points us in the right direction to overcome sin and hell and live in joy.  We will see how as the Readings unfold:

1.  Our First Reading is from Numbers 11:25-29:
The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.
Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,
the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders;
and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.

Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
yet the spirit came to rest on them also,
and they prophesied in the camp.

Friday, September 28, 2012

To Everything There Is a Season ...

OK, so how many people went to Mass today and were hearing the Byrds in their heads during the First Reading?

Move over Dan Schutte—try the Byrds as liturgical musicians.

I wonder how many people in America think those lyrics were actually written by the Byrds.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Now Ecclesiastes Gets Its Turn

"Vanity of Vanities! All is Vanity! saith the Preacher."

Yes, indeed.  So the classic catch-line of Ecclesiastes rings out through churches across the land.

If you are a daily communicant, you know that Ecclesiastes is now getting its 15 minutes (or less) of fame in the daily readings.

To honor the occasion, let's talk about Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes is one of the most atypical books of the Old Testament, a composition virtually unique in its genre that voices opinions seemingly contrary to the mainstream of biblical

Wrapping Up on Proverbs

That's it!  If you blinked, you missed it.  Proverbs has just three days of seriatim reading during ferial days, and now they're done.  In this post, we wrap up Proverbs, giving a liturgical perspective on the book:
Liturgical Perspective
Proverbs emphasizes the practice of virtue in daily life in an international context, so there is less focus on the liturgy than in some other books.  Nonetheless, a Christian reading of the Book does perceive some important liturgical themes, even beyond a few individual proverbs that encourage diligent participation in the cult (Prov. 3:9).
            Proverbs identifies “Fear of the LORD” as the beginning of wisdom, and the term “fear” conveys an attitude of reverence, which is broader than, but would include, formal acts of worship. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

More on Proverbs

Today is the last day Proverbs is read in the First Reading for daily mass (Prov. 30:5-9), so I'm posting more on this gem of a book:

Authorship and Date
The text of Proverbs attributes most of the book to Solomon himself (1:1; 10:1; 25:1), but some parts to anonymous sages (“the wise,” 22:17; 24:23) or the two otherwise-unknown Gentiles Agur (30:1-14) and King Lemuel (31:1-9).  Certain scribes working for Hezekiah gain credit for compiling chs. 25-29 (25:1).
            In modern critical scholarship, Solomonic authorship of Proverbs is usually dismissed, for a variety of stated reasons, at the heart of which is a general skepticism about the historicity of

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Proverbs Makes Its Cameo Appearance

If you are a daily communicant, you might notice that the Book of Proverbs is making its "cameo appearance" right now in the First Reading of daily Mass. In Weeks 25-26 of Year II of Ordinary Time, we get readings from the Wisdom Literature in the First Reading of ferial days.  Proverbs gets just three days allotted: Monday through Wednesday of Week 25.  That's right now.

So, to mark this special occasion, one of the few occassions that Proverbs gets "air time" in the Liturgy, I thought I'd post some discussion of this wisdom book for the entertainment of our blog readers:

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of short, pithy statements expressing the basic principles for leading a prudent and therefore prosperous life.  It is the foundational book of the wisdom literature collection.  Proverbs lays out the fundamental principles of “wisdom” (Heb. hokhmah), or prudence for living, and all other wisdom books may be viewed as building on it, either by dealing with exceptions to the principles it lays out (e.g. Job, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon) or by further development of the principles themselves (e.g. Wisdom, Sirach).
            In the Jewish tradition, Proverbs (Heb. sepher mishlēy, “The Book of the Proverbs of [Solomon]”, or simply mishlēy, “Proverbs of”) is found in the third canonical division, the

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Great Catholic Commentary Set

For those looking for good Catholic commentaries on the New Testament, I'd like to remind everyone about the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture Series, which includes volumes by Peter Williamson, Mary Healy, Curtis Mitch, Edward "Ted" Sri, and several others.  This is a great resource for those looking for a critically informed yet theological and liturgically sensitive commentary series.  Click here for more information.

Gentleness in the Midst of Suffering: The Readings for the 24th Week of Ordinary Time

Looking over the readings for this week, I was reminded of a classic scene from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker find themselves, after a long separation, suddenly reunited—but as prisoners of their common enemy, Jabba the Hutt:

Han Solo: Together again, huh?
Luke: Wouldn't miss it.
Han Solo: How we doin'?
Luke: Same as always.
Han Solo: That bad, huh?

In this Sunday's readings, we have texts from a wide range of periods in salvation history: a psalm of David (c. 1000 BC), a reading from Wisdom (c. 100 BC), a gospel narrative (c. AD 30), and a letter of St. James to the early Church (c. AD 50).  Every text reflects the godly person or persons being persecuted in some way.  Furthermore, as we read these texts we can't help but think of the various forms of hostility or persecution the Church is experiencing in our own country and throughout the world.  So: "How we doin'? --"Same as always."  Persecution is nothing new: it is the "normal" of those who would follow Jesus.  Nonetheless, we find in these readings that the hope of resurrection empowers us to be both joyful and gentle in the midst of the sufferings we experience.

1. Our First Reading is Wis 2:12, 17-20:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Extra-Marital Sexuality and the Undermining of the Family Unit

John W. Miller's book Biblical Faith and Fathering, published in 1989, was prophetic: the social consequences he foresaw of the rejection of God-as-Father and the biblical ideals of fathering have all come to pass, and grown much worse. For that reason, I'm going to continue to post some of his most poignant observations, like the following:

Biblical tradition upholds the integrity of the marital bond between a man and his wife by its very explicit and detailed teaching against adultery in all its forms--whether as incest (see Lev 18; 20:8-21), or philandering (see Prv 5; 7:6-27), or as the outright seduction of another man's wife (Ex 20:14).  Needless to say, where adultery is not proscribed in this outright manner, the foundations of the father-involved family are undermined.   Israel was therefore not unjustified in regarding its teachings and laws on this issue specifically as among its most important distinguishing characteristics.  Failure to hold firm on this point, it was believed, would result in her being "vomited out" of the land (Lev 18:24, 28). Marital fidelity, on the other hand, guaranteed the stability of the two-parent family and helped to secure the respect due to both parents, father and mother. (p. 70, emphasis mine).
How are we doing in America, where virtually no forms of adultery are sanctioned either legally or socially; and, in fact, movies and television portray adulterous relationships positively?  Who was the genius that thought that would be a good idea for society?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hahn, "The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire" (Part 3: 1 Chr 1-9)

Read Part 1 and Part 2

I move now into Chapter 1 of Hahn's commentary on Chronicles. Here Hahn looks at 1 Chronicles 1-9. Again, I cannot offer a comprehensive treatment; here I simply touch upon some of the insights I found most incisive.

I must reiterate that this overview doesn't do this section justice; it is incredibly rich. Hahn's arguments are detailed, well-supported and extremely impressive. I'm simply summarizing them, so I can't offer all the references he does.

Scott has told me, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." I hope he doesn't regret those words because my brief review here will fail to convey the power of this chapter.

Don't forget, you can buy the book here.

The Cosmic Implications of Israel's Election

After outlining 1 Chronicles 1-9, Hahn turns his attention to the genealogies that begin his work, which stretch all the way back to Adam. Hahn makes a poignant observation,
"While other peoples were intensely interested in the lines of descent of their kings, heroes, and even gods, no other people in antiquity can be found attempting to compile a genealogical record of the entire human race." (emphasis added; 19)
This is truly a stunning fact that is often unmentioned.

He goes on to demonstrate the implications of this: "The genealogies reflect a familial vision of the human race" (20). 

Furthermore, Hahn demonstrates the way Israel functions within the Chronicler's vision. He cites Von Rad, who recognized that the Chronicler "portrays history from Adam onwards as taking place all for [Israel's] own sake" (21). 

As Hahn points out, the Chronicler's outlook coheres well with other Old Testament and Jewish texts. Hahn cites several. For example, God's covenant with Israel is associated with his covenant with creation itself in Jeremiah: 
Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, 26 then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his descendants to rule over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.” (Jer 33:25–26).
Likewise, the Testament of Moses (first century AD), puts it this way: "He created the world on behalf of his people" (1.12-13).

The exile, of course, would seem to cast such theology into a crisis. Writing from a post-exilic standpoint, the obvious questions the Chronicler must address is, "What can election mean when the elected people remain scattered throughout the world, living under foreign domination? What can it mean when there is no son of David on the throne of Israel?" (21)

However, Hahn shows that though the work is a "fiercely nationalist document", the genealogies at the beginning reveal an even larger outlook, an internationalist / cosmic outlook. "From the initial genealogies, Israel's gaze is being directed outward, ad gentes (to the nations). Israel is asked to understand itself in light of the world's beginnings and in light of the history of the world's peoples." (22)

Adam and Israel

Hahn demonstrates that Israel's vocation in Chronicles seems to relate to Adam's role; Israel is called to fulfill the vocation of humanity itself. As a growing number of scholars are recognizing, Adam is described in Genesis as having both a royal task (e.g., having "dominion") and a priestly role. The latter is often overlooked.

Notably, the Chronicler uses the same language to describe the Levites' responsibilities that was associated with Adam. Adam is placed in the garden to "till" ('ābad) and "keep" (šāmar) it (Gen 2:15). These are the same Hebrew words used for the priestly duties of the Levities in Chronicles. As Hahn writes,
"In this the Chronicler is following an Old Testament pattern of usage. When 'ābad and šāmar appear int he same context, they are usually translated, 'serve and guard [or keep]"'; more often than not, the reference is to liturgical servince in the temple or tabernacle (Num. 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6; Ezek. 44:14; discussion in Beale 2004: 66-70). (27)
Later on Hahn will show the Temple of Solomon also seems related to Edenic traditions, but here I am getting ahead of myself.

In short, humanity was created therefore for more than political domination--it was created for worship. 

Hahn goes on to show how Noah and Abraham, both depicted as "New Adam" figures in Genesis, clearly assume Adam's priestly responsibilities, i.e., offering sacrifice, imparting "blessing", etc. (pp. 28-30). In fact, the Chronicler places the temple at Moriah, clearly linking the Davidic kingdom with Abraham's sacrifice (p. 30).

It is no coincidence then that at Sinai Israel is given the vocation of being a "kingdom of priests" (Exod 19:6). Hahn cites N.T. Wright: "Israel's covenantal vocation caused her to think of herself as the Creator's true humanity. . . Israel herself becomes the true Adamic humanity." (31).

For the Chronicler, the Davidic kingdom under David and Solomon, which represents an era of international cooperation in the cult (stay tuned!), represents the "zenith" of salvation history (32). The hope for restoration of the Kingdom of David--in this form--involves a cosmic dimension. Hahn cites Ackroyd: "Restoration is not for Israel alone, but is related to the wider purposes of God for the nations." (34).

Contrary to the exclusivist tendencies found in Ezra and Nehemiah, the genealogy of Judah in Chronicles involve numerous cases of intermarriage.

Hahn writes:
"The implication is that God's people is to be understood, not as a political, geographic , or ethnic reality, but as a religious or liturgical one. Israel, the kingdom of God, is a liturgical empire, an empire of prayer. In this kingdom, life is liturgy, and worship is aimed at the transformation of the world into a temple of the living God." (35)
Implications for New Testament Studies

In the final pages of this section of his commentary, Hahn demonstrates ways in which the basic outlook of the Chronicler relates to the New Testament. Indeed, the international outlook expressed in Chronicles is clearly evident in the New Testament. And just as David plays pivotal role in the story of salvation for the Chronicler, so too the New Testament reveals the true zenith of salvation history in the coming of the son of David. Indeed, it is no wonder that Luke's genealogy of Jesus stretches all the way back to Adam.

Hahn ends this section with the following quote from Jerome on the importance of "the book of Paralipomenon":
"The book of Paralipomenon is an epitome of the Old Testament and is of such scope and quality that anyone wishing to claim knowledge of scripture without it should laugh at himself. For because of the individual names mentioned and the composition of words, both historical events omitted in the books of Kings are touched on and innumerable questions pertinent to the gospel are explained" (Epistle 53.8).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Paradox of Discipleship: The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

We have been getting a number of rousing challenges from Jesus in the past several weeks, as our Readings have followed the progress of his ministry, and Jesus repeatedly makes clear that following him is not going to be easy in any way.  

 This Sunday we get another challenge from Jesus to “fish or cut bait” in our relationship with him.  Paradoxically, however, if we think we are going to preserve our lives and comfort by turning away from him, Jesus warns us: long term, that’s a bad strategy.

1.  Our First Reading is one of the Servant Songs of the Book of Isaiah 50:4-9:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hahn, "The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire" (Part 2: Introduction to Chronicles)

Read Part 1: Endorsements and Preliminaries

Hahn begins his commentary with an introduction to Chronicles, entitled, "Now the Records Are Ancient". Here Hahn introduces some of the major motifs and ideas the dominate 1-2 Chronicles. This chapter introduces key ideas that will be more fully developed in the commentary.

I hope this overview will encourage you to buy the book--and even more importantly read it. Again, it's available here.

The Past as Prologue

Hahn points out that the first word that occurs in Chronicles is significant: "Adam". He writes that with this introduction the author "signals his ambition to tell the word's story from the beginning--from the creation of the first man--to the end--his own time in the late sixth or early fifth century BC. . ." (1).

Hahn observes that it is probably no coincidence that rabbinic tradition placed the book at the end of the Hebrew canon: the book was understood as a kind of summation of biblical history. But the work was clearly intended as more than a historical overview.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hahn, "The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire" (Part 1: Preliminaries and Endorsements)

Scott Hahn's new commentary on 1-2 Chronicles is by far and away the most important book I've read this year.

That's not an overstatement.

Full of stunning insights--with implications for both Old Testament and New Testament studies--this book should really be on your priority list. If you're familiar with the hype about Hahn's work, but never read any of his scholarship, read this title. 

Over the next few days I will be posting on this fine commentary. This is not going to be an exhaustive review. Instead, while giving an overview of the book, I'm going to cherry-pick some of my favorite elements.

But first, a few preliminaries. . .

Readable Scholarship

Scott Hahn writes two very different kinds of works: works intended for an academic audience (e.g., an Anchor Yale Bible Reference title; a treatment of Pope Benedict's work; pieces in JBL, CBQ, etc.) and popular-level material, e.g., Rome Sweet Home (Ignatius Press, 1993); The Lamb's Supper (Doubleday, 1997); Reasons to Believe (Doubleday, 2007).

While this commentary is very readable, it definitely falls into the first of those two categories. In other words, if you're looking for fascinating / entertaining personal anecdotes or "punny" titles, this is not that kind of work.

Yet that's definitely not to say that this book is so technical it can only be appreciated by scholars. It is incredibly clear and well-worth the time of anyone is who is at the "intermediate" level of biblical studies.

Praise for Hahn's Commentary

Before I turn my attention to the book itself, check out what some others have said about it:

Friday, September 07, 2012

VIDEO: Jon Stewart and the "Dictatorship of Relativism"

Pope Benedict XVI writes about the "dictatorship of relativism". Here's a great clip from the Jon Stewart show that seems to illustrate the way "inclusiveness" usually just means "people who think like I do".

Beware of the myth of "pure objectivity"!

"I would never call a redneck a name." What a relief!

Jesus the "Reverse Psychologist"?: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

"Reverse Psychology" describes the attempt to motivate individuals to action by telling them to do the opposite of what is actually desired.  The method is based on the assumption of the perversity of human nature.  Since we tend to do disobey whatever commands we receive, why not command what is wrong, and then our natural "disobedience" will result in good?

It sounds fine in theory, but I've tried it with my kids: "Don't do your chores.  Don't finish your schoolwork.  Eat up all the remaining ice cream."  Reverse psychology doesn't seem to work in practice. 

In this Sunday's Gospel, though, Jesus seems to try "reverse psychology" on the blind man he heals.  But is that what is really going on?

1.  Our First Reading is from Isaiah 35:4-7:

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

More from John W. Miller on God-as-Father

"The proposal that God is sometimes thought of as feminine or genderless in biblical tradition is not supported by the evidence.  On the other hand, Yahweh is not simply regarded as male either, but as a father whose caring is often experienced as mother-like in its tenderness and compassion." (p. 55)

Miller shows (pp. 55-65) that feminine imagery for God in both testaments is rare and invariably indirect.  God is not a mother, though He has mothering qualities.

"Through the rituals of redemption of the first-born, circumcision, and passover, faith in God as redemptive, caring father was linked to human fathering and Israelite fathers came to be involved in the care and teaching of their own children to a degree that was unique in the world of their time." (p. 69)

Miller analyzes the religious rites of the Mosaic Covenant from the perspective of their influence on the practice of fathering in Israelite society, especially (but not limited to) the bonding of fathers with their sons.

Plagiarists: Beware of Biblical Scholars!

This is a story that I've been following for some time but haven't posted on over here. I'm mentioning it here because the whole episode has produced a line that will be immortal.

Over at his blog, New Testament scholar, Mark Goodacre (Duke University), has been highlighting an obituary of Marvin Meyer, a recently deceased biblical scholar, which appeared in the British paper, the Telegraph. As Mark shows, the obituary was obviously plagiarized, using Wikipedia and the New York Times. 

A paper in England, the Private Eye, is now covering the scandal. This one line made my day:
"Moral of the story," Goodacre tells the Eye: "if you are going to plagiarize, don't do it when writing obituaries of scholars whose work involves source criticism of texts."
Of course, "source criticism" involves the effort to identify the original sources used by the authors of the biblical texts. In fact, Mark has famously written a devastating critique of the "Q" hypothesis, namely, that Matthew and Luke both borrowed from a primitive, now lost source of Jesus' teachings. I highly recommend his work.