Tag: Essays

I, Crucifix


I’ve loved Leonard E. Read’s I, Pencil since the first time I read it. I’ve been struck recently that the crucifixion of Jesus was much more complicated to orchestrate than a simple pencil. These words from Peter, in Acts, have been bouncing around in my head (along with John calling Jesus the “lamb slain before the creation of the world” in Revelation.

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” — Acts 2:23

Some of the below either borrows, or quotes, I, Pencil. Which you should read for this to make as much sense as possible (though it should work without that). 

I am the crucifix. Those two wooden planks, fixed together in the shape of the letter t, a symbol familiar to boys and girls and adults throughout the world. A symbol of hope. Affixed to hospitals, churches, and flags. Carried into battle, marking the resting place of the fallen. I am the world most recognised, most powerful, most confused, brand.

I am simultaneously wondrous, and cursed, celebrated and condemned, wisdom and foolishness, power and weakness, honour and humiliation, love and loathing, an instrument of justice and of mercy. I am both physical, and symbolic. I was made to bring darkness and death, but now represent light and life. I do these things, and more. I am taken up in service of many causes, and cause many acts of service.

I am where the triune God, who created the world wrote his signature on the earth, in blood. I am the canvas for a divine masterpiece where His image was held up, writ large, for all to see.

I am the scene of the culmination of his carefully orchestrated plans for his world.

I am so significant that the books written about me could fill a library, and the pieces of me held in churches around the world as relics could fill a ship. Yet nobody knows what tree became me.

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story has transformed the history of the world. And yet, I am a mystery, more than a pencil, a sunset, a flash of lightning, or even the cosmos itself. Sadly, I am taken for granted, as if I were a mere incident, and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For the wise G.K Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

I, Crucifix, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone — if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile, or an airplane, or a mechanical dishwasher, or even a pencil, because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when we see that Rome once crucified 6,000 slaves at once, hung on crosses just like me, planted on the Via Appia.

Ponder me. A stauros. A cross. Consider my stipes and patibulum. The post and bar. Two planks of simple timber. Fixed together. What do you see? Not much that meets the eye. A few metres of hardwood. Splintered and bloody. Stipes implanted in the ground. Reused for victim upon victim. Some ropes. Some pegs and nails. I am physical, and yet symbolic. I have been emblematic for various causes through history, from warriors to medics, from haters to lovers. As an instrument of death in the hands of the Roman Empire I evoked horror, and humiliation, the very people who employ me most are terrified of my power — the orator Cicero insisted Roman citizens should not be confronted with the barbarity of even my name.

Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and complexity of my background.

My family tree may seem, simply and literally, to begin with a tree; a cedar, an olive, or a fig tree, a tree of unknown species, grown somewhere around Jerusalem. Perhaps even the mystical dogwood — though unlikely. I grew from seed, sprouted, shot upwards, branched out, before being felled by an axe and stipped of branch and bark, turned to timber. My construction might seem simple. Two logs held together, and my victim affixed, by spike and rope. You may wish to contemplate the axes, rope, horses and carts, and countless other tools used in harvesting and carting logs to Golgotha and the barracks. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of iron and its smithing into axe heads and blades, the growing of nile grass and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong papyrus rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess tents, the slaves and soldiers overseeing the work, the cookery and the raising of all the foods to feed these mouths. Why, untold numbers of persons had a hand in every cup of wine the soldiers drink, and every piece of armour they wear! Timber was scarce in Jerusalem so my upright pole, my stipes, remained rooted, planted, at the place of the skull, while my victims bore the patibulum from their trial to their deathly destiny.

Don’t overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in creating me, not simply my physical reality, but my meaning.

My origins may seem arboreal, and, indeed, corporeal, and yet, it is the ethereal, symbolic sense of my significance that is where my family tree truly begins. Erected, as I was, in Jerusalem, I carry the stench of a curse for the Hebrew, and the aroma of abasement for the Roman. These odours were cultivated by years of tradition and practice. My ancestors were creations of Darius I of Persia, and employed by Alexander the Great. The Romans perfected my use and made me the most despised symbol in all the world — 6,000 slaves, the army of Spartacus, were once nailed to my predecessors and dotted liberally, one every 33 metres, along the Appian Way, a bloody road map to Roman supremacy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus in book VII of his Roman Antiquities from 7 BC, described the path an individual would take on his journey to death on the wooden arms of my forefathers…

“A Roman citizen of no obscure station, having ordered one of his slaves to be put to death, delivered him to his fellow-slaves to be led away, and in order that his punishment might be witnessed by all, directed them to drag him through the Forum and every other conspicuous part of the city as they whipped him, and that he should go ahead of the procession which the Romans were at that time conducting in honour of the god. The men ordered to lead the slave to his punishment, having stretched out both his arms and fastened them to a piece of wood which extended across his breast and shoulders as far as his wrists, followed him, tearing his naked body with whips. The culprit, overcome by such cruelty, not only uttered ill-omened cries, forced from him by the pain, but also made indecent movements under the blows.”

Observe my function, and my meaning. I am a well-honed instrument of humiliation and torture, the end of a torturous road for the accursed. Those designated as less than nothing in the eyes of the world. I am an instrument of death, and a symbol of power.

“Whenever we crucify the condemned, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this terror. For penalties relate not so much to retribution as to their exemplary effect.”—Quintilian, Declamation 274, The Tyrant Struck By Lightning.

For the Jews, I am anathema. Moses proclaimed that one hung, executed, upon a tree, a tree like me, was accursed by the living God. By the time Rome occupied Israel, death on a tree was a special punishment for traitors — those who sold Israel out to foreign powers, the Temple Scroll discovered amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, says:

“If a man slanders his people and delivers his people to a foreign nation and does evil to his people, you shall hang him on a tree and he shall die. On the testimony of two witnesses and on the testimony of three witnesses he shall be put to death and they shall hang him on the tree. If a man is guilty of a capital crime and flees to other nations, and curses his people, the children of Israel, you shall hang him also on the tree, and he shall die. But his body shall not stay overnight on the tree. Indeed you shall bury him on the same day.” —11QT Temple Scroll LXIV

My history, my family tree, as it were, the origin story behind my significance began even earlier than the practice of crucifixion.

It was no accident that my symbolic was turned upside down, that the Cross became a symbol of glory, and hope, of life, rather than death. It was part of a plan.

A plan that began with two other trees — a tree that brought life, and a tree that brought death. God’s plan to destroy evil, and his promise to crush the Serpent. Satan. A promise centred on the “lamb slain before the creation of the world”— the Lamb, the Son, whose hands flung stars into space and hold heavens and earth together.A plan that would see those hands skewered with odious spikes, on a cursed tree. His feet pierced, his side lanced.

The events that took place, painted in blood on my splintered canvas, were planned from the very beginning, even from before the creation of the world. It was no accident that the divine son of God, the Son of Man, found his arms affixed to mine, it was no accident that those looking on at these events hurled insults — they could do no less. It was no accident that the child of promise arrived at a time in history when I stood tall as a symbol of human power. The symbol that best represented the might of the god-kings of Rome, and their superiority over any who claimed to oppose their right to rule. It was no accident that Jesus was tried as a traitor by both Jews and Romans, and sentenced to an exemplary, cursed death. For many before him, I was a final resting place, corpses were left to rot on my cruel axis. But not for this one. And from this moment on, the fabric of the world was torn asunder, this rending of the heavens, itself, symbolised in the tearing of the Temple curtain, with this shattering of what was, and re-creation of what is, my significance was inverted. The curse reversed.

Does anyone wish to challenge the assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?

Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Indeed, every human hand that has been and will be — hands raised in rebellion against God — play a part in holding the divine Son’s hands to my boards, to holding me together at the centre of history. Every life gives significance to my promise of judgment or mercy. Judgment for the death of the Son, or mercy bought by the blood spilled into the grains of my beams, and on to the earth beneath.

Here is an astounding fact: Neither the Romans who appointed me to my task, nor the Jewish crowd who looked on, not the governor, the timber workers, the soldiers, the quartermaster, the slave, the high priest, the Pharisees or teachers of the law, nor even those hung on my contemporaries on Golgotha, know how I came to be, nor wanted me, or wanted to understand my significance. Certainly I do not occupy the same place in their life, or those lives that came after me, that I do in space and time, or in God’s plans. The motivation of these people is other than me.

Perhaps it is something like this; when people are at last confronted with my significance and place in the plans of the God who orchestrated space and time such that his own shoulders rested on my wood, they are left wanting my significance to be their significance, their motivation, perhaps, at this point shifts, so I am the symbol they take up in order to live and know life.

The master-mind at the heart of my story, my creation, is astounding. The strings of history pulled, twisted, laid out and brought together in my being, and doing, are the product of an invisible hand at work. Not the work of an apprentice, but a virtuoso.

It has been said that “only God can make a tree.” Why do we agree with this? Isn’t it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable! If this is true of any tree — how much more of this tree. The tree at the centre of the universe?

I, Crucifix, am a complex combination of miracles: wood, rope, metal and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies and co-ordination of human history, superstition, culture, and power structures — millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.

The above is what I meant when writing, “If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolise, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.” For, if one is aware that I sit at the heart of divine creativity, that I am the backdrop for the divine drama writ large in history, authored and orchestrated from the beginning of life in this world, then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: faith in God. Freedom is impossible without this faith.

If I, Crucifix, were the only item that could offer testimony to what God accomplishes by divine creative expression, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it’s all about us and on every hand. Sunrise, sunset, the cosmos itself and its beauty is a testimony. The best of our humanity — love, the creation of relationships, life, art, and complex systems that enhance these things. Our co-creativity, our ability to write and appreciate stories, to bring threads together, woven into rich tapestries. The production line for apparently simple devices, like the pencil. The creation of supply chains. Human ingenuity and problem solving as a reflection of the divine nature.

Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person’s home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one’s range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard—halfway around the world—for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!

The lesson I have to teach is this: Let the event at the centre of the world shape life in it. Take up your cross and follow the one whose hands were nailed to my arms. Merely organise society— starting with your own life— to act in harmony with this lesson. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Crucifix, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

10 propositions on the relationship between church, mission, and worship

This semester at college, in the wisdom of our curriculum setters, I’m doing some nicely overlapping thinking across three of my subjects – Church Ministry and Sacraments, Christian Worship, and The Modern Evangelical Movement . This is my attempt to integrate some of that thinking and give you some of the fruit of the grunt work I’ve put in on a couple of essays. I’ll post those essays at Venn Theology at the end of semester if you’d like to read more…

1. It starts with God – God is a relational God – both internally, within the Trinity, and externally – on his own mission – the Missio Dei (Mission of God in Latin). This mission is to gather a people to himself, who will glorify him for eternity – and he conducts this mission by sending Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the world.

2. The Church is on a mission from God – The church is the gathered people of God. We are instruments of God’s mission. United with Christ, equipped by the Spirit to take part in the gathering of God’s people. The church is a divine pyramid scheme – it exists to grow itself. Our union with Christ has an “incarnational” pay off, where when we act together as the Body of Christ we are being like Christ to the world around us. Mission is one of our primary tasks as a church, some have suggested mission is our human focused task, while worship is our god focused task,

3. This mission involves the proclamation of the Gospel in word, deed, and “being” by a priesthood of all believers– perhaps, after reading John Dickson’s Promoting the Gospel this week, “the promotion of the Gospel” is a better category. But we’re all on mission together. This mission will necessarily involve words, but it will also involve demonstrations of the truth of the gospel through how we relate to one another and the world around us as the people of God.

The church’s participation in mission to the world began in earnest with the calling of Paul (Acts 9:15), who defines his mission, which he invites his churches to partake in, as preaching Christ to those who have not heard (Romans 10:14-16, 15:17-21), as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20, Colossians 4:2-6), to bring them to faith (Romans 10:17, 16:25-26, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23), and present them mature in Christ (Colossians 1:25-29).

The church is called to be different (Col 3:1-17, Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18), and its conduct and ‘being’ is a fundamental part of its mission (John 13:35, 17:14-18, 20-23, 1 Peter 2:12, Matthew 5:14-16, Romans 12).

Some see social transformation as the content of evangelism, emphasising the incarnation and conflating “setting the oppressed free” with “proclaiming good news” (cf Luke 4:18-19) – but the preaching of the good news is what truly frees the oppressed.

4. While how we do and think of church (ecclesiology) and how we do and think of mission (missiology) are very closely related – they must be distinct – we can’t collapse them into each other. Many modern “missiologists” see the church exclusively as a tool for mission, so the social context of the church shapes church. If the church is incarnational, and is an entity equipped by God to do certain things (teach the gospel, administer the sacraments, “worship”) – then there are certain things that are non-negotiable even if they’re culturally weird. This is particularly true because part of how we define the church is by looking to the New Creation – where there is no mission to expand the church because the people are already gathered.

5. The Reformers worked with a “mother” analogy for the church. This is helpful. Though mission wasn’t a big deal during Christendom, and was more the role of governments who were understood as God’s tool for expanding the Christian state, the idea that the church is simultaneously responsible for “begetting” the faith of believers and nurturing believers is helpful – especially in the light of discussions and debates about who Sunday gatherings are for – where a dichotomy between serving believers and serving seekers has been unhelpfully pushed in recent times.

6. Mission is worship. If worship is magnifying the work of God as we praise, glorify and serve him, and involves the sacrificial giving of ourselves and our gifts for others (which I think is the definition of worship) – then mission is a form of that. Perhaps the ultimate form of that in our time and space – though this changes in the New Creation.  Participation in the mission of the church, as a subset of the mission of God, can be understood as an extension of the God glorifying purpose of each individual believer for which he has given us gifts that we are to use to build the body.

7. Worship is God focused, but involves being “poured out” in the service of others – Paul frames glorifying God, worship, and service, as using one’s gifts to serve others (Romans 12:1-12, 15:14-17, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5), and sees preaching the gospel as his service and priestly duty (Acts 20:19-27, Romans 1:1, 15:16, Ephesians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, Colossians 1:23-29, Titus 1:1).

God gathers his people to pour them out as gifts for others (Romans 12:1, Ephesians 4:1-16 (Especially if, following Carson, the church is understood as the “host of captives” cf the Levites (Numbers 8, 18)), Philippians 2:17, 2 Timothy 4:6).

Spiritual gifts are used in the service of others, to produce maturity (Ephesians 4:8-16, Colossians 3:12-17, Romans 12:1-16, 1 Corinthians 12, 14), and to proclaim the excellence of God amongst the pagans (1 Peter 2:9-12).

The language used of the church in these passages is the language used to define worship.

8. Worship is mission. This does not necessarily follow point 6, but when point 7 is introduced the argument becomes a little easier to make – the way the church worships God functions as a testimony to others, and thus, alongside point 3, leads to the conclusion that our explicitly God focused worship of God is part of our mission. Because it is part of who we are as God’s people, and who we are as God’s people is part of our mission. This is not its only function – because it is part of what it means to truly be human (if the chief end of man is to Glorify God and enjoy him forever), and we will continue worshipping after every knee has bowed to Jesus, and in the throne room of God after judgment – where there are no non-Christians to gather. But in the here and now – our decision to not worship ourselves, or our idols, is part of our testimony to who God is – and is the only right response to the gospel of Jesus’ Lordship.

9. So, Corporate Worship – the stuff we do when we gather – is also mission.  The tasks of the church – preaching, the sacraments, and ‘worship’ (in the what we do at church sense of the word) – involves making a clear and appealing presentation of the gospel of Jesus. Clarity requires some form of contextualisation. Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 14 seems to base the unbeliever’s response to the gathering in their ability to perceive the truth of the gospel in the clarity of the gathering – corporate worship, the sacraments, and identity shaping orientation in the form of the Sunday service achieve this goal, and simultaneously the goal of worship and mission – when they involve the gathered people of God sacrificially serving one another with their gifts in a manner that clearly demonstrates and declares the truth of the gospel of the crucified saviour. Both aspects of the “mother” role of the church are accomplished in this manner.

10. Clarity on what the gospel is, what mission is, and what worship is, should nurture Christians and encourage them to worship with all of their lives, by being on mission with all of their lives. The Sunday gathering of the church should do this, thinking of the church as the permanent community of God’s people, on a permanent mission, rather than just God’s people when they gather, and missionaries when they’re outside the walls of the gathering is also helpful.

None of this seems all that controversial unless you spend a bunch of time reading stuff by people who disagree with points 3, 4, 9, and 10. Most Christians agree with 1 and 2, while 5, 6, 7 and 8 are matters that are settled by how one understands what the church is, what the gospel is, and what worship is… the methodology I used in coming to these conclusions was largely to start with a look at how the Bible develops the concept of what it means to be the people of God, and how this people is called to interact with God, with each other, and with the world around them.

I think this is a pretty useful way of thinking about life, and church – and even stuff like music – does anybody have any qualms with the logic?


Essays, study notes, and things college related

I don’t like boring people too much with college related stuff in these parts any more. I’d rather bore you by beating the same old drum and ranting about the ACL.

Anyway. I’ve been blogging my exam prep over at Venn Theology – first for Corinthians, then for Pentateuch. I’ll update the College Resources page here accordingly.

I’ve also uploaded my essays for this semester to Scribd – you can read them at the following locations:

1. Corinthians – In which I suggest that Paul’s view of preaching was heavily influenced by Cicero, a relatively novel argument.
2. Old Testament – In which I suggest that Biblical Theology is the key to understanding the odd mish mash of law and narrative in the Old Testament.
3. Church History – In which I suggest that though some suggest an almost bipolar understanding of Luther where a switch in his head flicks in 1525, he was consistently applying the same theology and ministry practice to changing circumstances throughout his life. And I get a little excited about Reformation propaganda.

I like to think that as I write these essays my implied reader is you, dear reader. So feel free to read these, or ignore them. I can’t promise that they’re entertaining, but putting them online fulfils my desire to be completely open and transparent about what I’m thinking – because full disclosure is the best PR policy – and hopefully means they serve some purpose other than just being lost on a hard drive somewhere like my essays from my first degree were.

They also all have pretty extensive bibliographies that I hope will save other QTC students some time in the future.

That is all.

Getting in touch with your inner Luther

I’m currently working on an essay on the Reformation. When I say currently, I mean for the last four hours I’ve been finishing my reading with just a few more articles. No seriously. Just a few more. And on Tuesday I’ll write my thoughts into something cohesive, which will then be submitted by Friday.

That’s the plan.

Anyway. I’ve been enjoying reading some of the polemics written around the period of the Reformation. And while I probably owe much of my theological heritage to John Calvin, as a Presbyterian, I find Luther resonates a bit better with my personality, as a young hot-head blogger.

Anyway. The Luther Insult Generator has been doing the rounds online. Its popularity led to a server change, and thus a change in web address. So. Update your bookmarks. Snot-nose.


An update…

So, unlike all the other bloggers in Australian Christendom, or whatever sector of the blogosphere I occupy… I’m not taking any time off blogging wise over Christmas. In fact. I suspect a lack of sleep will mean I’ll be blogging more. Because blogging is what I do when I sit in front of the TV…

There are some big things on the horizon though. For Clan Campbell. Changes are afoot. We’re having a baby – any time in the next couple of weeks (or up until Christmas, if he/she really doesn’t want to come out). We’re moving house (not sure where yet). We’re changing churches (and sadly ending our time working for Andrew and Simone). But we’re off to Creek Road. Which will be different. I’m planning to hand in my last couple of pieces of college assessment for the year this week. We’re having a little holiday with family on Stradbroke Island at some stage in the next fortnight. And umm. I’ll be watching lots of cricket. Playing some Assassins Creed: Revelations. And eating banana paddle-pops. Also, my sister and her man became engaged today. So that’s also cool and newsworthy.

I blogged some coffee stuff at thebeanstalker.com this week (and I’ll post this semester’s essays up there when they’re all done and dusted), and some study notes at Venn Theology. And you canorder some roasted coffee with a “Really Useful Gift” kicker through the St. Eutychus Coffee Roastery between now and Christmas…

All in all a pretty busy couple of months in the pipeline – especially if you throw in a little bit of PR consulting (you can check out nathancampbell.com.au too, if you want to sling some work my way/me to sling some PR work your way…).

Ahh. Holidays…

Semester One finally finished for me yesterday. Which is delightful news. Because it means that other than a PR contract I have to fulfil in Townsville in two weeks, and some bits and pieces over the next two weeks (like preaching on Revelation 19-20 at Scots). It would be horrible to forget that. Wouldn’t it. To turn up at church not realising you’re meant to be preaching.

Anyway. Semester One essays will eventually be posted over at Venn Theology. I was particularly happy with the essay I wrote on the relationship between special and general revelation (reading the Bible, and science). Other essays included a look at hope in the book of Jeremiah, a review of a German guy’s view on Luke (his name is Conzelmann), and one on the role/authority of tradition in the church.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot, and I was infinitely less stressed this year. Not sure why. Maybe it was the almost complete lack of social life.

Anyway. That’s a long way of saying you may see more, or less, of me in coming weeks. Depending entirely on how long Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood takes me to finish…

What does your perfect holiday day look like? Especially a winter holiday day. I’ll be trying to produce a string of them in the next few weeks, and could do with some inspiration.

Tumblrweed: Give me things to read, the Essayist, longform.org and Instapaper

I have a kindle. I like it. I’m investigating instapaper – it seems pretty cool. It lets you save online content to read later. On your kindle. As nicely served text. It plays nicely with iPhones, iPads and printers too… which leads me to this collection of tumblogs that exist for the sole purpose of finding you essays to read.

Give me something to read tracks down good long form essays and collects them – with a “read later” link to allow you to (if you’ve set up Instapaper) send stuff to your kindle. The Essayist is similar (though it currently features a pretty not safe for work article on top of the page – so be warned). Longform.org is another nice essay hunting service.

I like a well written essay.

Brilliant. Because I like the idea lots – I’ve included an instapaper button on individual posts and pages here. So you can, if you use instapaper (which you should) read stuff later.

Wikileaks: Of dams and fingers

So, the Wikileaks saga drags on. At least Oprah is gone from our shores…

The whole Wikileaks thing kind of fascinates me. It’s the archetypal immovable object up against the irresistable force. Freedom of speech (particularly of the press) and a desire for transparent government meets public safety, national interests and diplomacy. Chuck in an Australian with a God complex and a stated desire to change the way governments do business, a few tortured souls willing to sacrifice life, limb and well being in order to leak classified documents they’ve obtained illegally… it’s got all the hallmarks of a follow up to the Social Network – the UnSocial Network.

Part of me thinks transparent government is a good thing. Part of me is fascinated by the trainwreck as governments respond to the saga – Julia Gillard’s uninformed “this is illegal” is one such example. And doubtless it presents problems for governments involved – we’re not talking cynical dictators here, but democratically elected representatives who are trying to serve their people. Leaking information is reprehensible – it’s not up to a lowly member of the military to decide what state secrets come out, and it’s doubtless against their employment contracts (and of course, treasonous). Some information is dangerous. And a dangerous world is likely to require dangerous information – information that shouldn’t necessarily be broadcast to everybody, the problem with the Assange model is that it draws no distinction about who should receive what information. Which is naive. Why should Al Qaeda have access to the same information as the average American citizen about how the American government operates? That makes no sense. It’s not as though governments aren’t thinking about transparency themselves – they just err on the side of caution when it comes to disseminating information. Wikileaks errs on the side of stupidity.

The press has always been free to publish fruit from a poisonous tree – provided it’s in the public interest. And I reckon wikileaks, broadly speaking, falls into that category. They’re not stealing the documents themselves, hacking databases or surreptitiously accessing information from behind iron curtains – they’re simply a distributor. But a distributor with an agenda. Just like Fox. So while I reckon the leakers are in the wrong, I think it sets a dangerous precedent to go after the distribution channel rather than the leaker. Wikleaks simply represents the new media’s style of distribution. Too the masses, for the masses, by the masses. The “information is power” equation functions on the law of diminishing returns. More information available to more people doesn’t mean more power. It just robs power from those who previously held it. It’s diluted. In a lot of ways it’s better that the information is available to everybody than that it’s available to a select few on the black market. That’s part of having a free press and a commitment, in principle, to democracy. It’s one thing for Julian Assange to speak of getting rid of the US’s stranglehold on politcal power globally – but what do you replace it with? He’s a typical anarchist in some sense – he doesn’t seem interested in the future, just in displacing the present.

Attempts to control information in this day and age is like standing in front of a cracking dam wall and plugging the gap with you finger. It won’t work. And you’re going to get smashed when the wall cracks. I think that’s what this has taught me. I’d say governments are better off just aiming for complete transparency. The idea of not doing anything you’re ashamed of is as old as debates about privacy. But it works. If governments were more open to freedom of information requests and being transparent then there’d be less chance of damage happening through leaks. Give the people a torrent and it’s likely that bad news would be buried in the sheer volume – and when it surfaces you can always acknowledge that it was there and say “that’s why we’re making this information available”… the Internet is changing the way information can be disseminated and the management of the leaks, from a PR/news cycle perspective has also been interesting. It seems Julian Assange has no real editorial brain. He hasn’t done a great job at managing the flow of information, the bang to buck ratio is poor. Pushing a glut of information out there at once is guaranteed to bury some of the good stuff. Even if you pick a few strategic articles to promote the release by giving juicy exclusives to particular outlets. His strategy has been bad. His personal strategy has been pretty bad too – even though he’s won over a few celebrity campaigners who have adopted him as a cause de jour. The Swedish claims seem a little bit too convenient – but the man does appear to be a bit of a self-interested slimeball with delusions of grandeur.

Here are some good wikileaks articles for your perusal:

The Ugley Vicar considers the motivations behind Assange’s program. Including this quote about the function of wikileaks:

“The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive ‘secrecy tax’) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.”

The Guardian, a mainstream paper who were the beneficiaries of some of Assange’s leaks asks questions about the motivation behind them and the changes the leaks might bring.

The Economist points out that wikileaks is just the tip of the iceberg, or rather, an example of how easily information can spread in the Internet – suggesting that plugging this leak won’t stop the dam bursting:

“Yet the debate over WikiLeaks has proceeded as if the matter might conclude with the eradication of these kinds of data dumps—as if this is a temporary glitch in the system that can be fixed; as if this is a nuisance that can be made to go away with the application of sufficient government gusto. But I don’t think the matter can end this way. Just as technology has made it easier for governments and corporations to snoop ever more invasively into the private lives of individuals, it has also made it easier for individuals, working alone or together, to root through and make off with the secret files of governments and corporations. WikiLeaks is simply an early manifestation of what I predict will be a more-or-less permanent feature of contemporary life, and a more-or-less permanent constraint on strategies of secret-keeping.”

Here’s an hour long documentary on Wikileaks that you can watch at your leisure.

BoingBoing argues that Wikileaks is a member of the press and should be afforded the same protections.

After PayPal, MasterCard, and other financial institutions went after Assange and Wikileaks – 4Chan struck back for the internet, launching DoS attacks on their servers.

I’ll watch the inevitable movie though. So what do you reckon – is Assange a hero or a villain?

Knowing when to fold them…

This story of an addictive personality manifesting itself in the form of degenerate gambling and the lure of the poker table is quite incredible. It has the hallmarks of gonzo style essay writing where the writer is the story, and a few insights into the mind of the gambler, and society more broadly. Check it out.

As a literary society, we have long since gotten over our modesties. The literature of addiction, once the exclusive territory of imbalanced, suicidal poets, has now come to dominate the market. We no longer recognize self-indulgence as self-indulgence. The term itself has fallen out of use, relegated mostly to protests from bitter Amazon.com reviewers and the curmudgeons of the weekly book reviews. Stylish women in New York write chatty columns about how much of their paycheck they spent on the latest “must have” designer handbag. The bestseller shelves are flooded with the memoirs of 30-year-old alcoholics. Sex addicts write 200-page books, complete with sex-cougar dust jacket photos.

Pain in poker comes in many forms. There is the loss you feel about living off of the dregs of a societal illness. There is the gambler’s moment of clarity when you realize you have become just like the old, sad men that you ridiculed in your younger, luckier days. There is the tedium of sitting at a filthy felt table for hours, sometimes days, feigning a studied intensity. There is the anxiety over explaining to a loved one exactly how you lost $30,000 in the course of a weekend. There is searing unease that comes from watching that same loved one twist uncomfortably whenever you give them a gift bought with the spoils of gambling. But none of poker’s daily pains are deadly or instructive, really. What’s more, all of guilt’s iterations can be cleansed by one monster score. Hit a set of 6s on a J-6-2 rainbow flop against the Donkey at the table, the one who is wearing a fake Versace rayon shirt whose outrageous patterning is the only thing taking attention away from his Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses and the poor, doting, usually underage girlfriend who sits behind his right shoulder, awash in the illusion that her boyfriend is Paul Newman from The Hustler—well, win $5,000 off a guy like that and you stop worrying about ethics and your misspent youth.

The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part One

I’ve mentioned my theory on the wisdom literature a couple of times, in passing. I’ve decided researching and writing just for my lecturer is pretty boring. So I’m going to post my thinking (in the form of my essay) here for you to critique. It’s long. So I’ll do it in parts. Here’s the intro:

Where wisdom fits

The wisdom literature has been described as the “embarrassing step-child of Old Testament theology,”[1] because of both the clear influence of other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) wisdom, and because there was no obvious synergy with “redemptive history” frameworks.[2] Some consider the wisdom corpus as natural theology due to an absence of direct redemptive action from God, rather than direct revelation.[3]

Difficult waters were muddied further by suggestions that Job and Ecclesiastes were so theologically divergent from the Old Testament, they must be considered “protest literature,”[4] produced to directly refute the so called “acts-consequences nexus” supposedly identified in Proverbs.[5] This system of retribution was a common ANE belief,[6] and it has been demonstrated that elements of Israel’s community had adopted such a position.[7] Such a reading of Job and Ecclesiastes is possible. But I suggest such retributive theology was a syncretism with foreign beliefs, that Proverbs itself sought to redress, and more broadly that biblical wisdom is partly a theological corrective of ANE wisdom, which was inherently religious.[8]

The pursuit of wisdom, and the production of wisdom literature, was an important intellectual and theological pursuit in the ANE,[9] it crossed international borders.[10] Examinations of the relationship between the biblical wisdom corpus and the wisdom of surrounding nations have arrived at varying conclusions, though all acknowledge cross-pollination of wisdom ideas. Many have rightly rejected the notion that Israel imported ideas from surrounding nations to develop their own cult,[11] but few have suggested that Israel deliberately interacted with these foreign ideas in order to push people towards a life appropriately geared to the Fear of Yahweh.

The foreign influence in the wisdom literature is apparent on the surface, Proverbs lists two foreign kings as authors, and none of the characters in Job are presented as Hebrew,[12] below the surface the wisdom corpus reveals a deep familiarity with contemporary ANE wisdom.[13]

This piece synergises the international influence, and the theological “protest” undergirding the text, by adopting an interpretive rubric that places the wisdom literature within Israel’s redemptive narrative. The wisdom corpus provides a Yahweh-centric approach to the same eternal questions as ANE wisdom, with the “fear of the Lord” offered as a theological corrective.[14]

Scholarly consensus is that wisdom literature describes Yahweh as the “guarantor of order that makes life in the world possible,[15] most ANE wisdom concerned itself with understanding that order,[16] Egyptian wisdom placed the order in the hands of the king, who controlled Ma’at, while Israel’s king sought to place the control rightly in the hands of Yahweh.[17]

[1] Brueggemann, W, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, (Fortress Press: Mieapolis), 1997, p 334, or “errant child” Clement, R. E, ‘Wisdom and Old Testament Theology,’ Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, p 271

[2] Brueggemann, W, Theology of the Old Testament, p 334, a summary of the “redemptive history” understanding and its synchronisation with the wisdom literature can be found in Hubbard, D.A, ‘The Wisdom Movement and Israel’s Covenant Faith,’ Tyndale Bulletin 17 (1966) pp 3-33, on wisdom’s international origins and lack of covenantal features being interpretively problematic see Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1992), 2002 Edition, pp 20-22

[3] Burdett, D, ‘Wisdom Literature and the Promise Doctrine,’ Trinity Journal 3 (Spring 1974) p 2

[4] Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1991), Morrow, W.S, Protest Against God: The Eclipse of a Biblical Tradition, (Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2007), pp 129-146

[5] Essentially the idea that righteousness automatically produced material reward, and wickedness produced punishment, for a discussion regarding how appropriate it is to find such a nexus in Proverbs see Waltke, B, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1996, Vol. 34, No.2, pp 333-334 and Lucas, E, Proverbs: The Act-Consequence Nexus, forthcoming

[6] Beaulieu, P-A, ‘The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,’ Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, ed Clifford, R.J, Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series No 36, SBL: Atlanta, 2006, p 7 suggests that “every important Mesopotamian text” presupposes that individual misfortune flows from failure to meet the prescribed actions of the gods, Whybray, N, ‘Two Jewish Theologies: Job and Ecclesiastes.’ Wisdom: The Collected Works of Norman Whybray, ed. Whybray, R.N, Dell, K.J, Barker, M, () p 180 – suggests the Old Testament shares the “naïve assumption that virtue brings its own reward” with the ANE world. Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at: a crooked parallel,’ JANES 23, 1995 pp 37-48 urges caution with applying the Egyptian concept of Ma’at to this notion or a retributive order.

[7] Some argue that Israel developed a calcified reading of Proverbs and a notion of Deuteronomic blessings and curses being applied to the individual. Many have suggested that this is the underlying philosophy of Job’s three friends as they seek to explain his suffering. Their assumption that he is suffering as the result of this retributive theology leads them to place the blame for his circumstances wrongly on his head see Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, pp 16-19, Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Eisenbrauns, 2006), p 15

[8] Beaulieu, P-A, ‘The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,’ pp 6-7 a survey of Mesopotamian wisdom literature summarised the concerns of the “traditionally defined” wisdom books as “the rejection of hubris, the acceptance of human mortality, and ultimately on the submission to fate and to the order created by the gods.”

[9] Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1992), 2002 Edition, p 17, Ruffle, op. cit, p 36, Clifford, R.J, The Wisdom Literature, (Nashville, Abington Press), 1998, p 40 “Biblical wisdom literature is thus truly international, being found in the great empires that dominated Israel’s world as well as in the geographically closer cities of the Levant.”

[10] See, for example, Whybray, N, Wisdom In Proverbs: The Concept of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9, (London: SCM Press, 1965), pp 15-16 on the international conversation taking place between scribes and sages across international borders.

[11] For example, Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at,’ p 48

[12] On the link this implies with ANE wisdom see Day, J, ‘Foreign Semitic Influence on the wisdom of Israel and its appropriation in the book of Proverbs, Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, pp 55-56, Day suggests this international flavour means Israel’s “wise men” were more internationally minded than others within Israel.

[13] Wisdom that Von Rad points out is under the subject of divine judgment (Wisdom that is the subject of divine judgment (Isaiah 19:11; 44:25; Ezekiel 28:12ff; and Obadiah 1:8), Von Rad, G, Wisdom in Israel, p 319

[14] Williams, J.G, Those Who Ponder Proverbs (Sheffield: Almond, 1981), p 53, as an analogous point – scholars have long considered the Genesis account of creation as a corrective of creation narratives from surrounding cultures including the Enuma Elish a view that has reached broad acceptance with varying nuance. Enns, P, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), pp 26-27 notes the comparisons with the Enuma Elish and suggests the contrast in theology was a deliberate contrast with the reigning Babylonian authority.

[15] Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p 336

[16] This search for order has oft been conflated with the Egyptian concept of Ma’at, which has been traditionally understood as the personification of the truth or order underpinning creation – even the gods were subject to this order. Many have commented on its link with the presuppositions of Biblical wisdom – see Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, p 15, however Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at: a crooked parallel,’ JANES 23, 1995 pp 37-48, at p 38 suggests the scholarly depiction of Ma’at as relating to order is wrong and that it almost exclusively means “truth and justice,” he suggests that the concept of a fundamental order of creation was foreign to both Israel and Egypt (p 41) and that Ma’at, like Yahweh, was understood as the “creator of order.” Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, pp 45-46 suggest wisdom attempted to grasp the natural order of society, creation and the realm of human conduct.

[17] Fox, ‘World Order and Ma’at,’ p 41

Do not disturb: Essay in Progress

I probably won’t post much here in the next 24 hours. I’m trying to cut 2,000 words out of my essay on the wisdom literature. I got a bit carried away.

Here’s a paragraph that didn’t make the grade.

“The assumption that the permeation of foreign theology into Israel was a one-way osmosis is untenable in the light of the Biblical account. This idea, that foreign wisdom, and religious practices, seeped readily across Israel’s borders, but did not go both ways is not consistent either with the biblical account, especially the account of Solomon’s reign – our suggested key to unlocking the purpose of the wisdom literature.”

And by “our” I mean “my”…

And another off-cut:

“It seems that Israel was a participant in an international wisdom conversation, engaging in rich theological discourse both at home and abroad. This conversation was analogous to the conversation occurring in the pages of today’s peer-reviewed journals, serving to keep the nation of Israel focused on Yahweh despite the distractions of foreign gods, and offering a wisdom grounded firmly in the fear of the Lord to surrounding nations.”

Gilligan’s Island’s subtext gets explained

This is a cool essay explaining the subtext of the show that ostensibly only existed to sell Terry Toweling hats… or so I thought. Gilligan’s Island. It’s deeper than you think.

The Castaways - 1965

“Gilligan, the Skipper’s “little buddy”, embodies every extraneous governmental agency, policy and program ever foisted on innocent people anywhere. It is “Gilligan’s island.” Gilligan is well-intentioned. He sincerely wants to help. Gilligan saves no exertion, refuses no absurdity, respects no boundary in his unceasing efforts to solve, or at least soften, any and all of the everyday problems of the castaways. More often than not Gilligan is the problem. At best he makes a bad situation worse. At worst, he makes a great situation completely unbearable.”

Even this lofty theme is not the primary thesis. The story is actually about something much more fundamental. The most remarkable message of the tale lies in the paradox of the concentrated lust of the castaways — their burning desire to go back. Back to a time and a place that is more familiar and romantically remembered as “better.”

The tragedy of the tale is not that they can never go back. The real affliction is the wish itself. They are all so preoccupied with the notion of going back that they never realize they are already in paradise.

Written in stone

The essay I’m working on currently requires the use of “primary sources” from Rome. This means reading a bunch of inscriptions which were either sycophantic pandering to the emperor or imperial bragging.

But this is cool. Next time somebody you’re talking to about what possible explanation there might be for Jesus body not being in the tomb on Easter Sunday here’s a piece of relevant Roman legislation.

Imperial edict – Date disputed (either Augustus, Tiberius or Claudius)
White marble stele – possibly form Nazareth

Edict of Caesar. It pleases me, in regard to graves and tombs, whoever has made them for the cult of ancestors, or children, or kinsmen, that these things remain undisturbed forever; and if someone reports that anyone has either destroyed or in any other way removed the buried dead or has moved them to other locations with evil intentions to the injustice of the buried dead or if the tombstones or stones have been moved, against a person of this sort I order that a trial be started, just as in the case of gods, just so for the cults of mortals. There will be much greater need to honour the buried dead. In general, nobody will have permission to move them; otherwise such a person will be liable to capital punishment on a charge of violation of sepulchre. This is my wish.

Violence in Joshua (redux)

Luke posted a summary of Mikey’s sermon on the Canaanite genocide. I haven’t listened to it. But I did finish the essay I mentioned in my previous post. This is an experiment in posting essays with footnotes on WordPress. Feel free to tell me why my apologetic for God’s violence is heinous and inappropriate, or to just skip this post. It’s long (I went over the 1,500 word word limit).  Does anybody know if there are rules against posting such things before they are marked? I hope my esteemed lecturer reads this before running my text through a plagiarism checker and finds this page online. It is all my own work…

Violence, Joshua and the Christian


The question of violence in the Old Testament is a source of consternation for many – from the rabid “New Atheists” to Christians seeking to synergise the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, with God’s actions and commands in the Old Testament.

We will explore the violence in Joshua, engaging with scholarly and theological interpretations of the Canaanite “genocide,” and its moral and ethical implications for the Christian.

Concluding that violence described in Joshua was not genocide, but the destruction, largely through dispossession, of an immoral culture, and there is no conflict in this issue for the Christian.


Understanding Biblical violence, especially in Joshua’s conquest narrative, is a difficult task. Some use it to dismiss the notion of God altogether. Richard Dawkins describes the God depicted in the Old Testament as “the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.”[1]

As readers struggle to reconcile the “Yahweh of Armies” in the Old Testament with Jesus the lamb in the New Testament, they apply different interpretive schemas to the Joshua narrative. Some assume intertestamental discontinuity, others read violent rhetoric as a boundary defining sociological device,[2] others use it to derive a “Just War” doctrine.[3] Calvin did not see Joshua as a paradigm for “Christian” warfare, suggesting if not for the “command of God” it was an atrocity.[4]

While acknowledging the work of scholars who argue for an ahistorical interpretation of the conquest account,[5] this piece considers the violence as written, that it occurred as described against the backdrop of Deuteronomic commands to occupy the Promised Land. The question of historical veracity is secondary to this discussion[6] and will only be discussed as it relates to the interpretation of violence in the narrative. This seems the most pastorally valuable approach, as the narrative’s affirmation of violence presents a moral dilemma for the Christian. If we can reconcile ourselves to the notion of actual violence, it becomes easier to justify its use as literary or sociological tool.

Violence in (and around) Joshua

The violent events in Joshua, including the conquest of Jericho (Joshua 6:20-21), Ai (Joshua 8:21-26), and Southern and Northern Canaan (Joshua 10-11), are the culmination of God’s promises to Abraham (Genesis 12, 15), and subsequent commands regarding the land throughout the Pentateuch (eg Exodus 23:23-30; Deuteronomy 6:10-19; 7:1-6, 20). The Joshua narrative is framed as a sequel to the Pentateuch through the repetition of the Deuteronomic account of Joshua taking over from Moses (Deuteronomy 31:23, 34:9, Joshua 1).

We read disturbing accounts of Israelites exterminating cities (Joshua 8:24-26, Joshua 11:10-11), with the Lord hardening Canaanite hearts to prevent their retreat (Joshua 11:20). Yahweh participates in warfare, toppling city walls (Joshua 6) and hurling hailstones from the sky (Joshua 10:11).

The mandated annihilation of the Canaanite nations (Deuteronomy 20:16-18) contrasted the way Israel was to treat other conquered people (Deuteronomy 20:1-16). Israel was to practice חרם (herem).[7]

The “completely destruction” of the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 20:17) was not without reason. They were wicked. Leviticus 18 instructs Israel not to behave like the Canaanites. The list of prohibitions includes child sacrifice, incest, and bestiality, finds a corollary in Canaanite culture. If Israel failed to stamp the Canaanites out they would be led astray (Deuteronomy 20:18), and would face their own cursed expulsion from the land (Deuteronomy 28:25-68). The Canaanites were forewarned of Israel’s impending arrival, and some chose to “melt away” (Joshua 2:9, 24), Millar argues that the “whole world” was watching Israel’s journey with God (Deuteronomy 2:25)[8] – the nomadic occupants of the land had ample time to escape.

At the heart of moral objections to God’s command of “genocide” is the assumption they involved the murder of innocents. The commands themselves are Biblically framed as God’s judgment on the wicked. Canaanite culture was seeped in immorality (Deuteronomy 9:4, Deuteronomy 18:12, Leviticus 18:24-25), the people “hate God” (Deuteronomy 7:10). God’s promise to Abraham came with a four-generation caveat on the basis that the iniquity of the occupants had not yet reached its full measure (Genesis 15:13).

Two seemingly contradictory notions operate regarding the occupants of the land. Israel is to devote those they find to destruction, but the occupants will be driven out (Exodus 23:27-33, 24:34, 33:2, 33:52, Leviticus 18:24, 20:23 Numbers 21:32, 33:52, Deuteronomy 4:38, 6:19, 9:3-5, 11:23, 12:29, 18:12, 33:27). Removal from homelands was a common method of destroying ancient cultures.[9]

This apparent paradox is resolved for us in the case of the Anakites, who were totally destroyed in the Promised Land, but survived in other nations (Joshua 11:21-22). This is not genocide.

The potential injustice is not the punishment of the Canaanites, but the mercy shown to Israel, whose continued occupation of the land depends on obedience (Leviticus 18:28, Deuteronomy 28:36, 63-64, 29:27-28, 30:17-18), they too faced חרם for disobedience (Joshua 7:11).

Understanding חרם in the Promised Land

The interpretation of חרם is controversial. Von Rad (1965) identified it as an integral part of “holy war.”[10] Longman (2003) calls it the climactic aspect of divine warfare.[11] He ties obedience with success in battle against strong enemies, and failure against weak – citing victory in Jericho (Joshua 6:21), and failure in Ai (after Achan’s sin) as didactic moments.[12] Crouch (2009) interprets the command as a socio-rhetorical device brought about as a response to foreign threats.[13]

Rowlett (1996) frames the discussion on חרם and “holy war” at length, concluding that there is nothing culturally unique in Bible’s presentation of divine participation in written accounts of warfare.[14] Lilley (1983) argues that for theocratic Israel all war was “holy,” as was the case for many ancient societies.[15]

Millar (1998) argues for a theological understanding of חרם,[16] he interprets commands to violently dispossess the Canaanites as rabbinic hyperbole,[17] not about warfare, but the need to remove their influence,[18] dismantling the nation.[19] He acknowledges that the command (Deuteronomy 20) is “startlingly literal” – but suggests that the instructions are not simply about military victory but the annihilation of a culture.[20]

A study of Deuteronomy 7 leads to this conclusion. God says he will drive the nations out ahead of them (Deuteronomy 7:1), that the Israelites are to “completely destroy them” (Deuteronomy 7:2), but then provides instructions for living with survivors (Deuteronomy 7:3-5). This would suggest genocide is not the intention, but rather a destruction of Canaanite identity.[21]

Violence in Joshua: A question of discontinuity

In order to reconcile the “immoral” commands and actions God justifies in the Old Testament some scholars, like Seibert (2009), require a separation of the “textual God” and the “actual God”.[22] Cowles (2003) suggests the חרם order came from Satan and was mistakenly applied to Yahweh through Israel’s primitive theology.[23]

These arguments suggest a discontinuity between Yahweh’s Old Testament commands, and Jesus’ words in the New (Matthew 5-7). Death is the punishment for sin (Romans 6:23). It is not out of character for God to be acting as judge over the Canaanites.

Craigie (1978) argues that the violent account was not produced by “barbarous times.”[24] He argues this narrative is pivotal to the Old Testament,[25] and that New Testament writers affirm the Old Testament’s authority.[26]

Violence in Joshua: A question of sociology

Rowlett (1996) and the “German school” require a sociological reading of Joshua’s violent rhetoric at the expense of historical truth, comparing Joshua to Shakespeare.[27] Von Rad (1957) suggests that commands to avoid Canaanite cultic practices follow a long history of Israel “going to school with Canaan.”[28]

Brueggemann (2009) argues against a historical-critical study of Joshua, suggesting that its picture of history is subjective[29] and that the story should be considered sociologically and literarily.[30] His view is that Joshua was both identity building for an oppressed people,[31] and the divine sanction of a new social possibility.[32] Brueggemann accepts that God mandated actual historical violence as “a tightly circumscribed in the interest of a serious social experiment” to end dominion and foster an egalitarian society.[33]

Rowlett’s reading of Joshua in the light of a “thinly veiled Josiah provides” insight into the use of conquest rhetoric similar to surrounding nations in order to develop Israel’s national identity.[34] One may dismiss Rowlett’s conclusions on historical veracity while recognising that the narrative had an identity developing function.

Violence in Joshua: A question of history

Questions have been raised regarding the historicity of events in Joshua and the manner in which the Israelite nation emerged. Noth (1960) argues that Old Testament historical accounts are vieldeutig (capable of more than one meaning).[35] Gard (2003) highlights the divergent interpretations of this violence – after Von Rad (1965) suggested that “holy war” was a product of late theological interpretation of history.[36]

Conversely, Gard’s study of ancient warfare led him to interpret the violence is representative of historical events.[37] Craigie (1978) argues that the violence is historical and essential for establishing a nation in a hostile environment. Goetz (1975) suggests a Utopian vision required a clean slate.[38] Establishing a nation was the purpose of Yahweh’s intervention in history.[39]

Violence in Joshua: A question of theology

Woudstra (1981), like Millar, argues the purpose of the violence in Joshua is theological, suggesting “all dualism between faith and history, and between theology and exegesis should be avoided,” and interpretation should flow from a base of Christian theism, not literature, objective history,[40] or sociology (as advocated by Brueggemann[41]).

Woudstra identifies a schism between those who construct hypothesis on the assumption that God’s intervention in history, and those who assume none.[42] Historical interpretations derived through the latter category will inevitably produce theologically anemic results.

Violence and God: A question of morality

“Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”- Socrates, Euthyphro, 399BC

This Euthyphro dilemma is significant moral question for Christians responding to God’s violent actions. Divine special pleading is not required to justify these actions. The Biblical account leaves no room to question the morality of God’s actions, they are affirmed throughout as just. While one might dismiss the text, one cannot argue that God’s actions are immoral on the basis of the written account.

Goetz (1975) suggests the framework that all deserve death, with mercy an act of grace allowed Calvin to dismiss any analysis of God’s morality vis-à-vis the Canaanite situation “out of order.”[43] Calvin argues it is God’s decision who deserves death, and at what point.[44]

Wright (2004) argues the conquest was a limited event,[45] employing conventional warfare rhetoric, described as an act of God’s punishment, with a promise of equal treatment for Israel in response to disobedience, and that the conquest anticipated the final judgment.[46]

The utilitarian use of violence is not morally normative for the Christian. Neither is all violence necessarily evil.[47] Joshua’s violence serves to fulfill God’s promise to establish a nation. The atonement pivots on an act of violence, which has implications in determining the permissibility of violence.[48] Goetz suggests that the cross should be understood as the focal point of rage between humanity and God.[49] Mouw (2003) concludes Christians are to suffer violence, not enact it.[50]

Rowlett, while arguing for a non-interventionist understanding of Joshua identifies a conundrum for the Christian pacifist – “placing emphasis on divine involvement in conquest stories, rather than human agency, involves the deity in complicity with violence.[51] Syllogistically, if Yahweh is perfect and just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and complicit with violence, then violence can be just. Furthermore, Jesus simultaneously affirms peacemakers, and the Old Testament (Matthew 5:9,17). Questioning the morality of God’s dispensation of justice in the Old Testament must also raise questions about the morality of his right to judge.

We have rejected both the views of those who see discontinuity between the God who destroyed nations and humbled himself to a violent death, and non-interventionist views of violent accounts. So far as the New Atheists are concerned, interpreting the “God of the Old Testament” without the external criterion of the teaching of Jesus may indeed prove troubling,[52] but in this light Christians can rightly affirm instead the “God of the whole Bible” as perfect, just, faithful and upright (Deuteronomy 32:4).

[1] Dawkins, R, The God Delusion, (London:Bantam), 2006, p 31, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

[2] Rowlett, L.L, Joshua and the Rhetoric of Violence: A new historicist analysis, (Sheffield:Sheffield Academic Press), 1996, pg 181

[3] Boettner, L, ‘What the Old Testament Teaches Concerning War,’ The Christian Attitude Towards War, (New Jersey:Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company), 3rd Edition, 1985, pp 12-17

[4] Goetz, R, ‘Joshua, Calvin and Genocide,’ Theology Today - Vol 32, No. 3 - October 1975, p 264

[5] Dever, W.G, Who Were the Israelites and Where Did They Come From, (WmB Eerdmans:Michigan), 2003, pp 37-48

[6] Wright, C.J.H, ‘What about the Canaanites?,’ Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, (Leicester:InterVarsity Press), 2004 pp 472-473

[7] חרם (herem) : To devote or consecrate to destruction.

[8] Millar, J.G, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy, (Leicester:Apollos), p 149

[9] Ahlstrom, G.W, The History of Ancient Palestine (Minneapolis: Ahlstrom, G. (1993). The History of Ancient Palestine. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.Fortress Press), 1993, p 601

[10] Von Rad, G. Der Heilige Krieg im alten Israel, (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht), 1965

[11] Longman III, T, ‘The Case for Spiritual Continuity,’ Show Them No Mercy: 4 views on God and the Canaanite Genocide, (Michigan:Grand Rapids) 2003, pg 172

[12] ibid, pg 173

[13] Crouch, C.L, War and Ethics in the Ancient Near East: Military Violence in the Light of Cosmology and History, (Berlin:Walter De Gruyter GmbH and Co), 2009, pg 183

[14] Rowlett, ‘Divine Warfare,’ Joshua and the Rhetoric of Violence, pg 65

[15] Lilley, J.P.U, ‘Understanding the Herem’, Tyndale Bulletin, 44 no 1 My 1993, p 169-177, cf Crouch, C.L, War and Ethics in the Ancient Near East, pg 189

[16] Millar, J.G, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy, p 156

[17] ibid

[18] ibid, p 158

[19] ibid, p 159, “This is theological preaching, urging Israel on to wholehearted obedience. In this context we should expect some hyperbole, at least,”

[20] ibid, p 159

[21] ibid, “Throughout this chapter, it is clear that the Mosaic Preaching is concerned to bring the Israelites to the conviction that shattering the structures of Canaanite society is a theological necessity. This is expressed not in terms of driving out or dispossessing the Canaanites, but of destroying them.”

[22] Seibert, E.A, Disturbing Divine Behaviour: Troubling Old Testament Images of God, (Minneapolis:Fortress Press), 2009, pp 169-182

[23] Cowles, C.S, ‘The Case for Radical Discontinuity,’ Show Them No Mercy, 2003, p 40.

[24] Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Oregon:Wipf and Stock), 2002 [orig. 1978], pp 34-35

[25] ibid, pp 36-37

[26] ibid, pp  37-38

[27] Rowlett, op. cit, p 163

[28] Von Rad, G, Old Testament Theology: The Theology of Israel’s historical traditions, (Louisville:Westminster John Knox Press, 2001 edition), 1957, pp 24-25

[29] Brueggemann, W, Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualising the Book of Joshua, (Colorado Springs:Paternoster Press) p. X

[30] ibid p. 4

[31] ibid, p. 26

[32] ibid, p. 30

[33] ibid, p. 39

[34] Rowlett, op. cit, p 181-182

[35] Noth, M, The History of Israel, translated by Stanley Godman, (New York: Harper & Row) 1960, pp. 48-49

[36] Von Rad, G. Der Heilige Krieg im alten Israel, (Gottingen:Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht), 1965, pg 18, cf. Gard, D.L, ‘The Case for Eschatological Continuity,’ Show Them No Mercy, 2003, p 119

[37] Gard, D.L, op cit, p. 119

[38] Goetz, op. cit. p 273, “Utopian revolution without extermination must degenerate into mere reform-and mere reform compromises with the evil it seeks to redress.”

[39] Craigie, P, The Problem of War in the Old Testament, pp 69-74

[40] Woudstra, M.H, The Book of Joshua, (Grand Rapids:Wm B Eerdmans), 1981, p. 21

[41] Brueggemann, op. cit, p. 3

[42] Woudstra, M.H, op. cit, p. 19

[43] Goetz, R, ‘Joshua, Calvin and Genocide,’ Theology Today, Vol 32. No 3, October, 1975, p 266

[44] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of Joshua. Trans. Beveridge, H (Grand Rapids:Wm B Eerdmans), 1949, p 163, “There is no more ground for obloquy against him than there is against those who pronounce sentence on criminals. Even though in our judgment, children and many women were without blame, let us remember that the judgment-seat of heaven is not subject to our laws… Certainly any man who will thoroughly examine himself, will find that he is deserving of a hundred deaths. Why, then, should not the Lord perceive just ground for one death in any infant which has passed from its mother’s womb? In vain shall we murmur or make noisy complaint, that he has doomed the whole offspring of an accursed race to the same destruction; the potter will nevertheless have absolute power over his own vessels, or rather over his own clay.”

[45] ie. they were not normative of the Old Testament or Israel’s approach to its neighbours

[46] Wright, C.J.H, ‘What about the Canaanites?,’ Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, (Leicester:InterVarsity Press), 2004

[47] As Christian pacifists are wont to do – for example Millbank, J, ‘Violence: Double Passivity,’ Must Christianity Be Violent? Reflections on History, Practice and Theology, edited by Chase, K.R and Jacobs, A. (Michigan: Brazos Press), 2003, p 183

[48] Mouw, R.J, ‘Violence and the Atonement,’ Must Christianity Be Violent?, 2003, p 163
“If it is true, as reformed theology has put it, that the transaction of the cross necessarily required that Christ experience the wrath of the Father, then Reformed thought does indeed insist that violence is an essential feature of the atoning sacrifice of Christ – an insistence, they might go on to point out that has clear implications for questions about the permissibility of violent activity.”

[49] Goetz, op. cit. pg 274, “The cross not only is the focal point of divine wrath against us; it is also the focal point of human rage against God. The human comedy has stored up a reciprocity of outrage that only the trial and death of one who was both the son of God and the son of man can suffice.”

[50] ibid, pp 165-166

[51] Rowlett, Joshua and the Rhetoric of Violence, pg 67

[52] McGrath, A, The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, (London: SPCK), 2007, pp 58-59

Eutychus and the second storey window

Grant me, if you will, this moment of complete self indulgence. This post is purely here for the purpose of citation in the essay I am handing in tomorrow.

The story of Eutychus (Acts 20) demonstrates that Pauline churches met not only in the courtyards of tradtional flat pack Roman homes – but in any available and appropriate domestic space.

This is really a cheap way to get my principal visiting my blog – though I’m not sure how wise this course of action is.