The Weekly Roundup – 2.1.19

“I propose the final edition of Genesis is the result of a similar process by an editor of the Holiness school of pre-exilic Israel, who combined and organized these various materials into a continuous and meaningful whole.” – Bill T. Arnold


  • Over on her blog @thclosetatheist has posted her review of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for a Creator. It is a rather scathing indictment of Strobel’s tendency to parade as a skeptic despite going all-in for theism. She refers to Strobel’s creating “the illusion of skepticism” and how often his toughest objections to those he interviews are nothing more than things like “Amazing, tell me more,” etc. She also points out that Strobel doesn’t interview top scholars or scientists in their respective fields but those who have some degree of popularity in the world of evangelicalism. This is Strobel’s habit and one seen clearly even in his latest book The Case for Miracles. (I mean, he interviews J. Warner Wallace, for crying out loud!)
  • @StudyofChrist, whose ability to produce excellent content on YouTube sickens me, discusses some more ways in which many have sought to reconcile the Matthean and Lukan genealogies of Jesus, including the notion that Joseph was adopted by Heli, the possibility of Leviarite marriage being a factor, and the problems with Julius Africanus’ take. Finally, @StudyofChrist concludes that the best approach is to “embrace the differences” between the two genealogies and recognize that there are theological motives in play. I second that motion!
  • Rachel Martin at NPR recently conducted an interview with Robert Alter on his magnum opus, his translation of the entire Tanakh. I’ve read Alter’s The Five Books of Moses and it was insightful, readable, and beautiful. I’ve also read significant portions of his translation of Job and loved what I read there as well. So as soon as I move I plan on getting his translation of the Hebrew Bible.
  • Phil Long, whose work I highlighted last week on Acts, has a short post on “The Times of Refreshing” found in Acts 3:20. He notes that the phrase is a “Second Temple Period way of describing the eschatological kingdom” and brings up a variety of texts – biblical and extrabiblical – that point to the age of the eschatological reign of God in the world.
  • Over a decade ago biblical scholar Bill Arnold wrote about his view of the composition of the book of Genesis in his 2009 commentary on it. A shortened summary of his take entitled “Reflections on the Composition of Genesis” demonstrates that Arnold is in general agreement with the findings of the Documentary Hypothesis that the text of Genesis is made up of three sources: J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), and P (Priestly). He compares the creation of Genesis to the creation of the Synoptic Gospels wherein both written and oral sources were brought together to form a coherent whole.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: The Markan Jesus on Divorce

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her….”
– Jesus


In Mark 10:1-12 we read of an encounter between “some Pharisees” and Jesus over the question of divorce. They ask him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (10:2, NRSV) to which Jesus replies, “What did Moses command you?” (10:3) They then tell Jesus that Moses said it was permissible to divorce one’s wife if you produce a “certificate of dismissal” (10:4). What did that entail?

Moses and Divorce

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 gives us the answer.

Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the LORD, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession.

So if a man found something “objectionable” about his wife, he could then write a certificate of divorce and send her away. But what constitutes objectionable? Simply put, we don’t know.

The “objectionable thing” is vague, and perhaps deliberately so. This law is less interested in the technicalities of the bill of divorce than it is in the correct disposition of the former wife’s sexuality.1

Whatever it was, by the time of Jesus there were some groups who contended a wife who couldn’t cook was one who could be divorced while others claimed that divorce was only permissible on the grounds of sexual immorality.2 

Having been put away by her husband, the woman is free to marry again (24:2). However, if her new husband “dislikes her” then he too can write a bill of divorce and put her away (24:3). But is this woman free to return to her first husband? No, because “she has been defiled” and such an act “would be abhorrent to the LORD” and would “bring guilt on the land” (24:4).

Back to “The Beginning”

Jesus acknowledges the Pharisees’ words about Moses but it isn’t a concession. He tells them that it was “[b]ecause of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you” (10:5). Well what does that mean? A heart that is “hard” refers to a disposition of stubbornness. But how does that fit with regards to Moses and the giving of this law? It seems that Jesus understands Deuteronomy 24:1-4 “as a temporary concession by God to the spiritual weakness of the people.”3 In other words, divorce was permitted but it “was never envisaged in the divine purpose.”4 Instead, God’s design was life-long partnership:

But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (10:6-9).

Jesus is echoing the words of both the Priestly account of humanity’s creation (Genesis 1:27) and the Yahwist’s account (Genesis 2:24). His appeal to these texts serves his point that “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (10:9). How? Because it was God who made them two separate beings (Genesis 1:27) but then, through the act of marriage and physical consummation, they “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). And since marriage was God’s idea “from the beginning of creation,” only he can separate the two that have become one.

Divorce and Remarriage

But if this wasn’t obvious from his exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus is even more blunt in private with the disciples (10:10).

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (24:11-12).

If you divorce your spouse and marry someone else you have violated the commandment of God (Exodus 20:14). Why? Because the now-divorced couple are still one flesh. Therefore, a remarriage means a union that violates that one flesh. This is in stark contrast with the Deuteronomic law which stated marriage was permissible after divorce.

So if we ask the Markan Jesus, “Is divorce permissible?” his answer would be a resounding “No!” Why? Because marriage is a union of one flesh that no one can separate. Not Moses. Not a certificate of divorce. No one. Only God.


NOTES

1 Douglas A. Knight and Amy-Jill Levine, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us (HarperOne, 2011), 315.

2 Gordon J. Wenham, “Divorce,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP, 1993), 170.

3 John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 294.

4 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 391.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Michael D. Coogan: The Deuteronomic School

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 186.

The Deuteronomic school, as we have seen, had connections with both the Levitical priesthood and the prophets. It continued to revise its core text, the book of Deuteronomy, as Israel’s circumstances changed from autonomous nation to people in exile. It also produced the Deuteronomistic History, the interpretive narrative of Israel’s history in the Promised Land based on the ideals of the book of Deuteronomy, an extended work covering the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The Deuteronomistic History was itself revised several times, much like the book of Deuteronomy….

Michael D. Coogan: Deuteronomy and the Law of the King

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 183-184.

The “law of the king” [Deuteronomy 17:14-20] seems to have been written with specific kings in mind, especially as they are described in the book of Kings. The extravagant acquisition of horses and gold and an enormous harem especially coincides with the description of Solomon’s reign (see 1 Kings 3.1; 4.26; 9.28; 10.14-11.8), but trade and alliances with Egypt are mentioned of other kings, and a harem was an ordinary part of the royal establishment.

The Deuteronomic “law of the king” thus critiques the extravagances of the kings belonging to the dynasty established by David, and also by the ideology attached to that dynasty, in which the king was the adopted son of God and the essential intermediary between God and the people, and in which God had made an unconditional covenant guaranteeing the dynasty in perpetuity….

For the authors of Deuteronomy, writing during the period of the monarchy, although kingship was a divinely sanctioned institution, it was to be severely limited. God’s blessing for the people depended not on the king but on the entire nation’s observance of its covenant with God. The Deuteronomists, in other words, advocated a reform in which the ideals of the premonarchic period would be combined with the realities of the monarchy. Like many of the prophets, they were reactionaries, but their nostalgia for the past was translated into a detailed program for the present and future.

Book Review: ‘The Case for Miracles’ by Lee Strobel, part 5a

In part one of my review of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Miracles I covered chapters 1-3, a section featuring Strobel’s interview of the skeptic Michael Shermer. In part two I covered chapters 4-6 featuring his interview with Craig Keener. In part three I covered chapter 7 which featured an interview Strobel had with Candy Gunther Brown of Indiana University. In part four I covered chapter 8 featuring his interview with missionary Tom Doyle. Strobel’s fifth interview is with Michael Strauss and covers chapters 9-10. I will cover chapter 9 today.

To view all posts in this review series, please go to its index.

INTERVIEW #5a – MICHAEL STRAUSS 

In his book Just Six Numbers physicist Martin Rees details how if six cosmic parameters were different than what their values are that the universe (and life) as we know it would cease to exist. Reese wrote that the “six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life.”This is staggering and astonishing. I had first read this book as an evangelical Christian working as a youth director for a small Presbyterian church. So when I read what Rees said next, I was a bit disheartened: “Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it that providence of a benign Creator? I take the view that it is neither.”2 In the margin, next to that final sentence, I wrote the word “tragic.”

Rees’ proposal was that the universe was one of a vast number of universes that exist, each with different values for the six numbers so important to life as we know it. Some universes may be like ours while others would be empty of life entirely. It is like playing Russian Roulette but instead of a bullet in one of the chambers you have a cosmic parameter set with a value that prohibits the universe in which we live. One squeeze and it could all be over.

Creation Ex Nihilo

For Christians, the universe is not part of a multiversebut is instead a world intentionally created by the God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. From the very first verse of the Bible it is clear that the universe was God’s doing. As Strobel writes,

[C]reating an actual universe from nothing, while fine-tuning it to provide a flourishing habitat for human beings, is a primary job description of God – at least, if the very first verse in the Bible is true: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Strobel, 163-164)

And so chapters 9-10 of The Case for Miracles feature an interview Strobel had with physicist Michael Strauss. Chapter 9 deals with the subject of creation ex nihilo and chapter 10 deals with the topic of fine-tuning.

One of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century is that the universe expanding. This meant that we could extrapolate back in time to a moment when all the material of the universe was condensed into a single point. As Carl Sagan so eloquently stated it,

All the matter and energy now in the universe was concentrated at extremely high density – a kind of cosmic egg, reminiscent of the creation myths of many cultures – perhaps into a mathematical point with no dimensions at all. It was not that all the matter and energy were squeezed into a minor corner of the present universe; rather, the entire universe, matter and energy and the space they fill, occupied a very small volume. There was not much room for events to happen in.4 

But the universe as we know it is no longer a “cosmic egg.” It is a humongous place with a diameter of over ninety billion light-years. So how did the universe go from an infinitesimally small egg to a monstrous cosmos? The answer is: the Big Bang.

Kalam

The Big Bang theory is one of the best attested scientific models in cosmology if not all of science. So it is no surprise that many Christians have latched onto the theory as evidence for God’s existence. One argument employed by Christian philosophers and apologists is known as the “Kalam Cosmological Argument.” Its most ardent defender and popularizer today is Christian philosopher William Lane Craig.5 The argument is simple enough:

  • Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
  • Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.

In his interview with Strauss, Strobel asks the physicist what he thinks of the Kalam cosmological argument. Strauss replies,

It’s extremely strong….Think about it: Is there anything that comes into existence without a cause behind it? Some scientists say there may be uncaused quantum events, but I think there are good reasons to be skeptical about that. And we know from the evidence that the universe did come into existence. If those two premises of the argument are true, then the conclusion inexorably follows: the universe has a cause. (Strobel, 172)

It is not my intention to dissect Kalam here. Both premises 1 and 2 above have been contested by philosophers and scientists.6 But I do want to ask the question as to whether the text of Genesis supports Kalam. The answer is a resounding “No!”

“In the beginning…”

Most of us are familiar with the rendering of Genesis 1:1 in the King James Version: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Other translations generally follow suit with minor modifications.7 And then there are still others with very different readings. Here are three:

  • NRSV – “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth….”
  • JPS – “When God began to create heaven and earth….”
  • Robert Alter – “When God began to create heaven and earth….”8

What is going on? Why do the KJV and many modern translations read one way and the NRSV, JPS, and Robert Alter’s translation read another?

It boils down to whether Genesis 1:1 is a dependent or independent clause. The KJV and others see it as an independent main clause that is either a summary of the six days of creation9 or as the first of God’s creative acts.10 The NRSV, JPS, and Alter translations see Genesis 1:1 as a dependent temporal clause that modifies the main clause that comes in Genesis 1:3 with the words “God said, ‘Let there be light…’.” A note in the HarperCollins Study Bible reads,

The grammar of this temporal clause was clarified by the medieval Jewish commentator Rashi, who noted that the Hebrew word for “beginning” (reshit) requires a dependent relation – it is the beginning of” something – and can be followed by a verb. The traditional rendering, “In the beginning, God created,” dates to the Hellenistic period (as in the Septuagint), when these details of Hebrew grammar had been forgotten.11 

So then does 1:2 fit in with the context? It would have to be a kind of disjunctive clause, offering the reader background for what transpires in verse 3. Elohim takes the “formless void” of the earth and begins to bring structure and order to it. But it is clear that in so doing he is using material already in existence. Consider Robert Alter’s translation of Genesis 1:1-3a.

When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.”12

Alter’s understanding of the passage brings to light what is going on in the text: God using material already present and bringing order to it. This is in many ways what the creation story of Genesis 1 is all about. And it fits with other ANE literature wherein the gods form the cosmos with material already present.13 

So the idea of creation ex nihilo upon which Kalam rests is absent from Genesis. That isn’t to say it is absent from the whole of the Bible. But it does mean that we cannot look to Genesis for support of the principle.14 

Next Time

In part 5 of my review of The Case for Miracles I will look at chapter 10 and Strauss’ views on fine-tuning.

NOTES

1 Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (Basic Books, 2000), 4.

2 Reese, 4.

3 As some have argued, even if there were multiple universes then it would still demand an explanation. Apologists Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek write,

[E]ven if other universes could exist, they would need fine-tuning to get started just as our universe did…. So positing multiple universes doesn’t eliminate the need for a Designer – it multiplies the need for a Designer!

See Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Crossway, 2004), 107.

4 Carl Sagan, Cosmos (Ballantine Books, 1980), 200.

5 See William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, third edition (Crossway, 2008), 111-156.

6 See Sean Carroll, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016), 199-201; Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple University Press, 1990), 101-106.

7 Most of the modern translations change the KJV “heaven” to “heavens,” reflecting that the Hebrew word shamayim is plural. And some (i.e. ESV) add a comma in between the prepositional phrase “In the beginning” and the clause “God created the heavens and the earth.”

8 Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), 17.

9 See Bruce Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan, 2001), 58.

10 See John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Zondervan, 1992), 82, n.2.

11 Ronald Hendel, “Genesis,” in Harold W. Attridge, general editor, The HarperCollins Study Bible (HarperOne, 2006), 5.

12 Alter, 17.

13 For example, see Epic of Creation as well as Theogony of Dunnu. Stephanie Dalley offers a word of warning:

[W]e cannot speak of ‘the Mesopotamian view of creation’ as a single, specific tradition, and this in turn shows the futility of claiming a direct connection between genesis as described in the Old Testament and any one Mesopotamian account of creation. (Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others [OUP, 1989], 278.)

14 Biblical scholar John Walton writes about creation ex nihilo, 

Some believe that Genesis 1 must be interpreted in material terms lest we forfeit the important doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This is not true. The first observation to be made is that other passages in the Bible affirm God as Creator of the material world and either imply or affirm that creation happened ex nihilo. Secondly, the initial formulation of the theology of ex nihilo creation did not have to do with the material world. Rather, it served as the way to argue against Platonic assertions about the eternal existence of the soul. The opposite position, that eventually won consensus in the church, was that the soul is created “out of nothing” when each person comes into existence. It was only much later that the term was applied to the material cosmos. Consequently we can conclude that even though church doctrine in recent centuries has focused on the importance of material creation ex nihilo, it would not be appropriate to drive that doctrine back into the world of the Old Testament. That was not a big issue in the ancient world. Consequently, we need to recognize that there is no question that God is the one who created the material cosmos, and at some point at the beginning of that process he did it out of nothing. Other biblical passages confirm this, as do I—it is essential theology. So we don’t need to try to make this important theological point (God’s non-contingency) with Genesis 1, if this is not an issue it intended to address. After all, just because we have an origins text in Genesis 1 doesn’t mean that it has to offer a comprehensive account of everything that God did at every level. We need to inquire as to what aspects of origins Genesis 1 intends to address.

See John Walton, “Material or Function in Genesis 1? John Walton Responds (Part 1),” Biologos.com. Accessed 18 October 2018.

Michael D. Coogan: The Problem of Kadesh

Micheal D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 165-166.

Identification of most of the places named [the Priestly portions of Numbers] is very difficult, however; to some extent they are locations that were familiar to P in the mid-first millennium BCE. Moreover, P’s itinerary is not entirely consistent with that found in J or in the book of Deuteronomy.

The location of Kadesh is a good example of the problems. Scholars generally agree that Kadesh, also called Kadesh-barnea, was thought by J to be the impressive site of Tell el-Qudeirat at an oasis in the northern Sinai Peninsula. Excavations at that site have shown that it was a major fortification from the tenth to the sixth centuries BCE, but that there was no settlement prior to that….Obviously this creates problems for any association of Moses and the Exodus generation with the site, no matter when the Exodus is dated.

Michael D. Coogan: The Most Complicated Book of the Pentateuch

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 160.

Numbers is the most complicated book of the entire Pentateuch, in terms of both its content and its sources. It takes its name from the census at its beginning (chaps. 1; 3-4) and near its end (chap. 26); its Hebrew title is taken from one of its opening words, bemidbar, meaning “in the wilderness,” an accurate designation of the book’s narrative setting. After the census and other preparations, in Numbers 10.10 the Israelites leave Mount Sinai and head toward the Promised Land. The central portion of the book, chapters 11-25, describes incidents on their journey, and finally a series of appendixes gives final instructions by Moses and by Yahweh for the imminent entry into the land.

Within this framework, however, the book is a hodgepodge of disparate, sometimes contradictory material, only loosely held together by narrative and by chronology. Besides the censuses that give it its name, Numbers includes other lists, itineraries, folklore, etiologies, ritual regulations, battle accounts, laws, geographical descriptions, and genealogies. In addition to the sources, J, E, and P, it also has material from other sources, such as independent poems that in some cases at least are very ancient.