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Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable.  

I am filled with joy.  It can't be helped.  

Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired.  Filled, just filled, with Joy. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Theology of Ancient Scripture - religion of gaps.

Three Theological “Gaps” 

in the Tanak / Old Testament

 I once went on a journey, and in the middle of a marketplace, I met a Rabbi.  I inquired of him, “What is the theology of Judaism?”  The Rabbi told me this story:
When Moses descended from Mount Sinai, the tribes had already begun worshiping a Golden Calf.  Moses’ own brother Aaron led them in the making of a graven image.  From nothing in the Wilderness, they smelted and cobbled together the jewelry their women had stolen, during their enslavement, from Egyptians.  So Moses looks at the Tablets he is holding.  Jehovah, with his finger, had written some instructions on them.  While Moses looks on, suddenly the Tablets go blank;  the Words had flown away.

Moses broke the Tablets at the foot of the Mountain.  The place became a forgotten hill. Yet at that moment, a decree was passed concerning Israel—that amidst idolatry, sorrow, homelessness, and confusion, they were to study those words that had flown away.

The Theology of Judaism remains “flown away” invisible. There have been many attempts to formulate a theology, but after consideration, it has not been a serious concern of Jews.  “Historically, Judaism has often looked with disfavor upon theology.” [Cohen, reprinted in Glatzer, “The Judaic Tradition” at 747.]  For that matter, theology may not be foremost in the minds of any people burdened by sorrows. 

Guided by theology or not, we seek some model for improving the morals and conduct of our people and leaders.  Where is this Promised Land ? 

Theological Conceptualization in the Tanak

The Tanak itself is not an organized body of theological doctrines.  It is given instead to ideas which can unite and empower a practical people – including stories, poems, and instructions for ritual behavior.  A fair amount of “theology” may inhere in these elements. Indeed beliefs about deity may be reified by daily practices.  As to such rituals, the minyan hamitzvot, the “practices” are visible, and are drawn directly from the Tanak.  The number of them added, not mathmatically, but   by convention – go as high as 613 religious duties.  Yet Moses Maimonides listed only 13, and Joseph Albo lays down only three.  Clearly, even “the Commandments” are considered guidelines. And whatever their number, the rituals are not theological concepts.

Masoretic Theology is either Sparse or Absent

The absence of doctrine in the Tanak is not a weakness.  This Scripture is at the heart of the most perduring and widespread faith, crossing “religious systems” of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and through the Manes/Buddha syncretic period, into Buddhism. The silentium may even explain why the Tanak is so widely received.  Even within Judaism, the Tanak has achieved a level of canonization that no other Scripture has among  adherents. 

Theologically, what does the absence of articles of “faith” or religious theories mean?  No unique distinctive authority infuses the entirety. For example, Noah’s epic flood story involves the annihilation of almost all life.  The same annihilating waters and even the bird arrivals to signal the end, have non-Semitic roots in the Epic of Gilgamesh [Pritchard 39ff].  Psalms 104 and the arguably precedent monotheistic Egyptian Hymn to the Aton [Ibid. 324 ff] are tonally, textually, linguistically and functionally similar.  The Book of Job lacks Judaic names or practices and is a lesson in Theodicy.  The  absence of any mention of deity in Song of Solomon, and Esther, gainsays their role in, or even inclusion in, a “theology”.  

Conceptualization of a theology requires finding, even sealing, a unity or common theme.  Perhaps a form of courage or tolerance, a signature which unites the texts as Scripture. Grace, redemption, anything that needs Belief in order to exist?  We are listening to the obvious plurality of contradictory voices. [McKenzie at 153].  And of course, there is the matter of the Deity which sits in the text we study.

So, before comparing the “theology” of the Tanak, to its discrepant iteration in the “Old Testament” of the Christians, we have to realize we already stepped over the body of its likely non-existence.  Without knowing it.  Tanak theology exists, but it is rare and thin: It is shadow on bare air.  What existence it may have is but an accretion over generations of time.

The Theology of All Ancient Scripture:

“It’s all about that Base”

The primary and often over-looked but unifying theology of the Tanak, is sex.  The womb is “that base” about which Songs are sung and which are a thematic obsession which “hag”-rides every section of the Torah. What may appear to be male posturing, or even secular tribal business, is probably about sex. And not necessarily reproduction.  Even the isolated Ecclesiast departs from his misanthropy to indulge wholesale misogyny. Eccles. 7:20; 26-28. 

Of all the Commandments and religious duties, how many are mixed up with human sexuality?  How many “purification” rituals are particular burdens for women, singling them out as requiring special precautions? 

And what theology explains the inexplicable “shame” of nakedness?  Gen. 3:7-10, repeated with Noah and the curse of Canaan, Gen. 9:23-26.  The irresistibility of Sara to the Pharaoh, and her taking by Abimelech as the cause of lies and breeding reprisals -- “the Lord closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech”  -- is awkward theology. Gen. 20:18.  And the Book of Job ends, after God had slaughtered his family, with replacements for his  dead daughters, with an even more beautiful cohort.  Interestingly, the names of the beauties are tenderly passed down to us while the names of the replaced sons do not. Job 42:14-15. In the Psalms we find a dramatic feminization of God. Ps. 45. 48:3.   

Of all the Prophet scrolls, not one is authored by an acknowledged woman, with “Esther” the foreign martyr who is at least honored with a title, as the exception that proves the rule.  Yet the “history” narratives document the existence of many women whose prophesy was unexcelled and relied upon.  Huldah, 2 Chron 34:21.  This tradition endured, see Anna, spoken of in Luke 2:36-38.  And many of the Psalms and Songs were either written by women (Song of “Solomon” [sic] 1:1-12), or by homosexual men.  David physically loved and laments Jonathan. 1 Sam. 181; 2 Sam. 1.17.  Ecclesiastes 25:22, considers women “the beginning of sin, and through her we all die”, an interesting twist on motherhood.  Starting with Origen, several “Old Testament” fathers pick up the hostility to women with pronounced zeal.  Origen is one of the early Christian fathers in Alexandria. He was devoted to Christian apologetics so intensely that he self-castrated himself to avoid distraction. 

The women of the formative period who were seeking religion and building churches were  abundant and devoted, but often deliberately desaperacido – disappeared.  The leaders of the greatest Temples – one in Alexandria, with the world’s largest library, and one in Delphi with the famous mystery cult, were in fact women.  Constantine’s mother was the power behind his rule and she became the Christian, not him.  Augustine’s mother was an accomplished and powerful Manichaean priestess, and yet history only remembers Augustine.  For complex reasons, a male-dominated patriarchical system continued its ascension.   Subordination or fear of “unclean” women is not necessarily theology or even text; the sexism may result from the “reading” of the text.  McKenzie, ed. Fewell at 270, 277.

This dominance of males has not always been the case. Kitchen middens of Europe for centuries filled up with figures of “venuses” – little fertility goddesses. The world first known buildings were Temples to a Goddess -- Göbekli Tepe is a sanctuary in eastern Turkey clearly attended by matriarchically-organized pre-agricultural societies.   20,000 years ago on the cave walls of Chauvet and Lescaux women were painting gravid horses and aurochs. [More than half the “hand-prints” are female.] They were not depicting gods or kings or wars.  They depicted births and pregnancy.  They were drawing a pre-Mosaic Tanak, with particular emphasis on the Song of Solomon.  They were depicting their  hopes for us.

Where do we come from? Where do our mothers come from?  The matrilineal descent understood today does not appear to be drawn from the Tanak, which devotes entire chapters to patrilineal begattings.  Deut. 7:3-4 simply prohibits miscegeny. Moses, Joseph, and Jacob's sons had non-Jewish wives. Yet the ancient dominance of women in the regional Hebiru and Semitic communities stamped a matrilineal meta-matriarchal rule over patriarchal tribal kinship structure.  Perhaps this is a remnant of the earlier and widespread dominance of the female in pre-Hebrew cultures – consider the powerful primordial Akkadian goddess, Tiamet.  [Pritchard, at 27-28; compare, the characterization of a powerful female priestess who subdues and makes Enkidu a god, is referred to by the translator as a “harlot” {42-43}. Ishtar-worship has continuing influence in Judaic culture, particularly in festivals, and further explains the awkward curiosity of matrilineal descent in an intensely partriarchal society.  By comparison, “Old Testament” iterations passed through the hands of Origen and Eusebius repeatedly and expressly attempt to further subvert and subordinate women.  Still, in the lays of David and lonely lamentations of the Prophets, we see the concern for us, the future generations. 

Every section of the Tanak sings of the hopes for reproduction and vitality. The threshold childlessness of Abram and Sara is a theological scream. Gen. 18-21.   

The Concept of Monotheism is obscured by a Pantheon

Monotheism is often taken to be a characteristic feature of Judaic traditions. In fact, it is the  second theological “gap” in the Tanak.  The temporal priority and the existence of its monotheism, are as debatable as Akh-en-Aton’s earlier but very personal sun worship in Amarna.  [Pritchard, at 324].  Multiple re-appearing angels, lesser and competing gods, and Holy Spirits trouble the threshhold theological “conceptualization” of Monotheism.  The Tanak gives proof to the plight.

One of the most important parts of the Bereshith is the first line. Indeed the weight given to “firstness” is a principle which graces many exegetical studies.  The first line of Scripture is “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Gen. 1.1.  The Creator function is existentially the sine qua non and by whatever mechanism, the only one we can look to across the infinities of What Is and Is Not.  We have already adverted to the role of the female.

In this first line of “Genesis”, the Hebrew text does not use the word “God”, which is a Teutonic word for any divinity. That word was introduced in the “Old Testament”.  It first came into use after the German tribes were converted to Unitarian Christianity by Ulfilas, circa 350. The converted “Goths”, adopted the name for the many different Germanic tribes who had united in the worship of One God.  Once united, they conquered Rome.  Interestingly, Ulfilas translated the entire Tanak (except I&II Kings, which he felt were too martial for barbarians).  Ulfilas painstakingly recognized the importance of Scripture to a cohesive religion as the unifying force.  The mass conversions of Germans, driven by the Tanak and “gospels” combined, is a demonstration of the power of Scripture. Durant, Age of Faith, 4:46. 

But here emerges the “translation” issue:  The Greek version of the Tanak used the word “Ieus”, and God’s son was Ieusus, “-us” being the begetting cognate.  Zeus’ son was Dionysius, the resurrected god who brought wine to humankind (his first miracle at a wedding feast after his resurrection), and both Zeus and his son were known as The Redeemer “Christo” in Greek.  Ulfilas was using a Greek version with a singular “Zeus”.

Hebrew is a well-studied enduring and consonantally-written tongue.  The word used in Genesis in Hebrew in many texts is “Elohim”.  The word is plural of the singular Eloah.  This word is not a Name, and in fact the Tanak never reveals the Name of God.  Elohim describes a group – “Mighty Ones”.  It references multiple gods.

The plurality is consistent with beliefs of the Hebrews and other people in the region.  The “Queen of Heaven” independently and as a consort of Yahweh is invoked by Jeremiah. Jer. 44:16-19.  She was worshiped in Temples throughout the region. The Canaanite god of rain/storms, Baal, would die, and be resurrected by the mourning of women appealing to Anat/ Ishtar rescuing Tammuz. [Re-enacted in Sukkoth, the male commentators missing the point, noted by Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets at 157].  The greatest pilgrimage, from both flanks of the Red Sea, in ancient times in the region was to the Kaaba in Mecca built by Jewish Kabbalah practitioners.  Multiple deities were worshiped. 

Archeology has not found a tell in the region which does not contain both Stars of David and images of Ishtar mixed together. Brown, ed. The Holy Land page 65.

The plural is also consistent with other textual occurrences:  “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.”  Exodus 22:28 [Cited by Thomas Paine, Letters/Age of Reason, p 205]. In the Book of Job 1:6.   “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came among them.” The Tanak is filled with demons and angels – the lesser gods.  Satan beguiles Eve in Eden.  Gen. 3. Abraham has conversations with God and angels, who also appear to Sara and Haggar. Gen. 16. Most of the Prophets did as well – for example, the conversations of Zechariah with an angel who explains the work of yet another “spirit” which produces visible signs of God’s involvement in our lives. Zech 4:6.

Theologically, the command that “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” clearly infers a pantheon.  Ex. 20:3; Deut. 5:7.  To this day, the name “Ba-al”, the actual name of a competing Levantine deity, is in use in the region.  The authors of the Tanak referred to and believed there were other competing gods.  Islam uses the green flag and horned moon of Ishtar as symbols carried over seamlessly from her Temples of worship, which were widespread in the House of David, the Semitic regions between Constantinople and Persia.  The Kaaba of Mecca was built by Jewish Kabbalah practitioners who welcomed a variety of gods. One can find no monotheist asseveration even on the part of Abraham, who is nowhere in any Scripture described as a Believer in only One God. 

The Hidden Text in the Tanak – 

the Meaning of “I am”, and the Unknowable

The third theological  issue raised in the Tanak is the “name” of God. Israel worshiped a God who first introduced himself to Moses by saying His name is “I am”. This is the God of No Name issue.  How can we call upon a God with no Name?  Paul Tillich’s theology takes God at his word, and accepts God as “being-in-itself”.  [Accord, Cobb, Process Theology, description of Tillich at 51.]  The narratives of the Tanak repeatedly expose the absence of causation behind the illegitimate impression of creative influence. What are we doing? 

The theology, and the “real meaning” of the Tanak, is hidden.  In Leo Straus’ “Persecution and the Style of Writing” we find the idea that pre-Gutenberg authors and copyists often resorted to hidden or Sod text. Lives were at stake. One chapter of the  book applies this methodology to Maimonides’ “Guide to the Perplexed” part of which is a guide to the Maaseh Bereishit and Maaseh Merkavah, being two guides to the two main mystical texts in the Torah. Pre-Gutenberg writing is in code.  Rabbis forbid teaching about Ezekiel’s Chariot. Like Plato and the Unitarian Clement of Alexandria who he cites with approval, Maimonides taught and practiced apophacy – the belief that we can only know God by what he is not; God is literally unknowable to us.

The secret is that a “conscious self” is divine, and we call upon ourselves in the unknowable “I am”.  Every human mirrors the image of God – that is what image means.  But for 6500 years, this secret could get you stoned to death.  This is a “theological conception” with stones.  It is in the Tanak, but is hidden. Ps.53.1-4. 

The conceptual interplay of theology and canon acted to some degree as an engine of developing Monotheism.  Sanders, The Monotheizing Process,1, 10,  questioning the canonical scrolls in light of Qumran discoveries, and noting that while the three Abrahamic faiths claim to be monotheistic, “none of them actually is”.

The Christian “Old Testament” Theology is a Trifecta of Absence

The point is that the theology of and in the Tanak is “all about that base”, and is not Monotheistic; it is not even cataphatic. It is a theology of No image, No name, No description.  The apophacy argued by Maimonides (Guide to the Perplexed).

And on the Christian “Old Testament” side, the absence is trebled. The silentium is itself part of a Trifecta – a Trinity completely alien to the Tanak is now slipped in. “Father” (family => son) replaces the frightening storm Jehovah, and other names of No God.  The Christians fully adopt the Teutonic Unitarian “God”. The Tanak knows no such “God” and even the use of the euphemism “God” gives entirely too much credit to Ulfilas and the Unitarians. 

In coopting the Tanak as their “Old Testament”, the Clementine Alexandrian Unitarians, and the consummate compilers of Scripture under Eusebius “Pamphili” of Caesarea, purged the Hebrew names of Elohim from their Bibles. Eventually the Jehovahs, Yahwehs, Els and Tetragrammatons were replaced by the Roman Ieus “Pater” or the Gothic “God”.  The deification of Ieus/us with an intermittently-appearing Holy Spirit, and the complete loss of Elohim as Creator or Jehovah as punisher, is a dramatic theological contrast between Tanak and “Old Testament”. The theological re-conceptualization was accomplished largely by “translation” from Hebrew (“mighty ones”) to Greek (Zeus) to Latin (Ieus), and the Gothic “God”.  

The Order of the Scrolls (Tanak) and Books (OT)

With the brilliant efforts of Eusebius in the 4th century, a Christian canon was cobbled together, which is used to this day.  Eusebius exploited the book-form and paginate linearity to “point” to Ieusus as the Christo.  By slightly changing the order, he created an apocalyptic vector out of the “Old” Testament.  But the perfection of a canon in his capable hands never reveals the hand-off:  In creating a “canon” of Scripture for believers in a Messianic Son, Eusebius was not able to limn, and the generations have still not found, the Christo.  The Christo was never the Judaic Messiah; he always was the Hellenic Egyptian resurrected Redeemer.

The formative centuries between Cleopatra’s conquest of three Roman Emperors and the decision by Constantine to build a new Capital in the East, created an opportunity for synchrony coupled with great hopes for a Messiah. After centuries of indifference to religion, Romans began seeing Temple networks as a means of uniting a far-flung Empire.  Romanized Greeks like Plutarch, and Hellenized Jews like Paul, were scouring the world literally looking for “new” gods to replace the pantheons they recognized were either ineffective or immoral.  Clement of Alexandria described the gods as “misanthropic demons”, and saw a need for the Redeemer long sought in the Egyptian cults. The millenarian religious radicals needed Scripture.  They  wanted to use the Tanak, but the Sanhedrin rejected the Pauline focus on “belief” over ritual and the Messiah complex.  Understanding its power, the Christians retained the Tanak in its entirety.  They added to it, and cobbled together the “good news” Gospels as a supplement.  In so doing, they renamed the Tanak, the “Old” Testament, suggesting supersession.  By keeping the Tanak as canon, of course, they keep its issues.  
On their part, of course, the Sanhedrin found the unleashed antinomianism of the Pauline missionaries to be unacceptable.  We do not take up the “New Testament” here, but it is necessary to note that the “Old” Testament/Tanak simply does not support Gospel theology. For example, Paul’s concept of Christic atonement [Rom 3:23-28], which is purely Orphic Dionysian, and the Lord’s Supper rituals [1 Cor. 11:24-30], are foreign to Aaron’s rites spelled out in Leviticus 16:23-28.  Atonement becomes a key Christian theology, barely even mentioned in the New, and not at all in the same way in the Old of the two canonical Testaments. Compare Rom. 5:11 with Gen. 32:21 and Ps 16:14.

Citing the forceful synchronic dimensions limned by Rolf Knierim, Sweeney states that the “exegete cannot assume that earlier text forms appear in the present form of the text.” [McKinsey at 67] We have a number of early texts to choose from, not one of which is sealed or drawn directly from the official Arc of the Covenant, or handed down from Moses.  We can be assured that the text forms we have are processed in some way “by redactors, who select, modify, supplement, and reconceive earlier texts in accordance with their own purposes and presuppositions.” [67]  In addition, the anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, argues that “deep structures of the human mind are based in the structure of language that in turn is derived from and defines the social structure of the society in which it functions.”  Structural Anthropology, [cited by Sweeney in McKinsey at 67]

The internet provides many tools and materials for responding further  to the ordering issue in literal ways.  http://www.biblewheel.com/Canon/ChristianOT_vs_Tanakh.php . Better minds than mine might find “meaning” in the differences in the way the Tanak presents the parts.  The same books are presented in slightly different order in the Old Testament.  In addition, there are slight differences in the order of the canonical texts between the  Protestant and the Roman and Eastern Orthodox traditions. 

As a result of the compromised acquisition of texts and the selective processing by redactors, and because of the constraints of our minds and words, the meaning of the Canon will necessarily remain elusive.  We canonize text, not meaning.  It appears that the differences are real, but they only create relatively minor “drifts” or subtle morgana fatas. While the Tanak and “Old Testament” are truly not the same, they still rise and fall together. The differences pale compared to the major theological issues which remain in common with all four of the Canonical traditions.  Bonhoeffer graciously refers to these issues as “gaps” in our understanding of the presence of a divine creative force in the world.  [Cobb, Process Theology, at 51.]  The major theological “gaps” are shared through the Abrahamic traditions.  And all can benefit from the study of the words which flew from the stones.