Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the thinking particle

Well, I have a late summer vacation to the State Fair and to Branson over the next week. Then I should be free to blog consistently for three or four weeks before family events in late September and early October again take my attention away.

I am reading a new book on Teilhard de Chardin’s spirituality by Louis M. Savary. I am also rereading The Divine Milieu in conjunction with this. Savary’s book is The Divine Milieu Explained.

My relationship with Teilhard’s thinking is difficult to express. The idea of reading Teilhard for his take on spirituality appeals to me. Puritan, pietist, and traditional Catholic spiritualities do not appeal to me. Faith in this age seems to call for something different. This is because we should not separate our new knowledge of the age of the earth, the vastness of the universe, and the evolution of humans from our devotion.

Yet I am aware that I am not on board with some of Teilhard’s philosophy. He shares with process theologians the idea of panpsychism. See here for an in depth discussion. I am oversimplifying below.

Most of us make a common sense distinction between organic and inorganic. I sometimes make fun of those who seek to eat only organic food. Everything we eat is organic except for pure minerals like salt. Grains, vegetables, and meats all are organic. I understand the point that processed food is less pure. I try to avoid it myself. But there should be a clearer way to speak about it than to imply that such food is not organic.

What is organic is alive or was once alive. It participates in our distinction between animal, vegetable, and mineral.

The problem is that there seems a huge gap between what has never been alive and life. To use a biblical story, Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt was a transition from the organic to the inorganic. It is just a story. But if it had happened, it would have been big magic. But imagine it the other way around. To turn a pillar of salt into Lot’s wife would be even bigger magic.

When Genesis tells us that God created man from the dust of the earth, that is just what it is saying. The primal matter of the universe somehow became alive, mindful, and human. That is also what theories of evolution say. Somehow life and consciousness arose from the building blocks of inert matter.

The transformation from inorganic dust to sentient humans is a huge leap. And it is a big problem for naturalistic evolution. Especially, the path from mere matter to consciousness seems impossible.

So panpsychism denies that anything is mere matter. Every particle of the universe has mind. That is what pan (all) and psyche (mind or soul) mean. Everything must have mind. Thus there was no leap from non-mind to mind.

The idea that mind emerged from life and life emerged from matter is very vague. Emerged how? Was there a supernatural assist at the crucial juncture? Is there some kind of unknown natural catalyst that could cause such huge changes? Or was there some kind of mind in everything all along, even in the primal material?

I am still with the supernatural assist, even though I believe in an ages-long series of events, dead ends, and advances that we may call evolution.

Teilhard’s view of this has some possibilities, though, I think it has possibilities that process theology, which puts metaphysics before revelation, does not. My big problem with process theology has always been the incarnation. Since process theologians think the world already embodies God, the divine Word has always been flesh. The Word did not historically “become” flesh in Jesus. Jesus is just an example of what Alfred North Whitehead says has always been true.

However, in Teilhard, the cosmic Christ becomes an extension of Paul’s idea that the church is the body of Christ. The whole cosmos is becoming the body of Christ.

This, it seems to me, has to be connected to the history of Jesus. There should be a real becoming here, not just a disclosure of what has always been.

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Lipovsky again-intuiting the history behind the text

I have been dipping into Igor Lipovsky’s Israel and Judah: How Two Peoples Became One. A few years back I wrote extensively about his book Early Israelites: Two Peoples One History, beginning  here. Early Israelites covered the emergence of Israel and concluded with the period of the Judges. Israel and Judah extends his coverage through the first temple period.

The new book has a copyright of 2014. But I suspect both books were actually written in the 20th century. He still has a scenario for the Exodus of Moses at the transition from the 19th to the 20th dynasties in Egypt in the early 12th century. I agree with this. It is one of the reasons I was first interested in Lipovsky. But his scenario still has Chancellor Bay alive and active after the death of Pharaoh Siptah.

We have known since soon after the turn of the century that Bay was deemed a traitor and put to death about a year before the child-king Siptah died. Queen Tauseret, who actually exercised power during Siptah’s years, seems to be the one who benefited from these deaths. She ruled as Pharaoh herself for a couple of years before the 19th dynasty ended in civil war.

Anyway, Lipovsky seems unaware of all this. So I think he must have written before Bay’s fate was known.

Lipovsky, nevertheless, contributes something important to the story of Israel. His thesis in both books is that the northern tribes constituted a separate people. The war against Israel noted in the Merneptah inscription was against these tribes. The southern tribes like Judah, Levi, and Reuben were still in Egypt.

If you are going the write a history of ancient Israel, you can take the biblical text as all or mostly accurate history. This is done by authors committed to the view that the religious authority of the Bible also applies to its historicity.

Alternatively, you can take the view that the Bible reflects concerns from centuries after the events it purports to describe, and that the history is mostly invented. Archaeology and extra-biblical texts then are your only clues to what really happened. This is the minimalist option.

But Lipovsky does not take either of these approaches. He uses the biblical text as a source for history. But he assumes that its authors skewed it to support their agendas. By reading between the lines to intuit the motives of the people and groups involved, he believes you can get a better idea of what happened.

I don’t always find his extrapolations convincing. But he often raises possibilities I had not considered. And many times they make sense.

Here is one example:

Lipovsky proposes that when the ark of the covenant was recovered from the Philistines it was soon returned to the northern kingdom. It had resided at Shiloh before it was captured. It was retaken and restored to Israel by being carried to Gibeah in Benjamin.

In 1 Samuel 7:1 most translations give the impression that the ark was taken to the house of Abinadab, who lived on a hill. However, “hill” is the same word as Gibeah. Decades later David, with a show of force, tried to take the ark to Jerusalem from the house of Abinadab. He was at first unsuccessful. People died in the attempt. The Bible gives a ritual or magic reason for this: someone touched the ark. See 2 Samuel 6. But there may have actually been violent resistance to moving the ark.

This gives us insight into Lipovsky’s method. The narrative in the Bible isn’t very logical. The idea that the Gibionites would be allowed to keep the ark during Saul’s reign is odd. The ark belonged in the north. The story about Uzzah touching the ark and being struck dead sounds like a legend. But something must have delayed David in moving the ark to Jerusalem.

So Lipovsky came up with a story that makes more sense. That doesn’t mean it necessarily happened that way. But sometimes his intuitions are compelling.

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VanderKam and Flint-cave 4 conspiracy?

The part of The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls by James VanderKam and Peter Flint that actually dealt directly with the meaning of the scrolls, I finished last week. The final chapter deals with the drama surrounding the publication of the scrolls, particularly the scrolls from Cave 4.

The cave, which had more than 15,000 scroll fragments, was found in 1952. General access and publication did not begin to happen until 1991, This caused consternation and conspiracy theories. Why did it take so long? Was there something in the scrolls that somebody wanted to hide?

Late in that period both James VanderKam and Peter Flint joined the small group of scholars working on the project. So they are not in a position to be neutral or totally objective. They were involved in the events. Yet, it is my judgment that they are mostly fair in the way they tell the story.

So why did this take so long? Some reasons include:

* Many of the scrolls were in very bad shape, consisting of scattered fragments, unlike the nearly complete scrolls found elsewhere.

* There was war and politics. The project was abandoned for a while because of the Suez war in the mid 50s. Jordan controlled the site and the manuscripts at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem until 1967. Jordan did not allow Jewish scholars to work on the project. After the 1967 war, Israel came to control both, So there was some change-over in the scholarly personnel.

* Some of the scholars involved in the project had agendas that included drastic or extreme theories. Some of these seemed based on religious and political bias. This caused other scholars to fear sensationalism and misuse of the data. I wrote about the minority opinions of John Allegro and Robert Eisenman in previous posts.

* Rockefeller funding became sparse in the 70s and 80s.

Still VanderKam and Flint do not really defend the delays. They seem to agree that it took way too long.

In 1991 some people went rogue and published photographs of many of the scrolls. There was controversy, accusations and law suits. Our authors recount these events without personal animus. But it was a very complicated time with scholars scrambling to keep up with events.

This led, though, to what our authors call the “golden years of publication” from 1992-2002. So now interested parties have access to all the scrolls.  Translations of the complete scrolls have been attempted.

In the popular mind there is still probably a hangover from the conspiracy theories that were circulated about the delayed publication.

One widely read book from 1991 was The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception: Why a Handful of Religious Scholars Conspired to Suppress the Revolutionary Content of the Dead Sea Scrolls by M. Baigent and R. Leigh. The authors answered the subtitle’s question by claiming that the Vatican was threatened because the Catholic-dominated team knew the contents of the scrolls would undermine Christianity.

But now, with the open publication of the results from Cave 4, it is hard to see anything there that would threaten Christians or anybody else. It is just historical material, mostly relating to a time slightly before the emergence of Christianity.

In my opinion, the ridiculous delay in publication was caused by the rivalry and territoriality of some scholars.

VanderKam and Flint take heart in the positions adopted in the wake of the scandal by the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research. Both now

“affirm the principal that discoveries must be made accessible to others in an expeditious way and not kept out of circulation for as long as they were in the case of the Cave 4 manuscripts.”

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VanderKam and Flint-the apocalyptic battle and city

VanderKam and Flint, in The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, have an extensive discussion of the Book of Revelation in the New Testament and certain of the Dead Sea Scrolls that seem to be moving in the same world of imagery and futuristic prophecy.

There are two aspects of apocalyptic imagery that particularly connect Revelation to some of the scrolls. They are the future eschatological battle (most people have heard of this in terms of the Battle of Armageddon), and the vision of the New Jerusalem.

Now it is not surprising that Revelation and Qumran link up concerning some of this. They both rely on Ezekiel and Daniel, which are biblical books of prophecy and visions.

In regard to the expected future battle, there is a scroll called the War Rule. It shows that the Qumran covenanters saw history as a conflict between light and darkness. History was in the last days and moving inevitably toward a culminating battle that would be marked by unprecedented carnage.

The War Rule has many names for the enemy the sons of light will fight, but one of them is “the hosts of Gog and Maggog”. You can see Revelation’s use of this in 20:7-10. Both of these build on the vision of an invasion by Gog in Ezekiel 38.

The authors refer to the work of Richard Bauckham, who sees Revelation as a Christian version of the War Rule. Bauckham claims Revelation adopts the violent language of apocalyptic battle and holy war and transforms it into a metaphor for nonviolent struggle against evil.

Several passages in Revelation 16-19, however, refer to battle in ways that are hard to see as metaphor.

The whole discussion reminds me of the current issue about jihad, a term for struggle. Terrorists have used it to describe violent action, but many Muslims see it as personal, religious struggle against evil.

VanderKam and Flint say that the War Rule presents an active model for the elect’s participation in the final battle. That is, the people of God do not passively watch as the Messiah and an army of angels defeat dark forces. Rather, the people fight and kill in the battle.

It is less clear that Revelation presents an active model. It does not explicitly have faithful fighting. Revelation 17:14 is an example:

they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful (NRSV).

The faithful are with the messiah-lamb, but he is the one who is said to do the conquering.

In the light of recent news about people publishing manifestos and committing mass murder, I see red flags concerning active apocalyptic struggle. I don’t want people thinking that they are authorized to act out the apocalypse.

The Dead Sea Scroll called The New Jerusalem Text has similarities to the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22. Of course, both are partly inspired by Ezekiel 40-48.

A striking contrast is that Revelation clearly says there will be no temple in the New Jerusalem. However, a long scroll, called the Temple Scroll, treats the whole city as holy, like the Temple. People have to be pure to enter the city. In Revelation we read that nothing unclean can enter the city. So in terms of purity requirements, at least, the city is a temple for both the Temple Scroll and Revelation.

Apocalyptic visions are hard to understand. They are supposed to evoke a subconscious emotional and volitional response. I might compare them to the paintings of surrealists. They don’t stand up very well to logical analysis. It is important, though, to know that this kind of literature was part of the shared world of Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament.

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VanderKam and Flint-common ideas but a different direction

From the Qumran document called the Commentary on Habakkuk comes a passage that was an explanation of the phrase from Habakkuk 2:4 that says “the righteous will live by their faith”.

According to the translation here, the passage reads:

Interpreted, this concerns all those who observe the Law in the House of Judah, whom God will deliver from the House of Judgment because of their suffering and because of their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness.

Now when VanderKam and Flint, in The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discuss Paul’s relation to the scrolls a major question is whether Paul’s use of the Habakkuk passage in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 draws upon a similar understanding.

They say that there are two ways the word translated as “faith” could be taken. It could be taken as personal faith in the Teacher of Righteousness. In other words it could mean something like what evangelists mean when they call people to faith in Jesus Christ.

Or it could mean obeying the teachings of the Teacher of Righteousness.

Since the phrase “works of the Law” has been found in another Qumran text, there has been a lot of discussion about whether Paul rejected the idea of the kind of Torah obedience implied in the idea of observing the Law at Qumran (the etymology of the word “esssene” may well derive from “observers of the Law”). The New-Perspective-on-Paul people have seen Paul rejecting the “covenental nomism” of groups like the Qumran sect.

According to our authors the Qumran text probably interprets “the righteous will live by faith” both ways. That is, loyalty to the Teacher of Righteousness is part of it, but keeping the Torah as he interpreted it was inseparable from this.

They claim that Paul interpreted Habakkuk as only meaning personal loyalty or faith.

VanderKam and Flint discuss many other parallels between New Testament writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In some of the speeches in Acts and in the book of Hebrews the method of interpreting scripture reminds us of Dead Sea documents. In both Hebrews and certain texts from Qumran Melchizedek prefigures the messiah. However, the Qumran texts speak of two messiahs, one of whom will be a Davidic king and one of whom will become a heavenly high priest. In Hebrews these two figures combine in Jesus.

Of course, there is also the use of 1 Enoch in Jude 6-7 and 14-15. 2 Peter probably depends on Jude rather than directly on 1 Enoch. The fall of the angels was due to sexual promiscuity which is compared to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

But the one other New Testament passage that VanderKam and Flint think may come directly from Qumran is 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. This passage, which has sharp dualism between light and darkness and demands the separation of believers from unbelievers, is similar to the religious separatism of the Essenes.

It asks what agreement Christ has with Beliar. In the Dead Sea Scrolls Belial is a name for the evil one. The word occurs in the Hebrew Bible referring to worthless or wicked men. But the demonic sense of the word is a feature of the Dead Sea Scrolls. So this odd passage sounds more like Qumran than Paul.

2 Corinthians seems to result from stitching together various writings, most of them by Paul. But it must be admitted that this passage sounds unlike Paul.

VanderKam and Flint conclude that we find in the New Testament some ideas that we also find in the scrolls. But, for the most part, the New Testament authors went in a “different direction”.

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Did Essenes identify with the Herods?

Today I am not summarizing a section of VanderKam and Flint from The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, I am just thinking out loud about a question inspired by them.

The question is whether the Essenes at Qumran were Herodians.

Herodians were a party mentioned in the Gospels as opponents of Jesus. Most assume that they were supporters of the dynasty of Herod, which the Romans had granted some autonomy in ruling parts of Palestine. At first sight, the Essenes would seem to be far from that. They were anti-Roman and in favor of a kind of segregation from, not just Gentiles, but Jews who had become sinners by adapting to Hellenistic culture.

However, Josephus in the Antiquities of the Jews book 15 chapter 10 reports that Herod the Great held the Essenes in high esteem and had a special relationship with Menahem, a chief Essene. This is the Menahem that Israel Knohl has speculated was both head of the Qumran community and an adviser to Herod.

There is no firm connection of Menahem with Qumran, such as a mention of him in the scrolls.
Again, given the separatism and apocalypticism of the Essenes of Qumran it seems likely that Josephus was idealizing them and missing some of the nuance of their teaching. The description of Menahem in Josephus does not seem to match the anti-establishment thrust of the writings found at Qumran.

However, in Mark 3;1-6 Jesus heals a man with a crippled hand and thus mortally offends the Pharisees and the Herodians. I am one of those who thinks the bad rap against the Pharisees reflects conflicts between Pharisees and Christ followers decades after Jesus’ lifetime. But there is no reason Mark would have inserted the Herodians here unless he had an old tradition that actually connected them to this controversy.

Moreover, it is a fact that the Damascus Rule is a document of the Qumran sect that specifies that even doing good on the Sabbath marks you as a Sabbath breaker.  So the attack on Jesus for Sabbath breaking may well have originated with the Essenes.

Perhaps there was a special relationship between the Essenes and the Herod dynasty.

If John the Baptist was somehow connected to the Essenes, his criticism of the divorce and remarriage of Herod Antipas might have been within a tradition that Essenes critiquing the Herods was tolerated. Herod Antipas clearly thought John had gone too far, though.

If the Essenes had a connection with the Herods, it must have been more complicated than Josephus makes it seem.

I understand that Israeli scholar, Yigael Yadin, has introduced evidence from the Temple Scroll that he thinks identifies the Essenes as Herodians. I do not know enough about that to make a judgment.

As far as the Herodians in the Gospels are concerned, they are characterized as being part of a plot against Jesus. But, would they have had influence with the Jerusalem authorities and the Romans? How could they have been part of the conspiracy against Jesus? It seems to me more likely that the Herodians were political representatives of Herod Antipas. So Luke preserves a memory that Herod had something to do with Jesus’ fate (Acts 4:27).

At any rate, although I still think the evidence weighs against it, there is more chance than I used to think that there is some connection between the Herodians and the Essenes.

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VanderKam and Flint-closeness and distance

I have some more from The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls by James VanderKam and Peter Flint.

The Dead Sea Scrolls display both a closeness and a distance in relation to Jesus and the New Testament.

One of the clearest examples of the closeness of the two comes in what was expected in a messiah. It is well known that Jesus at Nazareth read aloud Isaiah 61:1-2 and said “today this scripture has been fulfilled (Luke 4:21). A Qumran document called the Messianic Apocalypse says the messiah will heal the wounded, open the eyes of the blind, lift up the oppressed and bring good news to the poor. Obviously both have Isaiah 61 in mind.

But the Messianic Apocalypse also says the messiah will raise the dead, something not mentioned in the Isaiah passage. But in Luke 7:20-22 we see Jesus listing for John the Baptist the marks of his ministry: healings, the poor hearing good news, but also “the dead are raised”. So both the Qumran text and Jesus departed from Isaiah to include the raising of the dead as a work of the messiah.

VanderKam and Flint show some other places where the scrolls come close to Jesus. One that impressed me is the list of blessings in the Qumran document Blessings of the Wise. Two of the blessings are for those who speak with a pure heart and those who get wisdom with meekness of soul. The wording is thus close to that of the Beatitudes of Jesus.

(There is a flaw in my Kindle edition of this book. The authors have put side-by-side comparisons of the Gospels and the Qumran scrolls in text boxes. But the text boxes are only partially visible in the Kindle version).

Several scholars have claimed that a significant theological closeness of the scrolls to the New Testament lies in that both have a place for a suffering messiah. VanderKam and Flint are skeptical. The apocalyptic passages about a future war may include the idea that a messiah is killed at the hands of the Romans or the Jerusalem priests. That would be close to the passion accounts in the gospels. However, the Dead Sea passages are enigmatic and may just mean that there will be casualties on both sides in the coming violence.

Whatever the closeness, there was certainly also a distance between Jesus and the Qumran sect. We have seen how the sect advocated radical separateness from sinners. Jesus socialized with sinners and strongly defended the practice.

A sharp difference about the Sabbath existed. Jesus endorsed the idea that if your livestock, a sheep or an ox, fell into a pit on the Sabbath you would be justified in pulling it out (Matthew 12:11-12 and Luke 14:5). But Qumran’s Damascus Document specifically says that you may not help an animal give birth on the Sabbath and that if one falls into a pit or a well you have to leave it there. So they were much more punctilious about this than Jesus was.

The authors also see both closeness and distance between John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Sect. John, like the Dead Sea Essenes, made a point of going into the wilderness. John, like the Essenes, used water in a ceremony of cleansing.

However, he did not exactly match even on these points. John is never located by the New Testament on the Dead Sea’s shore. His ministry was in the the Jordan Valley a considerable distance north of Qumran. The passages about John’s baptism emphasize that he actively baptized people. In the pools at Qumran people apparently waded in and cleansed themselves. They didn’t need anybody to assist in applying water.

A significant difference is that John called on people to publicly repent. This seems to contrast with the Essenes at Qumran who never sought to actively acquire converts.

VanderKam and Flint conclude that it is very possible that John had contact with the Dead Sea sect. But his ministry seems quite distinct from theirs.

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