The Lord’s Prayer-issues and beauty

I am preaching this week. Occasionally congregations ask retired preachers to do this. In my case, I don’t encourage it. It still happens. I don’t mind doing it as long as it doesn’t become a long-term commitment.

My text will be the Lord’s Prayer from Luke’s gospel, Luke 11:2-4.

Recent translations of Luke’s version of the prayer sound even more unlike the one from Matthew 6:9 ff., the one we usually use in church. This is because we now recognize that the oldest manuscripts of Luke do not have the third petition found in Matthew, “Thy will be done.. .” Other manuscripts have it but modern textual scholars assume they are harmonizing Luke with Matthew.

The situation is clear in The Voice translation:

  Father [in heaven], may Your name be revered.
May Your kingdom come.
[May Your will be accomplished on earth
as it is in heaven.]
3     Give us the food we need for tomorrow,
4     And forgive us for our wrongs,
for we forgive those who wrong us.
And lead us away from temptation.
[And save us from the evil one.]

There is a marginal note that says, “The earliest manuscripts omit the bracketed text.”

Since we have that translation before us, let me point out a couple of problems with it.

First, the parallel use of “wrongs” in verse 4 obscures the fact that this parallel does not exist in the Greek. Unlike Matthew, Luke does not use debt in the first part of the verse. But in the second part he retains the idea of debt (a sign that Luke knew the Matthew version?).  Many church-goers in the past did not know any version other than the free translation from the Book of Common Prayer that used “trespasses” instead of “debt” but followed Matthew’s version.

Second, at the end of verse 4 we have a theological attempt to affirm that God never leads us into temptation as the translation “lead us not into temptation” implies. Pope Francis has recently proposed changing the liturgy to make this clear.

However, this may miss the point. Jesus probably meant to pray, “Do not bring us to the crisis of the Last Judgment.” The temptation or, better, trial he was talking about was the eschatological testing expected in the Jewish apocalypses.

I like The New Revised Standard Version, which translates verse 4 like this:

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

It is tempting to think that the very short, unbracketed words represent the prayer as given by the historical Jesus. But the manuscripts of Matthew that include the thy-will-be-done wording are very old and the Didache  (a Christian writing that is close to being as old as the New Testament) version of the prayer also includes it. We just don’t know enough about how the tradition developed to know why the prayer in Luke varies from the one in Matthew.

This is the kind of thing I used to run into in sermon preparation.  It was tempting to spend time trying to figure it out.  But I learned to cut discussion of stuff like this from sermons. Nobody comes to church wanting to hear about textual issues. And nobody wants you to say “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”. There are things that pertain to faith and life that are much more positive and helpful, like encouraging people to actually pray.

The beauty of the Lord’s Prayer transcends all academic discussion.



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Was the ephod like a ouija board?

There is a puzzle about something the Bible calls the ephod. At some point the ephod became just a name for an apron worn by a priest. But there was a time when the ephod was not a garment. It could be built out of metal (Judges 8:26-27, probably 17:5 and possibly 1 Samuel 21:9).

It also seems to me that at first the ephod was a singular object. It is often called “the ephod” as though it was a rare or one-and-only object. Later it seems that “men who wore the linen ephod” referred to all priests. So there must have been no scarcity of ephods.

The connection of the ephod to the Urim and Thummim is clear. The ephod seems to have been a container and conveyance for these divining lots. The use of lots (cleromancy) to perceive the intentions of the gods was widespread in the Ancient Near East. In Israel, along with dreams and prophets, it was one of three legitimate ways to seek God’s intentions (1 Samuel 28:6).

I know that the casting of lots seems a superstitious way to make a decision. But even today when the preferred method for making decisions is voting, I have seen tie votes resolved by drawing straws. Although primarily a practice in the early history of Israel, in Acts 1 we even find the disciples of Jesus choosing a 12th apostle by casting lots.

Yet it seems to me that the practice became less common with time.

The ephod seems to have evolved from being a relatively immobile metal object to being a highly mobile garment. This could show that during the period of the Judges oracles were located at shrines. Think of the Greek Delphic Oracle. You had to go to Delphi on particular days in order to consult her. So perhaps you had to go to particular shrines on particular feast days in order to use the ephods.

But something had changed by the time of Saul and David. The ephod was worn by the priest with Saul at the battle of Michmash (1 Samuel 14:18}. Abiathar came to the outlaw David in hiding with the ephod (1 Samuel 23:6).

Another possibility I have considered is that the ephod was part of the system for divining God’s plans by casting lots. Some systems of cleromancy used a board upon which the lots were cast. The positions of the lots on the board determined the meaning. So perhaps as both a metal object—think the lid of the container—and as an embroidered cloth the ephod might have served as a field upon which the priest cast the lots. Perhaps the field for casting the lots changed from being sewn into the ephod to being the “breastplate of judgment” (Exodus 28”15) embedded with precious stones.

Urim seems to have meant light, and Thummim seems to have meant dark. So the lots may have been black and white pebbles. Since inquirers had to ask yes-or-no questions the system could have been simple like flipping a coin, heads = yes and tails = no. However, there was the complication that God might not answer. This was necessary with a theology of God’s sovereignty and freedom. You couldn’t force an answer.

If you think of flipping coins, you could flip two coins and if one was heads and the other was tails, then there was no answer. But the system may have been still more complicated.

You have heard of the ouija board. It was created as just a board game, but some people took it more seriously. But it exists in a long historical line of divination boards and plates used in many cultures. Interpreting the boards often involved many rules and a whole philosophy. Maybe the Urim and Thummim were principles like Ying and Yang. Maybe the esoteric knowledge passed on within the priestly guild included a complex interpretive system.

We don’t know.

The ephod remained a cherished part of  popular religion well into the time of the divided monarchy (Hosea 3:4).

But the biblical religion seems to have moved away from this kind of divination. My problem with casting lots is that it seems superstitious. But the priest’s problem with it probably was that it compromised the initiative of God in revelation. In any kind of divination the fortune teller, shaman, oracle, or priest takes the initiative to call forth information from the spirit world or deity. But biblical religion has God taking the initiative in revelation.

So the ephod eventually became more a symbol than something that was of practical use.

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Gaines- I compare Poetic P to Abe Lincoln

Having reread parts of The Poetic Priestly Source by Jason M. H. Gaines that I had trouble understanding, I come away with the importance of his belief that poetry is a matter of degrees and that his term poetic is not the same as poetry. That is why I have used the term, lyrical. Think of  this from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

We consider this prose. But, in the sense Gaines uses the word, I think it is poetic. I would call it lyrical. It is certainly not modern journalistic or academic prose. The word-order, diction, rhythm and cadence give it some of the features Gaines looks for in the first edition of the Priestly Source (P).

Since I can’t read large blocks of Hebrew, this kind of comparison is about the best I can do. Even in English, though, it is apparent that some of the P material sings—the creation story in Genesis 1, for instance. On the other hand, one of the main complaints of people trying to read the Bible is that they get bogged down in the genealogies, lists, and ritual details. So there is clearly a part of P that does not sing.

So his basic contention is that there was a version of P that told the story of God’s people from creation to the threshold of the promised land using rhythm, parallelism, and word-play.

He has a section in his final chapter on the possible implications for studies of the Pentateuch of his theory.

One of them concerns the passages where scholars sometimes claim that the Holiness Code in Leviticus 17ff. intruded into other parts of P.  Scholars have noticed some disconnects in P.  Gaines says that a subject for further research is whether these disconnects are better explained by his categories of Poetic P and Prose P or the often-proposed categories of the P and Holiness Source (H). His results show poetic features in passages assigned to H. He is not sure what this means. He is open to the possibility the H was composed in a poetic style.

Another issue has to do with where P ends. European scholars have tended to see it ending in the book of Exodus. But Gaines has found poetic features in Leviticus and Numbers. However, the style seems to change slightly in Numbers. So he wonders if the poetic P in Numbers comes from different priests. Gaines never claims that Poetic P is the work of a single priest..

The view that you can find the sources of the Pentateuch continuing into Joshua has gone out of style. But Gaines thinks it might be time to reevaluate it. He sees Joshua 21:43-45 as the crux of this issue. He finds that someone wrote these verses very much in the style of Poetic P. However, they are the only such verses he has found in Joshua.

Finally, he thinks that seeing the poetic element in P could change the way we interpret some passages. He gives the example of Genesis 7:21-22:

All flesh died that moved on the earth, including birds, livestock, animals, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All on the dry land, in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died (WEB).

Gaines says the translations obscure the fact that man is the swarming (his translation) thing that swarms upon the earth. Poetically, “every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” is an equivalent parallel to “every man”. The text, he says, “equates humanity with flies”.

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Gaines-P as built upon a lyrical epic

I am reporting on my read of The Poetic Priestly Source by Jason M. H. Gaines.

In between the very specialized analysis of Hebrew passages in P according to his yardstick for what constitutes poetry and what constitutes prose, Gaines gives a useful survey of the ways previous scholars have understood the priestly source. He includes a number of scholars I have read and interacted with.

One of them is Frank Moore Cross. Cross, if his theory is correct,  undermines the whole idea that P was ever a source separate from non-P.  Cross noticed that in the Jacob story, for instance, P has no story of the birth of Jacob and Esau nor of Jacob acquiring wives. So Cross thought P had put his material into an already-existing narrative as a supplement. So P used non-P as a source, but was not itself a source.

To this Gaines responds:

He is correct that P does not give what many would consider to be colorful, interesting, or evocative stories of the patriarchs that convey their personalities, achievements, and struggles. This fact does not make P incomplete. After all the musical My Fair Lady is not incomplete because it does not include several scenes that are present in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion,

Gaines sees at least two layers in P. Several other scholars have seen layers as well. One well-established view sees the Holiness Code (H) of Leviticus 17-26 as a discrete layer. Early on, scholars thought of the H as the oldest layer which P incorporated. But now H looks to more scholars like an addition to P. Among those who see it this way are Israel Knohl and Jacob Milgrom.

Gaines, however, is a bit agnostic about separating H out, This is in order to avoid prejudging the poetic nature of the material. He acknowledges that H probably existed but reserves his detailed take on the issue for future studies.

Other scholars see a narrative layer and a legal layer.  Gaines, however, thinks that though this distinction is real, it reflects the poetic and prose layers.

Richard Elliot Friedman saw two editions of P, one before the exile and one, attributed to Ezra, during the exile. Gaines says this is a little like his own scheme. Actually, though, he turns Friedman’s order around. Friedman saw the material with lists and legal matter as the first edition. Gaines sees such material as more likely to have come later.

Gaines seems closer to David Carr than to others I have studied. Carr and Gaines both think that the first edition of P already used both written and oral traditions that existed apart from non-P. Carr thinks the creation account might have been a stand-alone written piece. The stories about Moses and the escape from Egypt might have drawn on old oral traditions. Gaines would change Carr’s terminology to show that “these earlier, fluid compositions entered the Priestly document in its poetic recension.”

In his detailed account of P’s coming into existence, Gaines sees 5 stages.

First, a small group of priests connected to the Jerusalem temple use “written and oral Israelite traditions, non-P material, preexisting poetry, and Mesopotamian mythology” to write a narrative that goes from creation to just before Israel entered the land.

I am surprised that he says Jerusalem temple priests did this. Since he says he accepts the consensus that P is after the exile, perhaps he is thinking of priests who have been taken to Babylon. But, if they were temple priests before the exile, I do not see the need to put them in the first temple’s last days. They could have worked much earlier. (Many have argued that P does not interact with the monarchy and so the Babylonian conquest must already have occurred.  That, however, makes more sense if you are thinking of full P with all its laws and regulations than if you are thinking of a lyrical epic that ended before the occupation of the land.)

On the other hand, Jeremiah and the inscribers of the silver scrolls could have drawn upon the same material the priests used in their poetic recension.

Second, at an unspecified later time another group of priests supplemented the first document with “names, dates, numbers, physical descriptions, character ages, genealogies, clarifications, summaries, repetitions, harmonizations, glosses, prolepses, and the explicit narration of the performance of actions.”

Third, a different school of priests could have added the Holiness laws in Leviticus 17-26 plus other supplements that furthered their point of view. Whatever constituted the Priestly Source at this point, it still existed separate from the rest of the Torah..

Fourth, a final editor (Ezra?) combined the P, non-P (JE?) and D documents to make the five books of the Pentateuch. He also added several interpretive comments and harmonizations to smooth out the combined texts.

Fifth, our text of the Pentateuch also includes further, mostly minor, alterations and copy errors by generations of scribes.

(I am using a Kindle version of the book that does not include page numbers. So the most helpful way to locate the quotes above is to know that they are from chapter 5, The Priestly Source in Scholarship, which occurs between 45 and 50 percent of the way through the book.)

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Gaines-P and Poetry

Sometimes I read a book that is just too technical for me. I have read The Poetic Priestly Source by Jason M. H. Gaines. But I realize that much of it is way beyond my ability to evaluate.

There is a review of the book here by Frank H. Polak who is qualified to do some evaluation. His conclusion is that Gaines has made important progress toward better insight into the Priestly contribution to the Pentateuch. In fact he thinks Gaines may have been too conservative in the conclusions he draws.

I read this book because P is to me the most enigmatic part of the Pentateuch and I have a mental project of trying to figure out what kind of community was behind it.

Even people who discard the JEDP hypothesis often divide the Pentateuch into P and non-P. There is clearly a priestly outlook in much of the material. And yet scholars have come to a kind of impasse.

They can’t agree on the theology of P. Is it about the covenant? Is it about purity? Is it about the promise of the land?

Furthermore, is P really a source or is it an editing and supplementing of non-P?
Scholars have made strong arguments both ways.

Something else authors have disagreed about is when to date P. Since Wellhausen formulated his JEDP theory of the Pentateuch, the majority of critics have agreed with him that P is the last of the sources. They say it arose either late in the Babylonian exile or after the exile.

However, that view runs into certain problems. Excavators have given us the silver scrolls, tiny inscribed amulets of rolled up silver. People may have worn these around their necks as a sign of divine favor. Also they had the amulets buried with them. That is where we found these: in a grave at Katef Hinnom near Jerusalem. See here.

There are two things to note about the silver scrolls. First, the writing inscribed on them is very close to the blessing in Numbers 6:24-26, a part of P. Second, they were entombed well before the Babylonian exile.

Another truth is that Jeremiah wrote (mostly) before the exile yet seems to draw on P. In Jeremiah 4:23 we read:

I looked at the earth, and behold, it was wasteland and emptiness,
and to the heavens, and they were without their light (WEB).

The creation story in Genesis 1 is P material. It uses the same words as Jeremiah to say that God created heaven and earth starting with waste and emptiness. Then it says he spoke light into existence.

To say that Genesis 1 was written during or after the exile you would have to say that P picked up Jeremiah’s words. But it is much more likely that it is the other way around.

So I wanted to read this book when I heard about its thesis. Gaines claims that the first layer of P was poetic. Other layers of prose were added later. So, I thought, since both Numbers 6:24-26 and Genesis 1:1-3 seem poetic, might they come from the first pre-exilic version of P? Might this explain why the arguments for a later date for P sometimes seem so compelling and yet there existed P material before the exile?

That is not what Gaines concludes. He keeps to an exilic or post-exilic date for it all. However, he is aware of the Jerusalem School of scholars like Knohl, Milgrom, and Friedman who hold to an earlier date for P.

The reason I have had a hard time with this book is that several chapters would require a better knowledge of Hebrew than I have. Also they appeal to very technical criteria for what is poetry and what is prose.

As I understand Gaines, he is not claiming that the first version of P was the same kind of poetry we find in the Psalms or prophetic oracles. He seems to envision a kind of lyrical language that was unique to P.

There were two chapters in the book where I was not in over my head. So I will come back and talk about those in another post or two.

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Jesus for peace and prosperity

Religion and politics don’t mix. That is wrong, but often spoken. Look at U.S. churches and synagogues, which are largely either red or blue these days. Politics and religion are deeply mixed in reality.

And yet, the statement that religion and politics don’t mix is probably meant to say they shouldn’t mix, and to state a deep discomfort with the fact that religion often masks agendas that have more to do with special interests than with faith.

I think what is usually meant by saying that religion and politics don’t mix is that religion and partisanship should not mix. People with different political philosophies used to openly worship together. But today there are many who see those who vote and speak differently as evil or ignorant.  We call it polarization and it definitely affects our churches.

I saw some Pew research results that showed that 31% of the people in the left-leaning United Church of Christ still identify as Republicans.  Other mainline Protestant denominations that have a social justice stance include even more. So we have many people who feel, “If my pastor or others in the church knew how I vote they would reject me as a person.”

Because I am a mainline Protestant, I notice this. But I am sure it is true that in denominations and independent churches with a social conservative agenda Democrats feel something similar.

Today this issue gets discussed by Christians in terms of what Jesus would do. Some see Jesus’ compassion and a tendency toward pacifism as meaning he would be a progressive. But others see Jesus as talking about personal, rather than government, behavior.  They see him taking a very conservative stance on things like divorce, work, and respect for authority.

I see Jesus as political in the sense that he spoke to a political crisis in his day. There was a danger of a tragic conflagration as Jewish nationalism and Roman imperial power came up against each other. In this context, Jesus spoke about “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42). These included community, mercy, and practical nonresistance. However, it is hard to see how he would have recommended particular policy initiatives to Pilate or Herod.

Politically Jesus had something in common with Jeremiah.

Jeremiah spoke at a time when Jewish nationalism and Babylonian imperialism presented a similar danger. Only in Jeremiah’s time Judah had a greater measure of independence. That is why I think he spoke against the particular policy of alliance with Egypt. Judah controlled its own foreign policy. But in Jesus’ day the Jewish nation was divided and relatively powerless.against the domination of Rome.

Jesus and Jeremiah both spoke out of an interest in the nation. Jeremiah spoke differently only after the Babylonian conquest and exile. He wrote to the exiles and told them to promote the welfare of the foreign nation where they lived. He told them to build homes and make families there. He told them to

seek the prosperity of the city where I have deported you, and pray on behalf of it to Yahweh, for in its prosperity you will have prosperity (Jeremiah 29:7 WEB).

One problem with contemporary interpretations of Jesus’ politics is that they often assume Jesus’ teaching applies to a non-Israelite situation as though the United States, Canada, and other modern democracies are sanctified states. These states, however, are based on the idea of separation of church and state and religious tolerance.

If Jesus had ever spoken to the situation of disciples living in non-sacred nations, he would likely have echoed Jeremiah. We should seek and pray for the prosperity of our nation.  In the case of a democracy (something neither Jesus nor Jeremiah could have envisioned) that would include the duty to vote and work for the policies that, in our best judgment, benefit the nation.

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Hamor the Hivite

My guess in my last post hinting that the Hivites at Gibeon arrived from the southeast corner of Anatolia in the 12 century BCE seems to disagree with the notion that Hamor the Hivite is the founder of Shechem. The story in Genesis 34 puts this event in the time of the patriarch, Jacob, and long before the 12th century.

However, there was a proto-story behind Genesis 34. David Frankel thinks the proto-story did not include the violation of Dinah or the role of Levi and Simeon. See here.

I wonder whether the proto-story included “Hamor the Hivite”. There are a couple of other mentions of Hamor in Joshua 24:32 and Judges 9:28. These and Genesis 33:19, say that Hamor was the father of Shechem. But the “sons of Hamor” who sold land to Jacob do not include an individual named Shechem (in our edited version of Genesis 34 Shechem is the name of the son who fails to get affirmative consent from Dinah). So “father of “Shechem” seems to have originally meant someone who founded a dynasty there.

The LXX has Hamor the Horite. This reading is just as problematic as Hivite.

But the interesting thing to me is Judges 9:28. The best translation of that verse is probably the New Revised Standard Version because it does not try to harmonize with Genesis 34:

Gaal son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who are we of Shechem, that we should serve him? Did not the son of Jerubbaal and Zebul his officer serve the men of Hamor father of Shechem? Why then should we serve him?

This means Jerubaal, Abimelech’s father, was once a subject of the “men of Hamor”. This would have been in the 12th century or so. So Genesis 34 may be projecting back into patriarchal times a 12th or 11th century situation. We know that back in the 14th century, during the Amarna period, Schechem was ruled by Labayu who claimed that his father and grandfather had preceded him. Thus Hamor seems identified with a later dynasty.

It is possible that Shechem was occupied by refugees from the north after the Bronze Age collapse. There is no story in Joshua about a conquest of Shechem. So one speculation is that the Hivites there joined the Hivites of Gibeon in making peace with Israel.

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