Carr-Paul, trauma, and zeal

David M. Carr in Holy Resilience treats Paul as the traumatized apostle.

Some of his points do not convince me.

He tries to suggest that Paul’s christiopanies (appearances of Christ and visions)were trauma-related. He points especially to the vision recounted in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, which he suggests may be a doublet of the Damascus resurrection experience.  Thus, Paul’s visions would be like some dreams that trauma victims experience.

One problem with this is that even on a chronology that excludes the order of Acts, the 14-years-before-2 Corinthians vision does not come close to Paul’s Damascus experience, which had to be in the mid 30s.  2 Corinthians is mid 50s.

Also it does not take seriously that Paul put his resurrection experience on a par with the experiences of Peter, James and other witnesses.  There was something that united these experiences and counted against them being individual, subjective events.

So, no, I didn’t find anything in this chapter to resolve my concern about how Carr seems to treat the resurrection (see my remarks at the end of my last post).

However, Carr’s notion that Paul was haunted by the memory of having persecuted the church is more solid.

In trauma studies there is a discussion of distinctions between those traumatized exclusively by ways they were acted upon by perpetrators and those haunted not only by violence to themselves but also by horrific acts of violence they have inflicted by [perhaps this is a typo for “on”] others (Chapter 10, footnote 8).

So Paul’s experience seems similar to that of war veterans who are haunted by the killing and brutality they both experienced and acted out.  (Once I asked a WW II veteran to accept a leadership role in the church.  He declined and told me that he felt what he had done in the war, 35 years before, disqualified him.)

Paul always remembered his persecution of the church and told his story as divided by before and after that time, as trauma survivors often do.  This led to Paul repudiating his former zeal for the Torah and adopting a new zeal for an unprecedented monotheistic mission making a stripped-down Judaism open to Gentile converts.

During this mission he suffered new traumas.  Perhaps he suffered from a recurring physical infirmity.  But he also tells how he experienced beatings, shipwrecks, hunger, opposition, and constant anxiety.  Paul came to interpret these sufferings as solidarity with the suffering and cross of Jesus.   He extended this solidarity to his converts, calling on them also to imitate Jesus.   So the “trauma of the cross and Paul’s own trauma became a paradigm for Christian living in general” (p. 191).

Finally, Carr compares Paul to Hosea.  When Carr discussed Hosea, it was as the last Israelite whose monotheism was then taken up by Judah after Israel disappeared.  So Paul’s Jewish identity worked to pave the way for a non-Jewish church.  Hosea enabled Judeans to take up the Israelite identity.  Paul enabled Christians to take up an identity and heritage from Judaism and the Hebrew Bible.

Carr might be accused of replacement theology here.  But it is unclear how far he wants to take the notion that as Hosea’s national identity was replaced by Judah, so Paul’s religious identity was replaced by Christianity.  He discusses these ideas under the heading of the contradictions in Paul.  Paul’s contradictions, including his being a Jew who founded a Gentile church, continue to haunt Christianity.

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Carr-trauma, atonement, and the Jesus Jews

David M. Carr, who wrote Holy Resilience, is a Christian.  More specifically he is a Quaker.  You might like to know that as we turn to the part of his book that looks at how early Christianity dealt with trauma.

There could hardly be a more traumatic thing than crucifixion.  Carr sees the trauma of crucifixion depicted most clearly in very early Christian tradition.  He says that the passion account in the Gospel of Mark has embedded in it one of the very early stories the “Jesus Jews” told about the death of Jesus. It emphasizes the traumatic nature of the event.

Also very early is  the tradition that “he died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).  This means that in the first decades at least some of the disciples interpreted Jesus’ death with Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant as a guide.

But from that idea, Carr breaks some new ground.  We are familiar with the interpretations that say, for instance, that Isaiah 53 is a divinely inspired prediction about Jesus hundreds of years before his time.  Another common interpretation is that Jesus’ death was “for our sins” because Jesus was taking the punishment as a substitute for us.

Carr lifts up alternatives to both of these interpretations.  He thinks the first Christians may have brought into their interpretation some ideas that were lost by later Christians.  He bases this on 1 Peter 2:22-24,  which he thinks comes from an early hymn contemporary with the old passion story embedded in Mark. Here is that passage in the KJV, slightly clarified:

Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously: 24 Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed.

Carr says:

Through singing this hymn, early Jesus Jews made themselves the “we” seen in Isaiah 53, the “us” whose sins were born by Jesus, and the “many” made righteous by his pain (p. 166).

This is not a prediction from long ago but a radical reinterpretation of Isaiah 53 to show how the trauma Jesus endured benefited his followers.

Carr looks to a book by the late Ellen Aitken, Jesus’ Death in Early Christian Memory. She thought that the first followers of Jesus saw his death illuminated by the death of Moses.  Some Hebrew Bible passages portray Moses as suffering for the people’s sin (Psalm 106:32).  1 Peter 2:23 twice used an unusual Greek word, which is translated “reviled”.  This rare word occurs in the LXX at Numbers 20:3 and 13.  This opens the possibility that the hymn saw Moses as the Suffering Servant.

This would mean that Jesus suffered for his people just as Moses did by dying before they entered their new life or promised land.  In this way he empowered them by his death.

The old passion story embedded in Mark agreed with 1 Peter 2:22-24 in that it did not use the resurrection as a vindication of Jesus.  Rather, the idea may have been that, like the tomb of Moses, the tomb of Jesus was unidentifiable.  Hope and redemption rely on the survival and growth of the community rather than the resurrection of Jesus.

I am grateful for Carr pointing to the option of relating atonement in the cross to Moses.  One might look also at Moses’ offer in Exodus 32:31-32.  However, I suspect the elimination of the resurrection from the earliest tradition is reductionist.  Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 15:3 ff. make the resurrection the most important part of the tradition Paul received within a decade of the crucifixion?

I am sure the earliest Jerusalem disciples suffered trauma.  Surely at first they were confused about reports of the resurrection.  Something like Matthew 27:32-33 may have been their first impression.  But they must have processed this trauma quickly enough that Peter, three years after Paul’s conversion, gave a more ordered report of resurrection appearances and a definite affirmation of the resurrection as an event.

Carr’s next chapter is about Paul, so maybe he will clarify this.

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Carr- the crystalization of the Bible

I am blogging about David M. Carr’s book, Holy Resilience.

Carr says that the Hasmonean monarchy

. . .though it only existed for a few decades–was the only Jewish institution of the time with the power to enforce the selection of certain biblical books as authoritative and the standardization of the manuscripts of those books.  There was no comparable Jewish institution either before or after it (p. 147).

Carr recounted how the Davidic monarchy fell to the Babylonians.  After that the Jewish state went away and was replaced during and after the exile by religious institutions alone.  But  literary works from around -200 (the Dead Sea Scriptures and the Enoch literature) show that there was no unified Judaism.

Now for biblical studies this period has become the focus of scholars who have taken the postmodern turn.  They are skeptical of the history of Israel as told in the Bible. They often claim that the Primary History from Genesis through 2 Kings is a construction or invention of the Jews in Hellenistic times.  This has never been at all convincing to me.  There are lots of details in the Hebrew Bible that could not have been constructed that late.  Just one example is the existence of the Philistines.  Why would anybody in -200 or so construct the Philistines who turn out to have actually existed in about -1000?

Also, works like 1 and 2 Chronicles and Daniel, which we are pretty sure did come late, show tell-tale differences from the books of the Primary History.

What Carr says is that in the Hellenistic period the Jews did not invent their scriptures, but crystallized them.

Alexander the Great had defeated the Persians and introduced a Hellenistic period. This was favorable to the residents of Jerusalem for a while, although the high priesthood was often compromised and corrupt.  The government of Alexander morphed into the Seleucid Empire as Rome came to control the west.

Eventually Antiochus IV, a Seleucid king, came to power.  He was irrationally anti-Semitic, and he poured out fury on the Jews.  He required them to eat pork.  He executed mothers who circumcised their children.   He even set up a pagan cult in the Temple.  All this was sometime around -167.  (The trauma experienced at this time sets the stage for some of the attitudes about circumcision and food laws we see in the New Testament).

In response, the Jews broke free and established their independent, Hasmonean state.

Carr thinks this trauma led to the canonization of Hebrew Scriptures.  Jews reacted to their traumatization by vilifying Greek culture.  This was ironic, since 1 and 2 Maccabees and other writings of the time were in Greek and followed a Greek literary pattern.  Nevertheless, the scriptures deemed authentic were those that had existed before the Hellenization of Palestine.

Canonization means the adoption of a specific list of authoritative books.  It often causes certain valued contemporary books to get projected back on a time that might allow for their authenticity.  The Book of Daniel is probably an example of this.

At any rate, Carr says that the thing the Hasmoneans did was to introduce “the idea that the truly inspired Hebrew scriptures were a fixed collection of Torah and pre-Hellenistic prophetic works” (p. 154).  This sealed and made specific the Hebrew Bible.

The Jewish trauma, resistance, and eventual victory over the Greekish, Seleucid folks is told in 1 and 2 Maccabees and celebrated at Hanukkah.  The Jews remembered Hellenism as the major opponent of Judaism for a long time; and, according to Carr, set up the Hebrew Bible as a counter-cultural marker of their opposition.

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Carr-Ezra, puritanism, and resilience

Today I am talking about another chapter of David M. Carr’s Holy Resilience.  His topic is the return from exile and he is looking at it with modern Trauma Theory in mind.

The Persians allowed Judean exiles to return to Jerusalem in waves.  An early wave rebuilt the Temple, although it was not nearly as grand as the first Temple.

When the priest, Ezra, returned with another wave; he experienced such disappointment that you could call it trauma.

He received a report saying:

“The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the local residents who practice detestable things similar to those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.  Indeed, they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has become intermingled with the local residents. Worse still, the leaders and the officials have been at the forefront of all of this!” (Ezra 9:1-2 NET Bible).

Ezra was so upset by this that he tore his cloak and cape, pulled out some of his hair and beard and slumped to the ground in profound shock (v. 3).

The local residents (Hebrew: peoples of the land) Ezra was repulsed by were not foreigners, but Judeans–“the poor of the land” ( 2 Kings 25:12 and Jeremiah 40:7) that the Babylonians had not exiled.

These people had always been divided from the exiles.  Even before the exile they were a lower social class than the elite, urban dwellers that the Babylonians forced into exile.  Now Ezra did not even recognize them as kin.  He saw them as like the Caneanites originally expelled from the land.

This may not have been because the lower class and rural Judeans had changed that much. Rather the exiles had changed.  They had dealt with the Babylonian conquest by adopting a new and stringent purity.  Their “communal near death experience” (p. 130) in Babylon led them to focus on purity regulations that previously had applied mostly to priests.  But now they saw themselves as a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6).  They were the new Israel and the people who did not share their experience were virtual Canaanites.

One of the things people who have experienced trauma may do is put up psychic walls against anyone or any idea that might be a threat.  Some people react to trauma by becoming fundamentalists and puritans.

From my experience as a pastor I have noted that often, though not always, people who have the mind-set of “the Bible says it: that settles it” or who adopt conspiracy theories, future prophecy scenarios, or young-earth creationism have suffered trauma. A high percentage of these folks, I found, were the children of divorce.  They had gone through the trauma of their parents divorcing.  Now they focused on finding something certain to grasp for their security.

Although I do not agree with this attitude, I understand it.  I found that empathy and humor often allowed me to get along with such people without giving in to them.

Ironically, Ezra’s solution to the problem was divorce.  He made the returning exiles who had married local women  get divorces and abandon their wives and children. This was, of course, a terrible thing for these women and children.

I suspect that some of the outrageously xenophobic stories that came into the Pentateuch reflected Ezra’s view (Numbers 31, for example).  However, other books, like Jonah and Ruth, may have been written over against Ezra’s attitude.

This is my take, not Carr’s. One of his minority views is that Ruth was composed in the early monarchy.

Carr says that the result of Ezra creating an exclusive Torah-focused community was that Judaism became more of a religion than a state.  It’s focus on the Torah meant that it could eventually survive loss of the Temple.  And it even meant that Judaism was no longer completely tied to the land.  Jews were equipped to survive in exile from Palestine, as they would often have to do throughout history.

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Carr-survivors guilt and traumatic chosenness

I was going to post yesterday but didn’t because my DSL went out for a while.   Today is Veterans Day in America and Armistice Day in Europe, so this post is more appropriate for today anyway.

One factor in some people’s trauma is coping with survival.  War veterans, in particular, often report survivors guilt.  “Why did I come home while others didn’t?” Sometimes it is tied to particular friends.  “Why did I survive while my buddy didn’t?” They may struggle with this for the rest of their lives.

This experience is not confined to veterans.  David M. Carr began his book, Holy Resilience, with the story of how he survived a bicycle accident that nearly took his life. Survival heightened his sense of mortality and called for a reevaluation of life.

Moreover, certain out-of-sequence deaths also trigger this.  If a child dies, the surviving parents may feel that they should have died instead.  I have often heard men who outlive their wives say, “I should have gone first.”

In the case of ancient Israel, survival seems to have been an issue.

Carr says about the Babylonian exile,

But the Judean community and its stories about itself were  forever shaped by this near-death experience.  In an earlier, pre-exilic time, Judeans lived with the illusion of invulnerability, saying to themselves, “We are safe from Israel’s fate, God lives in Zion, God will never abandon the Davidic kings, our life in the land is secure.”  The destruction of Jerusalem, the end of David’s monarchy, and decades of exile changed all that.  Judeans were forced to engage the precarious, inexplicable, fact of their community’s survival.  The exiled community in Babylon had gone up to the edge of the destruction it had seen Israel undergo . . . and lived (pp. 126-127).

For Carr this points to the construction or shaping of the Pentateuch during this period.  He bases this mostly on how relevant the stories of Abraham and Moses are for the exiles.

For instance, Abraham leaves Ur in Chaldea to go to the promised land.  However, in any historical time for Abraham, Chaldea did not yet exist.  Exiled Israel, though, hoped to go from Chaldea (Babylon) back to the land.

Moses and the Israelites are in exile and oppression in Egypt when they get liberated and led by God them back to the land.  This was meant to prompt the exiles to return.

I agree that the Pentateuch continued to be expanded and revised throughout the period of exile and beyond.

But some of Carr’s positions seem doubtful to me.  For instance, he mentions a couple of the Psalms of Asaph as exilic.  I find the case for their origin among northern Levites and revision by exiles in Hezekiah’s Jerusalem compelling (see  H. Nasuti, Tradition History and the Psalms of Asaph).  If Psalm 78 is pre-exilic, it undercuts Carr’s position that the exiles invented the Egyptian plagues.

More importantly Carr agrees with the majority of critical scholars who see the priestly narrative in the Pentateuch as created during the exile.  I, however, have been convinced by the arguments of Richard Elliott Friedman, J. Gordon McConville, Israel Knohl, and Jacob Milgrom that the Priestly Torah existed before the exile.

I should say, though, that Carr is not among those who think the Pentateuch is a just a fiction from after the exile.  In a footnote, Carr points out that in his Formation of the Hebrew Bible he argued that exilic scribes used written stories about Abraham and Moses that might have been composed as early as the ninth or tenth century.

Back to the idea of how exilic Judeans dealt with survivors guilt. . . .

Carr points to the Passover ceremony.  Exodus 12 was written to revise a more ancient festival.  But it now confronts how, while many died, the Israelites were passed over and survived. The sensory ritual involving unleavened bread, smeared blood, and bitter herbs amounted to a ritualization of “trauma and deliverance (p. 118).

That God struck down the Egyptians and spared the houses of the Israelites addresses the question of “Why did we survive?”  This led to a nuanced idea of chosenness or election. These Judeans did not adopt a myth of national or ethnic supremacy.  God chose them even though they were a stubborn and rebellious people.  Only a few of them survived through faithfulness.  Caleb and Joshua survived the Exodus. Only a small number of the Babylonian exiles actually returned to Jerusalem.

But the idea of “traumatic chosenness” (p. 124) helped these to avoid assimilation and understand their survival.

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Carr-a voice of comfort

I am continuing to write about David M. Carr’s book, Holy Resilience, where he applies Trauma Theory to the formation of the Bible.

Trauma for Judah resulted from the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army and the leveling of the Temple and other public buildings after a two-year blockade involving deprivation and death.  It further resulted from the dislocation of people uprooted from Jerusalem and forced to live as displaced persons in Babylon.

Besides Ezekiel’s personification of trauma, other literature also reflects this. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, stayed in Jerusalem and then joined refugees in Egypt.  But his oracles reflect both national and personal tragedy.  The Book of Lamentations puts into poetry the despair of the “daughter of Zion” who weeps over the desolation of Jerusalem and the death of her children.

These writings are not very hopeful and they do what many traumatized people do. They blame the trauma on themselves.  At the end of Lamentations Zion wails that God has forsaken and rejected her.  Ezekiel has the elders say that “God has abandoned the land” (Ezekiel 9:9).

Although there were some hopeful passages in Ezekiel and Jeremiah,  it was left to the anonymous late exilic prophet called Second Isaiah to suggest that God had a very positive purpose that he was working out through the exilic trauma.

Carr says that the Jewish exiles had taken the self-blaming message of the earlier prophets to heart.  They now saw themselves living in a world dominated by a vengeful, even abusive, deity.  It was a view that helped them make sense of what had happened.

Second Isaiah’s message seemed to be that God was bigger than that.  God, he said, was in control of world history so that the emergence of the Persian empire was an act of God for the rescue of Israel.  Also, for perhaps the first time, there was a pure monotheism.  There was only one God who was not just the God of Israel but of all nations.

Second Isaiah picked up and even quoted the book of Lamentations.  There the daughter of Zion says she has “no comforter”  (Lamentations 1:2, 9 and 17).  But Second Isaiah speaks comfort to Jerusalem (Isaiah 40:1-2).  Where Lamentations and Ezekiel say that God has treated the people as would an abusive father or husband and then abandoned them, Second Isaiah gives us the image of God as a woman who could never abandon her children (49:14-21).

In addition to picking up Lamentations’ personified figure of “the daughter of Zion”, Second Isaiah also has another figure, “the servant of YHWH”.  This figure speaks of someone who suffered trauma and yet was restored by God.

 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper (Isaiah 53:10 NRSV)

Scholars have not resolved the problem of whether the servant is an individual or a collective.  The Christian application of the prophecy to Jesus seems to require the individual interpretation.

Carr talks about how personification works to make painful topics easier to talk about for people suffering trauma.  For instance, he has already argued that Ezekiel was an individual whose personal trauma took on the aspect of a sign for the trauma of all the exiles.  He suggests that the servant was the unknown prophet himself as an individual who also embodied the trauma of Jerusalem and Israel.

So, Second Isaiah is an important stage in Israel’s processing of the trauma of the Babylonian conquest.

All this is very suggestive and thought-provoking.  We need to keep in mind, though, that modern therapeutic language–like “processing”–surely does not represent the way biblical writers would have thought..

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Carr-Ezekiel and the trauma of exile

The prophet Ezekiel was not normal.  One of my Hebrew Bible professors said that modern psychologists would have a field day with Ezekiel’s personality disorders. Even though I generally think we should not even try to speculate about the psychology of ancient figures, the book of Ezekiel provides us a lot more material about him than we have about most other ancient figures.

Therefore I do not think it is entirely illegitimate for David M. Carr to look at Ezekiel through the modern field of trauma theory as he does in Holy Resilience.

Ezekiel went to Babylon in the first stage of the exile.  When he was exiled, the city of Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed and the Temple still stood.  The Babylonians had just depopulated Jerusalem of it leadership caste, which included the priest, Ezekiel.

The Babylonians put Josiah’s son, Zedekiah, on the throne as a puppet king.  He turned into a bad puppet and stopped paying tribute.

Within months the Babylonian army was back, and it laid siege to Jerusalem for almost two years.  When the starved city eventually fell in 587 BCE, the Babylonians were ruthless.  The last thing Zedekiah saw before the Babylonians blinded him was the killing of each of his children in front of him.  Then the Babylonians took blind Zedekiah and most of the surviving population of Jerusalem into exile, thousands of people.  Weeks later the Babylonians systematically destroyed Jerusalem, pulling down its wall and burning the Temple, the palace, and other buildings (p. 68).

Notice how Carr tells this story in a way that emphasizes its traumatic nature.  These events shattered two fundamental beliefs of the people.  First, they had believed that the holy city was especially protected by God.  After all, God had saved it from the Assyrians during Hezekiah’s time. Second, They believed the dynasty of David was eternal.

Trauma often shatters people’s belief systems and causes them no longer to see the world as a safe and predictable place.  To retain some control, they blame themselves, thus holding on to the idea that the world and events somehow respond to their own behavior.  This is what many of the exiles did.  They rewrote their history to show how they and their kings were to blame for what had happened.

This certainly became the mind-set of Ezekiel as he assumes the voice of God in Ezekiel 6:9-10:

Then your survivors will remember me among the nations where they are exiled. They will realize how I was crushed by their unfaithful heart which turned from me and by their eyes which lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves because of the evil they have done and because of all their abominable practices. They will know that I am the Lord; my threats to bring this catastrophe on them were not empty.’ (NET Bible).

But Ezekiel went beyond words.  He acted in bizarre ways.  He lay naked in the street for 360 days.  He recounted psychic journeys back and forth between Babylon and Jerusalem.  He failed to mourn the death of his wife.  He went beyond the sexualized images that Hosea had used to delight in even creepier and more offensive descriptions of Israel’s adultery and punishment in chapters 16 and 23.

People have tried to diagnose Ezekiel.  Perhaps he was schizophrenic.  But Carr sees him having a common malady with many of the exiled.  He was suffering the effects of trauma.  His failure to mourn for his wife, for instance, fits the numbing effect that trauma has.  These people were like dry bones.  They were dead even though still able to go through the motions of life.  Ezekiel may have represented a more extreme case, but he stood in for all the people in their suffering.  He became a sign of their collective trauma.

I suspect that this will resonate with many who have gone through a period of trauma in their own lives.  I know it did with me.

It also might help ordinary people who try to read Ezekiel and just find the book too weird.  People have become aware of PTSD.  To suggest that they read Ezekiel with some sympathy for a trauma sufferer might help make the book less intimidating.

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