Hacksaw Ridge Movie Preview

Thanks to an invitation through the Ethos Centre for Christianity and Society, based in Victoria, Australia, I spent last evening at a preview screening of Mel Gibson’s new film, Hacksaw Ridge. I thought while it was fresh, and since it hasn’t come out in Aussie cinemas yet, I don’t think, I’d offer a short evaluation.

The Story

We all hate spoilers, and this bit of fluff will give you time to look away…

Alright, in very brief, it’s the story of an unusual war hero, an American pacifist who went to fight on the Pacific front in WWII, voluntarily, but wouldn’t handle, let alone fire a weapon on principle. His name was Desmond Doss. And his principles were related both to earlier personal experiences and to Christian beliefs.

(I actually know some Americans, friends who have nearly the same level of distaste for guns of any kind. Just thought I’d put that on record. You can’t judge a book by its bookstore, I always say. From now.)

Okay, I won’t tell you how it all came out in the wash, but offer some pluses and minuses, while still trying not to spoil the plot.

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Mini Book Review – Creator God, Evolving World

Crysdale, Cynthia S. W, and Neil Ormerod. Creator God, Evolving World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013).

I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, which I picked off a bookshelf on spec about a year ago because it was of interest to me, and because I’m tight, more importantly, it was on the discount shelf. As so often the good stuff, that people ought to read but don’t, is. And I noticed that one of the authors, Neil Ormerod, is an Aussie, and teaches at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, while Crysdale is based at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, USA. The perspective of the book is Catholic, with an appreciation for the deep tradition of Christian thought back through influential figures such as Thomas Aquinas, as well as what looks to me, as one not scientifically trained, like a solid feel for the sciences (e.g. biology, physics) as well as the philosophy of science.
Crysdale & Ormerod - Creator God
As the title suggests, biological evolution is taken for granted in this book, and for some evangelical readers that may be a deal-breaker. I personally see Neo-Darwinism as another knowledge paradigm, like so many composed by humans over the years to make sense of their world. One day it will give way to a replacement paradigm, though many of its composing elements will be carried over into whatever follows. So a further century or two of history will give its verdict on which parts of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis deserve to be retained and which ones are no longer persuasive. This means I find myself pretty relaxed about paradigms generally, and I find some evolutionary belief elements more persuasive than others. So it was not something that stopped me reading.

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A Few Thoughts on the Book of Joshua

It’s funny what occurs to you when you read different books of the Bible simultaneously.

I’ve just finished reading Joshua in the Hebrew, in my grand quest to read the whole OT in Hebrew, and finished Leviticus prior to that. At the same time, a Greek reading group I’m involved with at our college, Melbourne School of Theology, has been working through the Gospel of John.

What I find in such parallel reading experiences is that you see new and exciting connections between the different books.

So, for the record, here are three connections I’d suggest for the book of Joshua:

  1. Scholars often talk about a ‘Deuteronomistic History’, that is, who would describe Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings as an ultimately unified historical work strongly conditioned by the theology that is most systematically articulated in Deuteronomy. This can be construed in a very diachronic way, i.e. almost purely in terms of how these books originated, or in a more synchronic way, seeking the theological and thematic continuities. In my mind both of these angles are interesting and relevant. But I would simply say here that this is an enlightening way to read Joshua. Chapter 1 is clearly designed to correspond to the later chapters of Deuteronomy, esp. ch. 31, or vice versa, with common language about the succession of Joshua for Moses and the importance of discarding fear. Chapter 8 features the covenant-making ceremony recalling the instructions given in Deuteronomy 27. Joshua 22 details at length a controversy about an altar built near the Jordan by the eastern tribes that recalls the instructions about a single altar in Deuteronomy 12 (e.g. see Josh. 22:29). And the historical recollection that prefaces the covenant ceremony of Joshua 24 in its consciousness of having roots ‘across the River’ in Mesopotamia reminds me of the famous confession of Deut. 26:5, “My father was a wandering Aramean.” So I see a clear Deuteronomic influence in Joshua that may be read in terms of a theology and in terms of an editorial stratum, and I don’t think these two angles are mutually exclusive. But that’s not what was new to me!
  2. Reading Joshua after Leviticus showed me just how ‘priestly’ the book of Joshua is. Priests lead the crossing of the Jordan. Even the infamous ‘ḥērem’ or program of extermination (‘ideal’ though it be) of the Canaanite occupants of the land seems to me to be conducted (or portrayed) in a very priestly and ceremonial manner, along with the punishment of its violation by Achan. On a similar note, but now contrasting with Leviticus, the Levites suddenly make their appearance in Josh. 13:14. Priestly action is unaccompanied by any mention of Levites to this point in Joshua. This is not unlike the Pentateuch: Leviticus does not so much as mention a Levite until ch. 25, and then only in two verses, Lev 25:32-33! It is, ironically, the book of Numbers that teems with references to the Levites. So it is in Joshua: no mention of Levites, but much to priests, in Joshua 1-12; then quite a focus on Levites and their part in the land distribution. While they are denied an inheritance like that of the other tribes, a region to call their own, Joshua 21 offers detailed description of the towns allocated to them to reside in. So I found these priestly/levitical connections interesting, and felt as though all of the historical reportage of Joshua has a kind of priestly, ceremonial frame.
  3. This might surprise you. I find Joshua akin to the Gospel of John. They might seem quite contrary: John all about how God “loved the world in such a way,” with a love that extends in a sense universally; Joshua making it clearer whom God hates than whom He loves, if that isn’t too pointy a phrasing. But they are Jekyll-and-Hyde alter egos of one another. Both are very theologically geared, more so than their neighbours. Theology constrains the telling of history much more in Joshua than in Judges or Samuel, I feel, and I would say the same about John in comparison with Matthew, Mark and Luke. The result is a much more schematic book in both cases, less shaped by the flow of events and far more by the theological truths needing to be conveyed. The two share a very simple vocabulary too: Joshua a good book for a new reader of biblical Hebrew, and John famously so for a new reader of NT Greek. Yet both offer a profound and quite challenging theology that belies the simplicity of their terminology. Perhaps we could be simplistic ourselves here and give a motto for each book’s message:
    1. Joshua: “Who ya gonna serve?”
    2. John: “Who ya gonna trust?”

Time for the real work of the day, but maybe this will challenge your thinking about these three biblical books.

Three Things I’ve Learned from Leviticus

Our pastor told us last Sunday that he was reading Leviticus and Numbers. And with all the stuff about sacrifices and so forth, he asked himself, “What can I take away from this?” Unsurprising point to reach, and our pastor’s conclusion was not a bad one: “God wants our very best!”

I too have been reading Leviticus, as part of my goal to read the Old Testament right through in the Hebrew. It has been a life-occupying surprise to find out how long that takes! I started when I first took Hebrew in 1998, and in 2015 I have a substantial portion to go. Hope I don’t die before I get the Septuagint read.

I haven’t minded reading about the sacrifices. I feel as if I’m slowly gaining a feel for the meaning of ceremonial purity and orthopraxy. But on reaching chapters 17-19, I feel as if I’ve gained a much clearer appreciation of three things:

Leviticus 17: I’ve appreciated how starkly the power of the sacrificial system was tied into the value attached to the blood of the animal. “The life of all flesh is its blood (Lev 17:14 NET Bible)” is the clear principle, and here in Leviticus, not only is blood not to be eaten, but for domestic animals at least, there is to be no such thing as ‘secular slaughter’. While a game animal or bird caught in the wild may be eaten so long as all of its blood is spilled out on the ground, the same is not true for a herd animal:

Blood guilt will be accounted to any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat inside the camp or outside the camp, (4) but has not brought it to the entrance of the Meeting Tent to present it as an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD. He has shed blood, so that man will be cut off from the midst of his people (Lev 17:3-4).

So blood is a holy thing, and as far as possible to be avoided in any ordinary animal slaughter. You may notice that by the time Deuteronomy’s sacrificial laws come along (significantly later, we are led to think), there is such as thing as ‘secular slaughter’:

If the place he chooses to locate his name is too far for you, you may slaughter any of your herd and flock he has given you just as I have stipulated; you may eat them in your villages just as you wish. (22) Like you eat the gazelle or ibex, so you may eat these; the ritually impure and pure alike may eat them. (23) However, by no means eat the blood, for the blood is life itself– you must not eat the life with the meat! (Deut 12:21-23).

It is this sanctity of blood that makes sense, within a Jewish and more general ancient world context, of the death of Christ as our New Testament authors explain it, while that death, in turn, paradoxically explains why no sacrificial system is needed any longer! The perfect sacrifice has come; there is no longer any sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:26)!

Leviticus 18, especially its initial verses, struck me as particularly programmatic for the book:

Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘I am the LORD your God! (3) You must not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you have been living, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan into which I am about to bring you; you must not walk in their statutes. (4) You must observe my regulations and you must be sure to walk in my statutes. I am the LORD your God. (5) So you must keep my statutes and my regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them. I am the LORD. (Lev 18:2-5 NET)

Interestingly, the remainder of the chapter is devoted to sexual ethics, particularly surrounding acceptable degrees of consanguinity. The implication seems to be that sexual ethics were lacking in the two cultures against which Israel could distinguish herself culturally and religiously, Egypt and Canaan. I had never made the connection between sexual ethics and the programmatic Pentateuchal statements about obeying Yahweh’s standards. Maybe it is important for how we understand books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy!

Leviticus 19 early on offers us an even more central statement for the meaning of the book: “You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2 NET). It is interesting what a mingled statement of principles follows in that chapter, combining Ten Commandments-style statements with statutes about ceremonial purity, sexual ethics, and Deuteronomy-like principles protecting the rights of the socially vulnerable. We are inclined to see these as very separate categories of life. It is interesting that being the people of the LORD involves holiness of diet, holiness of ethics, holiness of ceremony, holiness of sexual practice, Sabbath-keeping, avoidance of seances, indeed a wide range of interpenetrating spheres of life!

All that with vocabulary I don’t remember seeing elsewhere in the OT. There is interest in every corner of the Bible, read on its own terms.

Samaritan Korban Pesach Wikimedia Commons

Oh, on that vocabulary note, and so that you finally get a pic, here’s a picture of the ‘Korban Pesach’, the Passover ceremony still conducted annually by the Samaritans on old Mt. Gerizim, where this has been done for at least 3,000 years. ‘Korban’ [קָרְבָּן], ‘sacrificial offering’, is a word very distinctive of Leviticus & Numbers, which feature 78 out of its 82 OT occurrences, beginning in Lev 1:2.

New Jeremiah Paper on Academia Site

Hello Old Testament/Hebrew Bible fans. If you’re interested in Jeremiah and/or OT law/torah, you might like to take a look at a paper I’ve recently posted on Academia.edu: http://www.academia.edu/10557454/Jeremiah_34_8-22._Fresh_Life_from_Ancient_Roots.

Jeremiah 34 Prezi Screenshot

It is intended to be read along with a prezi online, which is found at: https://prezi.com/nd26ypqgpu-u/jeremiah-348-22-fresh-life-from-ancient-roots-bilingual/. It is bilingual, thanks to my colleague Peter Tie’s contribution, so Mandarin readers can find some benefit there as well.

Postscript to Jesus and Jihad: One Puzzling Sword Reference

When I heard the ‘Jesus v. Barabbas’ sermon early in January this year while on holidays, I was impressed, and wrote about it in the first of my two Jesus and Jihad posts. But I stopped at the door to talk with the pastor about one outstanding question I had.

Why, if Jesus disowned the way of the sword, did he in Luke 22:36 say to his disciples, shortly before his arrest:

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. (Luke 22:35-36 NIV)

Very un-Jesus-like, I thought, and asked the pastor what he thought. He sounded a little unsure, but thought it might have been for security reasons. I wasn’t convinced it was a really sound answer at the time, but happened across the passage in Luke this morning. And now I am. The other things Jesus says they now ought to acquire are travelling things, or that is my first impression. Moving to a different Bible version, here are verses 36-37:

36 Then He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money-bag should take it, and also a traveling bag. And whoever doesn’t have a sword should sell his robe and buy one.
37 For I tell you, what is written must be fulfilled in Me: And He was counted among the outlaws. Yes, what is written about Me is coming to its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:36-37 Holman Christian Standard)

In other words, “I’m an outlaw now, and you’re going to have to hit the road.” And the roads were not safe places – something like the roads here in Australia could be in the mid-nineteenth century, when a coach might be stopped by what we (and probably no other culture) call ‘bushrangers’. So on the road, they needed a (ahem) bum-bag, a backpack, and…a sword.

How can I show that this was the reason for the sword, and that it doesn’t ruin Jesus’ non-violent reputation?

First, when they say they can muster two swords (v. 38), he says that’s sufficient. Not enough for a revolution, but enough for security on the road.

Second, when one of the disciples (not identified here in Luke) just hours later in the Garden of Gethsemane, starts swinging his sword to resist Jesus’ arrest, Jesus will have no part of it. This eager disciple actually takes the shine off what Jesus says next, that it suits the religious leaders’ style to ambush him at night as if he was a brigand, a Ned Kelly.

Ned Kelly Helmethttp://nationaltreasures.nla.gov.au/index/Treasures/item/nla.int-ex13-s2

But he wasn’t, so he didn’t go down firing in a metal suit, or swinging a sword. The eager disciple had gotten it wrong. That wasn’t the way to do it. Jesus wouldn’t inflict death for his cause. He would ingest it.

Joshua and Jihad: Part II of Joshua, Jesus and Jihad

Is it only the end or purpose of jihad that we want to quibble with Islamic State over, or is it the means as well?

Explosions at Miramar Airshow.jpg
Explosions at Miramar Airshow“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

To address this part of our two-part series, now addressing ‘Joshua and Jihad’, I will interact with an article by Andrew Shead in Eternity magazine from late last year:

“HOLY WAR: Islamic State & Israel in the Old Testament.” Eternity, November 2014, 19-20. Published by the Bible Society. Also accessible online at http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/holy-war-islamic-state-israel-old-testament.

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