REFLECTIONS ON OLD TESTAMENT THEMES AND STORIES
St. Bede's Adult Forum
Some literary treatments of Old Testament Themes and Stories
Genesis: Robert Crumb – Genesis in comic strip narrative (at Public Library)
Soren Kierkegaard, Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling
John Steinbeck, East of Eden – Cain and Abel
Job The Living End, by Stanley Elkin,
The notion of myth – it is not when did it happen, but where is it happening?
Myth addresses -How did we get this way? That is, in good part, at the heart of the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham & Isaac, Joseph and his Coat
Two Creation Stories: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; 2:4b-2:25, each written at different times with different purposes by different "schools:"
P justifies priestly, ritualistic religion – cult, seasons and festivals, Sabbath.
D understands history through experience – faithfulness and apostasy.
E uses "elohim" (gods) for the Divine.
Cain and Abel: on-going struggle between siblings, between urban/agrarian
Then Lamech said to his wives:
"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold." 4:19-24 –
That sense of retribution is transformed in Exodus 21:24 (an eye for an eye)
Noah – the first of the Covenants (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Davidic)
Abraham – adventures and misadventures – his descendents (literally) in his seed
Birth of Isaac – Isaac means "laughter" after the laughter of his parents in their 90s when Isaac was conceived.
Abraham & Isaac 22: Several authors and philosophers have wrestled with this.
Stories about Jacob – cheating his brother, wrestling with an angel, being renamed "Israel."
"We worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" or "the God of the Liar, the Larcenist and Laughter")
Jacob and his brothers – the twelve tribes of Israel.
Israelites are in bondage in Egypt 2:23-25
The calling of Moses (temper and voice 7:1-2 – Aaron was his mouthpiece)
The Plagues followed by the Passover (preparations 12, exodus 13ff. – 15:1!
Time in Wilderness, first set of the 10 Commandments 20ff
The Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant 25:8f. these represent God's will to live in the midst of his people – the extension of which is the Incarnation.
LEVITICUS – High Morality & The Problem of Guilt
Holiness Code: 19:1ff High Points of Biblical morality – which is based on the holiness of God.
19:9 Gleaning – Salinas Valley, where the practice of gleaning is still practiced
19:17 first appearance of loving your neighbor- see v.33
19:33 the sojourner – big deal in that culture, milieu
The Jubilee Year – no one crushed forever 24:ff
Years in the Wilderness
Second set of 10 commandments – recalling covenant (religious service) Deut. 5ff
The Notion of Election 7:6f (reflected in New Testament in I Peter.
The Kind of God we worship and serve 7:9f
Office of a Prophet 18:15
The Blessings of Obedience 28:1ff. – the heart of Deuteronomic history (you obey, you prosper; you disobey, it's curtains for you) These laws applied to nation primarily – individual focus later.
JOSHUA – God's promise upon entry into Promised Land.
Rahab (chapter 2 and end of 6) – one of four women in the geneology of Jesus, Rahab was a prostitute.
Joshua's leadership in establishing a stronghold in the new land.
JUDGES - wonderful stories of early leaders of the Hebrews
Continuing struggle to take control of the land.
Deuteronomic history played out
Judges/Deliverers: Ehud (3:13-28), Ms. Jael kills Sisera(4), Deborah! (5) Gideon (6:13f),
RUTH – purpose to show intermarriage can be successful religiously
1:15 "Wherever you go, I will go. . . ."
3:5f. marriage and property tied together, reflected in a father giving his daughter away.
Ruth & Boaz sire Obed, the father of Jesse, father of David (geneology) Illustrates a foreigner as part of the geneology of Jesus
I SAMUEL – this and II Samuel are some of the best history ever written – inside information, great use of sources and documents, compelling narratives.
Song of Hannah, ch. 2 – from which we get the Magnificat
Capture of the Ark 4
Request for a King (big deal) 8:4f. "we want to be like all the other nations"
The origin of The Holy Spirit – takes possession, ecstatic 10:5
12-14 – the core of Deuteronomic history.
16 – The Calling of David – a mirror image of the Cinderella Story!
17 - David and Goliath
18 Saul and David in conflict
20ff The Friendship of David and Jonathan (2Sam1:25-27) – many hold this to be a homosexual relationship.
7:16 God's promise to David and Descendants
11 David and Bathsheba and Uriah
12ff. Nathan's Fable – rebuke to David.
Stories of Absolom and others
I KINGS – again, much great history
Solomon made King ch 1ff and his wisdom and judgment
Chapter 5ff preparation for the building of the Temple
Chapter 9ff. Solomon's apostasy
Stories of intrigue
Chapter 15 – war between Israel and Judah.
Chapter 17ff. The arrival of Elijah the Prophet
Chapter 19:11f – major shift in understanding of God – not in nature, but interior voice.
Stories of Ahab
1-2Elijah taken into heaven, mantle passed to Elisha
Stories about Elisha – miracles
Stories of immensely evil kings, interrupted by Hezekiah, then Manassah the worst.
22 – Reform under King Josiah!
23 Judah now has constitutional rule – accretions gone.
24-5 Destruction of the Temple – Exile
I & II CHRONICLES
History retold by P or Priestly tradition
EZRA in the year of Cyrus, king of Persia – Return of the Exiles
Ezra & Nehemiah deal with evil doers differently- Ezra tears his hair out/Nehemiah tears their hair out.
Rebuilding of the Temple begun – rebuilt 520-516 Legalism begins – with Torah being taught 7:16ff.
NEHEMIAH (holds position similar to a senior warden)
The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, list of those who returned. Here and through Chronicles great attention given to recording people's names.
Ezra the Priest's Reading of the Law to the people (8:1ff)
The Samaritan schism begins 13:28
ESTHER – the story establishing/justifying the feast of Purim
Haman wants to destroy Jews, Esther intercedes, Mordecai is a hero.
JOB – rejection of Deuteronomic theory of history (represented by Job's "friends")
Job is a righteous man – Satan promises to make him curse God.
Eliphaz: Only God is pure: the rest of his creations, including the angels, are not – which means that humans must accept some punishment for their inescapable impurity. Job must have sinned, not because he was evil, but because he was human.
Bildad: The sins of the sons are reason for father's punishment.
Zophar: Job's punishment is the result of Job's own secret and substantial guilt which he must be hiding, even from himself.
Problem in Job: God does not answer Job's legitimate questions about suffering of the innocent, though it is widely believed that he does.
Ending of Job may have been tacked on.
PSALMS – separate entry in this blog.
PROVERBS: Wisdom honored – beginning of the notion of Holy Spirit as part of Godhead.
8:22 and 8:22-31 is crucial passage in early understanding of Trinity!
Sayings: 1:2 gold ring; Every Member Canvass 11:24-26; Thanksgiv'g 15:16-17;
Other parts of Proverbs noted earlier in blog – comic structure of the Bible.
ECCLESIASTES – tries to find meaning and is defeated (despite tacked on holy ending)
Great Passages: 1:1-11; 3:1-8 Byrds; 4:9f marriage; 9:11f. nothing new under the sun;
SONG OF SOLOMON – used to be favorite part of the Bible for horny teenage boys.
The book asserts that the love of God and erotic love are not different in kind.
2:8-13 lovely poem; 4:1f. each part of the beloved praised; 4:9ff erotic love
AMOS – earliest and most biting
2:6-8; 3:1-2; 4:1-3; Plumbline (7:7-9); verses quoted by MLK – 5:21-24
HOSEA – some hope
Marries Gomer, the prostitute (3 ff) Hosea's faithfulness to his whore/wife is compared to God's faithfulness to a whorish nation.
"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."
JOEL – post exilic (after Jews have been freed from exile in Babylon)
Quality of Repentance 2:12-13; for final battle 3:9-1-
OBADIAH –focus on judgment of Edom
foresees auto (2:3-5) not really, but the images are there.
HABAKKUK – like Job, opposes Deuteronomic history
Individual faith: 2:4
Environmentalist: rejects violence to trees & animals 2:17.
Many liturgical passages are found here.
Wrestles with the problem of evil.
Woe to Jerusalem and the Nations
The Restoration of Israel 3:14-20
Argues for rebuilding of the Temple (building fund 1:4)
Economic Depression explained (1:10-11)
A Temple for all – 2:7f.
Theme – the universal reign of God.
New sense of repentance –totally by grace of God (3:1-5)
Old men and old women . . .glories yet to come (8:4-5)
MALACHI Priestly prophet
Inclusion of Gentiles (1:11), 2:10.
ISAIAH – three different books
Themes: against foreign alliances (31:1ff. for example),
Vision: 6:1ff. the holiness of God
Isaiah walks naked as protest – one of the great clown/fool moments in Scripture.
Vision of the Messianic Banquet at the end of history (Chapter 25).
II Chapter 40 "Comfort, comfort . . .straight (return from Babylon)
Transcendance – creation ex nihilo (40:12ff)
The Servant Passages (especially 50:4-11, 53:1-12) – key to Good Friday liturgies and Passion
God chooses Cyrus – first mention of the Annointed or Christ(45:1f.0)
The Nation as a Light to the Nations 49:6b
Jeremiah's call to be a prophet
Transformation of the Outward to the Inward in Ethics (chapters 31 and 33)
The responsibility of the Shepherd/Watchman
Freeing ethics for individual responsibility (rejects the belief that a father's sin infects children)
Ezekiel's Vision of the Wheel
Hope – Valley of the Dry Bones
DANIEL – Apocalyptic (bizarre visions about the end of the world and salvation for the saints - this is reflected in the 13th Chapter of Mark, called "the Little Apocalypse" and the Book of the Revelation of St. John the Divine. All three written to encourage the faithful who are being persecuted.
"The Son of Man" here and in the Psalms – the phrase here is the Son of Man coming in clouds of glory to claim his kingdom. Elsewhere, especially in Ezekiel, the phrase refers to humans in our finitude. Jesus seems to combine the two uses in order to drive others to see who he really is instead of assigning simple labels.
Stay tuned for better work on the Major Prophets.