Tuesday, November 14, 2006

James Alison

An Atonement Update. A chapter from James Alison's upcoming book, Undergoing God: dispatches from the scene of a break in.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Creation and Atonement - Darkness

In Genesis 1:2 what is this "darkness" that is spread over the abyss. Margaret Barker says, "The holy of holies was the place of the pre-created light of Day One, but in the temple this was in fact the darkness of the divine presence in the holy of holies. Texts which describe what happened before the world was created, or what happened in eternity, are describing rituals in the holy of holies..."

Psalm 18:11
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky.
Psalm 97:2
Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Darkness was a characteristic of theophanies, God appeared in darkness. Margaret Barker says, "That the Davidic monarchs had indeed become ‘God and King’ in the holy of holies, and that this had not been forgotten, is confirmed by Philo’s extraordinary statement about Moses: he became god and king when he entered the darkness where God was..."

Darkness is thick clouds, like the clouds of incense in the holy of holies. Is darkness created matter that God is shrouded in, like the veil which represents created matter? Is this "Darkness" Yahweh? Then when Yahweh comes out of the Holy of Holies He is declared light?

In the Gospels, at the Crucifixion, we have darkness covering the earth. Is this the same "Darkness" of Genesis 1:2?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Creation and Atonement - Waters and the Flood

"The LORD sits enthroned over the flood", Psalm 29:10.

Psalm 93
1The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is established, that it cannot be moved. 2Thy throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting. 3The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their waves. 4The LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.

Psalm 18:4
4The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

Psalm 24
1The earth is the LORD's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 2For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.

Isaiah 51
10Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?

Margaret Barker says "Jerusalem and its temple, the centre of the whole creation, had been established as dry land in the midst of the watery chaos."

At creation the Lord subdued and bound the waters. The Waters and the Flood are very important in Biblical imagery. What do they represent?

Psalm 69 - Straightforwardly says the Waters and Flood are the people. The deep waters are the persecutors.

Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. 2I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me...4They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away...14Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. 15Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.

From the Girardian Lectionary, the flood is collective violence. It's a deluge of collective violence against a single victim. The story of Noah is like the story of the Gerasene Demoniac, it's a reversal, not the single victim but the community that is engulfed in the Flood. The Lord lifts up the single victim.

Psalm 65
5By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea: 6Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power: 7Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.

Revelation 17:15
is quite explicit.
15And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

The Waters in Genesis refer to peoples and multitudes.

Psalm 124

2If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us: 3Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: 4Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: 5Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. 6Blessed be the LORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. 7Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. 8Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

The Waters are hostile forces or enemies, see Isaiah 8:7, the King of Assyria is described as Waters. Daniel 9:26 describes the Prince coming to destroy the city as a flood.

From James Alison and the Girardian Lectionary:
The story of Noah is less obviously a story of origins than either that of Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel, yet since it, too, is subjected to a christological re-reading in the apostolic witness, I beg indulgence for a quick glimpse at this story too. In the first letter of Peter it is pointed out that in the days of Noah "a few, that is eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you" (1 Pet 3:20-21). That is to say, the water of Baptism corresponds to the water of the flood. Yet Baptism, we know from Paul, is being immersed in the death of Christ, so as to be able to share in his resurrection, and that it is he, and after him, the Church, which the Ark prefigured. This implies a rather particular christological re-reading of the Noah story: the implication is that the Ark actually went under the flood rather than escaping it miraculously! In this re-reading, we would have all the violence abounding on the face of the earth, and, at a time of particular mimetic crisis of indifferentiation, symbolized by the Flood, the collective putting to death of someone (Noah) or a group (Noah and his family). It was this putting to death which brought about peace, permitting the re-establishment of order, the categorization of animals, and the setting up of a new, peaceful tribal system. There are of course many myths of this sort whereby a more or less hidden collective expulsion or murder is seen as producing a new social order, where fruit, or animals, or foodstuffs, start to abound as the result of a mysterious visitation in which it can either be the collectivity which perishes at the hand of a god, or a god which perishes at the hand of a collectivity, and as a prize, leaves behind the basis for the new culture. The Noah story as we have it could very well be a Jewish demythologization of just such a story in the light of their experience of salvation from out of Egypt leading to the setting up of the Covenant. Here, Noah is saved from out of the flood, and God makes a covenant with him never more to destroy all flesh.
Again from the Girardian Lectionary, Paul Nuechterlein writes,
Another way of conceiving sinking down into the water is to become caught up in the swirling of scandal around the scapegoat, to get caught up in the flood of violence. Peter and all the disciples will get caught up in this flood that kills Jesus. Jesus will die because of the flood, but he alone is not swept up in it. This is the image of Noah and the great flood. All people on earth get swept up in a flood of violence except Noah and his family. Jesus dies during a flood of such violence; but, in another sense, he his kept free of its ultimate effects by not returning violence for violence. Instead, held in the ark of the tomb, he rises on the third day as forgiveness, not vengeance. In this sense, he has willingly succumbed to the violence but not gotten swept up in it as a perpetrator of it.
Is Peter sinking down in the water a reference to Psalm 69 and Genesis 1:2. Moreover, Jesus walking on the water and calming the stormy sea also a reference to Genesis 1:2. The waters of Baptism also refers to Genesis 1:2.

Genesis 1:2 - Invisibility

To state again, I believe Genesis 1 is referring to the Atonement ritual. In the Bible Atonement and creation are the same things.

Genesis 1:2, in the Hebrew, says that the earth had become chaos and vacant. The prophet Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 4:23, also saw the earth become chaos and vacant. He offers a clue about what is going on in Genesis. In Jeremiah 4:22, he says that what has brought about the chaos and waste is the people's foolishness and lack of understanding and wisdom. The people have not known God. They know how to do evil, but they don't know how to do good. Isaiah 34:11 also notes chaos and vacancy. Isaiah notes that this chaos and vacancy has been caused by bloodshed.

Chaos and vacant in Hebrew are "tohu and bohu". These words are pretty much synonymous and can be translated as "chaos", "desolation", "wasteland", "emptiness", "empty/unreal/a place of idols", "vanity/vain", "futile", "void", with an implicit understanding of evil.

Interestingly the Septuagint says that the earth was "invisible and unformed". Hebrews 11:1-3 says that "
what is seen was not made out of what was visible."

2 Enoch states:
Before anything existed at all, from the very beginning, whatever is I created from non-being, and from the invisible things into the visible.Before any visible things had come into existence, and the light had not yet opened up, I, in the midst of the light, moved around in the invisible things, like one of them, as the sun moves around from east to west and from west to east. But the sun has rest; yet I did not find rest, because everything was not yet created. And I thought up the idea of establishing a foundation, to create a visible creation (Charlesworth, 1983, 143)
The "invisible" is the Kingdom of Heaven.

New hypothesis...Genesis 1:1-2 should be translated like this, "With Wisdom God created the Heavens and Earth, and the Earth was invisible and darkness was on the Abyss and the Spirit of God fluttered/hovered on the Waters." I'm, of course, not going for a direct translation from anything, I'm trying to understand how Jesus and the first Christians understood this text.

In Genesis 1:2 the creation is still unseen and invisible. Is the temple the Earth? The Temple in Jewish mythology was understood to be/represent the Earth. It was buried in chaos, waste, void, waters, the deep, the Abyss, human violence and the Flood, but it will emerge, even though it is still unseen. What is being described in Genesis 1 is not a geologic or biological creation. It has nothing to do with evolution or the big bang. If I am understanding this all correctly I should be able to find a lot of New Testament support.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


As background to our discussion on the Genesis creation story and the figure of Wisdom, I suggest reading Margaret Barker's great essay "Where Shall Wisdom Be Found" (PDF)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Creation and Atonement - Wisdom

Genesis 1:1-4 is a description of the Atonement ritual. It can be compared to Jesus' life and his death on the Cross.

Some presuppositions:
1. Collective murder and the group unity that occurs after it is culturally creative.

2. Atonement rituals and sacrifices are ritual reenactments of the original collective murder. The rituals are renewing of the bonds of creation.

3. Jesus' death was a collective murder.

4. Jesus' life and death was the fulfillment of the Great Atonement Ritual.

Let's get back to Genesis. I've posited that Genesis 1:1 should read something like "With Wisdom God created the heaven and the earth" or "In the beginning of Wisdom, God created the heaven and the earth."

The Aramaic translation (Targum) of Genesis translates Genesis 1:14 this way,
From the beginning with wisdom the Memra of the Lord created and perfected the heavens and the earth. And the earth was waste and unformed, desolate of man and beast, empty of plant cultivation and of trees, and darkness was spread over the face of the abyss; and the spirit of mercy from before the Lord was blowing over the surface of the waters.
Scholars haven't been able to define the term "Memra". Here's someone else's english translation of the Genesis Targum,
1. As the beginning, the Son of God creates the heavens and the earth.*
The first word in Genesis is Be'reasheet. It is a compound word the Be' means "with" and raesheet means "a first wisdom". Wisdom in the Bible is not just intelligence, it is a personification. I'm not quite ready to say that Jesus equals Wisdom. Let's look at some texts from the Bible.

Proverbs 8:22-30:
22The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. 23I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. 24When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: 26While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. 27When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: 28When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: 29When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: 30Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;

Jeremiah 10:12
2He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.
Psalm 33:6-7:
6By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. 7He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.

Psalm 104:24;
24O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
John 1:1-5:
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Jesus was at the beginning of the world, the lamb slain since the foundation of the world. The world was created through Jesus. Jesus was the method of creation.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Creation and Atonement

Genesis begins like this, "With Wisdom God created the heavens and the earth, the earth had become formless and void and darkness covered the abyss and the spirit of God moved over the waters. Then God said 'Let Him be light, and He was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness."

My hypothesis is that Genesis 1:1-4 should be translated something similar to this. So I've narrowed the focus, but there is a lot there to unravel and decipher. Tremendous symbolism that needs to be discovered. There's a second part of my hypothesis and that is that these verses are related to the Great Day of Atonement and Jesus Christ. That in fact what these verses are describing is the atonement ritual. Method: to find verses throughout the Old and New Testaments, rabbinical writings and any other writings that will illuminate this text. I'm sure I'll need to make quite extensive use of the works of Rene Girard and Margaret Barker. I've discussed and researched this previously, but this time I'll try to work at it till I get the last drop of meaning out of it. We have some verses and things to talk about for next time, just need to get organized.

Please discuss or cite possibly relevant verses.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Atonement Ritual in Joshua 7 with Implications for Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory

The defeat of Jericho was a tremendous victory. Joshua took Rahab, the prostitute, out of the city, but everything else was to be destroyed. Everything was to be destroyed, babies, unborn babies, children, young children, women and men, all property, but Joshua spared the prostitute who had helped the Israelites destroy her own city. Not all the property was destroyed, the silver and gold, and the vessels of iron and bronze were brought under Joshua's control.

Joshua was feeling pretty good about himself. He was a proud and violent man. He thought a lot of himself. Joshua in this story is an ideologue. An ideologue devoted to a false ideology.

In Numbers 27:15-21 Moses asks God for a man,
17Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.
And God says,
...at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.
James Alison says,
A passage I particularly like is John 10, in which Jesus proclaims that he is the door of the sheep. First he tells his listeners that a good shepherd is one who watches over his sheep and leads them to and from pasture; they hear his voice and follow him.
A good shepherd will watch over his sheep. Mr. Alison continues,
Suddenly Jesus' image acquires a significant new vibrancy: the pasture which he leads his sheep to and from, going in before them and coming out again, is not the usual pasture, but a "pasture" with a one-way entrance: the gate to the abbattoir. Other sacrificers take the sheep without entering through the gate; robbers and thieves, they are not prepared to carry out the sacrificial lynching themselves, but pick off sheep for sacrifice from a safe distance. When they hear the wrath of the lynch mob coming close, they run away. But the Good Shepherd is happy to go through the gate, occupying the space of the sacrificial lynching for his sheep, who thereafter know that it is not a trap; they will always be able to hear his voice and follow him in and out.
Joshua in his pride and haughtiness believes that Ai will be easy for him to conquer. The reports from the spies say the city is small. With apparent prompting from the spies Joshua decides only a small number of people need toil at Ai, while the rest can stay back in the Israelite camp and continue the celebration of the victory at Jericho. Joshua declares that the good times and partying will continue, only the lowly need to toil and risk their lives at Ai. So Joshua sends the lowly, the people who don't quite fit in, to venture through the sacrificial machinery at Ai. Joshua the shepherd of Israelites declares that the people he is sending out the toil through the sacrificial machinery at Ai are not worth his attention. He doesn't care about them, he is too good to go out with them. He's still enjoying the victory at Jericho with his friends. Can't interrupt his partying with Rahab and all the gold and silver he's collected to go out and risk his life with the unpleasant lower classes.

The Israelites were defeated at Ai. They fled and thirty-six men were killed. "The hearts of the people melted and turned to water." They showed as much interest in taking Ai as Joshua did. If Joshua was going to sit back and party, why should they risk life and limb to take Ai. Joshua is just going to take all the gold anyway.

After the defeat Joshua gets all melodramatic like a typical scapegoater. The defeat couldn't possibly be his fault. He's a slick politician, victories belong to him, defeats belong to the people and the scapegoats. The manifest destiny ideologue asks God/tells the people resentfully "Why have you brought this people across the Jordan at all, to hand us over to the Amorites so as to destroy us?" He can't admit that the defeat at Ai was a leadership failure. He questions the people's courage and terrorizes them with the idea that the Amorites will come and slaughter them and their children.

People are angry at Joshua. They resent Joshua. Their relatives have been killed because of Joshua's lack of leadership. There may be actual violence occurring between the Joshua and anti-Joshua partisans. The bonds of the Israelite community are dissolving. The covenant held all things together. Joshua was man responsible for holding the people together. To lead them all out and to lead them all back. Joshua has broken the covenant, people have been killed. The whole community is on the verge of self-destruction. They don't love Yahweh, the people need a scapegoat to renew the covenant. Joshua is a substitute for the entire community. It's either his death or the death of the community. Joshua realizes this. The community at this point is under the wrath of god. Joshua is refusing to provide himself as a scapegoat.

Joshua realizes that all you need is one person to be a substitute for the whole community. To absorb the wrath that is beginning to boil in the people. So in a highly ritualized drama, Joshua parades the entire community before him, by allowing the people to receive a "not guilty" from him he absorbs their sin and takes it away. Family after family parades before Joshua, he is absorbing their sin, freeing them from the consequences of their own wrath. It doesn't matter if Achan actually had loot or not, he is a scapegoat. Then finally Achan is chosen. The people have never liked Achan, some say he was a criminal, or just didn't like his unpleasant personality. After the parade of families Joshua now has absorbed and possesses in his person all the sins of the Israelites. The second Joshua, Jesus, at this point refused to lay all sin on someone elses head. This Joshua finds a surrogate victim in Achan. Joshua is a substitute for the entire community, Achan is a substitute for Joshua. Joshua is the high priest, Achan is the lamb. Joshua places the sins of the community onto the head of Achan. Achan whether he likes it or not has become the servant of the lord. The bonds of the community are now his responsibility. He will literally unite and draw all the Israelites to him. He is the scapegoat. He takes their sins away. They can focus their hatred on Achan instead of each other. They will all become friends again. Joshua now has provided a scapegoat for the community. All the responsibility for defeat has been placed on Achan, the rest of the people have received a big "not guilty".

The Israelites go on to take Ai with a much larger force than the first time. This time Joshua made sure to lead the way.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Achan is a Scapegoat

I don't understand how one can defend and justify the murder/lynching of Achan. Achan was a scapegoat. Achan was killed for the sins/shortcomings of Joshua. It defies understanding how people can believe that Achan by allegedly hoarding plunder can have brought about the defeat at Ai. It is superstition to believe that Achan somehow caused the defeat at Ai.

It's funny that immediately after the brutal lynching and homicide of Achan and his family that Joshua lifts the ban. (Joshua 8:2 and 8:27)

The atonement ritual in Joshua 7 only needed to identify one victim, that is why they drew lots. Why didn't Joshua just look for the ban? Everybody had the ban. Joshua needed someone to take his place in the atonement ritual and this someone was Achan. Joshua knew Achan would make the perfect scapegoat. Achan wasn't liked, the people resented him. If Achan was chosen, no one would defend him.

The story of Achan is a story about lynch mob murder. Achan is the hero of the story. He takes the sins of the people upon himself and bears them away. Like the servant in Isaiah 53, he is the bond of the community. His death and destruction holds the community to together. Achan is the atonement sacrifice. He could point the finger at all the others who have hoarded plunder. He could have pointed fingers at Joshua, who is the true villain in this story. Joshua's pride and hubris was what actually caused the defeat at Ai.

Achan by accepting death and bearing the sins of his accusers displays the love of God. Achan is similar to the servant, he has poured his soul out as a sin offering for Joshua and the people of Israel. Upon Achan was the chastisement that made the people whole. The people laid all their frustrations and sins upon Achan. The people healed themselves by throwing stones at Achan. By collectively stoning Achan the people stopped fighting amongst themselves and united around the shared murder of Achan. The people became good, while they made Achan into evil. Achan apparently accepted this, in similar fashion as the servant and subsequently Jesus did.

To believe that Achan caused the defeat at Ai is to believe in a pagan god. It is to believe in a god similar to the Greek god Dionysus. It is to believe in a god that takes great joy in murder and hatred. It is to believe in a god that only hates certain sins, and a god that makes the innocent pay for the sins of the strong and the many. Achan is innocent of causing the defeat at Ai. It is quite ludicrous to argue that Achan had anything, at all, to do with the defeat atAi. Achan is a classic scapegoat. Achan was a human sacrifice.

We must remember that Yahweh is Jesus. Jesus died in a similar fashion to the way Achan died. Joshua was not a true leader/king. Jesus/Yahweh would not have murdered Achan. Jesus/Yahweh was standing beside Achan while he was being murdered by an angry, vengeful and sin-filled mob.
Jesus/Yahweh is light/life and in Him is no darkness/death at all. Jesus bears the consequence of our sin. The tough thing is that he asks us to bear the sin and consequences of the sin for others. Jesus is love. He doesn't want to kill you. He doesn't want you to kill yourself, but if you don't want to love your neighbor this is what will happen. Your sin has consequence. Sin has its own consequences. Sin is its own punishment. God's wrath is the giving up of people to the consequences of their own sins.

Why can't we love and bear the sin of our neighbor? Why do we keep looking for an Achan or a Jesus to murder.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Decapitation and Doubles

Let me reference my previous post re Iraq and the doubling that has gone on there. Brendan O'Neill wrote Iraq: the world's first Suicide State.

This quote from O'Neill deserves my continuing attention,
So, many insurgent groups film their members blowing themselves up and post the footage on the web; sometimes these are sophisticated operations, involving more than one camera angle and half-decent post-production values. They have also filmed themselves beheading Western hostages for the cameras. Indeed, most insurgent attacks, whether filmed by them or not, seem designed to create a media spectacle.
My thesis, I think, is something like this. That the suicide bombers are our degraded doubles.

1. The bombers film themselves. The war was a media event. The war had no logical aim. It was a mass-media atonement ritual. Mr. O'Neill says the "insurgent groups film their members blowing themselves up and post the footage on the web." Our side filmed the blowing up of Iraqis and now the insurgents film the blowing up of Iraqis. "Shock and Awe" had no military purpose besides making the people in America feel better about themselves. The architects of the war knew that war is nothing but atrocity and murder. There is no meaning to it. They were fighting a propaganda war, against whom we have yet to see. Everything is media and propaganda-driven. It was all just one big show. Parade the victim around and then ceremonially do away with him.

2. Another thing that came to my attention, I thought was also indicative of doubling. At the beginning of the war there was much talk of decapitation strikes, which were nothing more than an elaborate fireworks show with a lot of death and destruction of innocents. It was all done for the media of course. We do our decapitation strikes, they do their literal beheadings.

I hope I'm beginning to make myself clear. What is going on in Iraq right now is a situation or instance of doubling. We forced ourselves on the Iraqi people as their model. They have taken us as their model. They're doing their best to copy our original war, the random/meaningless destruction, the playing to the media, etc.

I'm trying to do more research into this anti-Christian model that has taken over America. This idea that violence and revenge is right, moral and even Christian. It is deeply evil, and there's a deep psychologist basis to it that will take sometime to get into.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Iraq and the Demoniac in the Tombs

I was reading this article, Iraq: the world's first Suicide State. Some quotes from Mr. O'Neill's article:
"Yet the violence in postwar Iraq is more peculiar and barbaric than any of us could have predicted."

"...there is a kind of spectacle of death, a relentless and pointless bombing and burning of men, women and children by faceless, nameless killers.

"It is striking, for example, that the bombers seem always to lash out against Iraqi civilians..."

"There seems to be no political agenda at all, or certainly none that has been articulated."

Another ‘perplexing’ feature of the Iraqi insurgency is that it seems more interested in creating media images than winning real grassroots support for its agenda (whatever that might be). As the NYT says, ‘The insurgents are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis’, instead focusing their efforts on creating ‘images of chaos’ (9). So, many insurgent groups film their members blowing themselves up and post the footage on the web; sometimes these are sophisticated operations, involving more than one camera angle and half-decent post-production values. They have also filmed themselves beheading Western hostages for the cameras. Indeed, most insurgent attacks, whether filmed by them or not, seem designed to create a media spectacle.
He concludes by calling this a "...'perplexing’ violent movement...". The above quotes are very perceptive. I'm going to allege that what is happening in Iraq is not so perplexing. It is a reflection or mirror image of what we did to the Iraqi people. Everything above can also be said about the American invasion. From the pointless bombing, burning and mutilation of Iraqi civilians to the obsession with creating media images, we're dealing with two manifestations of the same phenomena. The Iraqi's are reenacting or imitating what we already did to them.

All this brings to mind the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. Paul Neuchterlein of the Girardian Lectionary says, "The story of the Gerasene demoniac is a classic illustration of Girardian interdividual psychology, namely, that our psyches are functions of the Other." The Iraqis are reenacting, against themselves, our previous persecution and war.

From the Girardian Lectionary (about a 1/4 of the way down the page), is Rene Girard's interpretation of the story. Iraq is a scapegoat similar to the Gerasene demoniac. Girard says, "As if he is trying to avoid being expelled and stoned in reality, the possessed brings about his own expulsion and stoning; he provides a spectacular mime of all the stages of punishment that Middle Eastern societies inflict on criminals whom they consider completely defiled and irredeemable."

The violence of the Gerasenes is hardly reassuring for the possessed. Reciprocally, the violence of the possessed disturbs the Gerasenes. As always, each one tries to end violence with a violence that should be definitive but instead perpetuates the circularity of the process. A symmetry can be seen in all these extremes, the self-laceration and the running among the tombs on the one hand, the grandiloquent chains on the other. There is a sort of conspiracy between the victim and his torturers to keep the balance in the game because it is obviously necessary to keep the balance of the Gerasene community. (The Scapegoat, pp. 170-171)
The Demoniac enacts against himself what the community wishes to do. He lives among the dead and beats himself with stones. So he does the work of the community. This self-destructive behaviour is brought about by the community. The community has made him evil, so that they can be good and happy and sane.

Robert Hamerton-Kelly states:
The demoniac is a classic scapegoat figure. He dwells among the tombs and wanders the mountainsides wounding himself and howling. No chains can bind and no man subdue him. He is possessed by a legion of demons, and legion is the mob of his persecutors. He carries his persecutors inside himself in the classic mode of the victim who internalizes his tormentors. He even mimes the lapidation by which he was driven out, compulsively belaboring himself with stones and crying his own rejection. He imitates his persecutors to the extent that he becomes his own executioner in the mode of self-estrangement characteristic of the mimetic crisis. The legion of demons is, therefore, the lynch mob.

Iraq is enacting what we did to them. Everything I quoted above from Mr. O'Neill can equally be said about the the current situation in Iraqi and the initial American war. The above quote from Hamerton-Kelly is perfect. Substitute Iraq for the Demoniac. This is what is happening in Iraq right now. What is happening in Iraq right now is the reenactment of our initial brutalization and degradation of the Iraqi people. We arbitrarily killed their civilians, now they do the same. We have possessed them.

Moving to the end of the Gerasene demoniac story Girard states:
But in these cases it is not the scapegoat who goes over the cliff, neither is it a single victim nor a small number of victims, but a whole crowd of demons, two thousand swine possessed by demons. Normal relationships are reversed. The crowd should remain on top of the cliff and the victim fall over; instead, in this case, the crowd plunges and the victim is saved.

The miracle of Gerasa reverses the universal schema of violence fundamental to all societies of the world. The inversion appears in certain myths but not with the same characters; it always ends in the restoration of the system that had been destroyed or in the establishment of a new system. In this case the result is quite different. The drowning of the swine has a definitive character; it is an event without a future, except for the person cured by the miracle. This text suggests a difference not of degree but of nature between Jesus’ miracle and the usual healings....

Jesus expels the demons, which are the lynch mob, from the Demoniac.

Girard goes on,
The demons are in the image of the human group; they are the imago of this group because they are its imitatio. Like the society of the Gerasenes at the end of our text, the society of demons at the beginning possesses a structure, a kind of organization; it is the unity of the multiple: “My name is Legion; for there are many of us.” Just as one voice is raised at the end to speak in the name of all the Gerasenes, one voice is raised at the beginning to speak in the name of all the demons. These two voices say the same thing. Since all coexistence between Jesus and the demons is impossible, to beg him not to chase away the demons, when one is a demon is the same as begging him to depart, if one is from Gerasa. (pp. 179-180, 181-182)
It should be said that Jesus doesn't send the demons/swine over the cliff, they run off the cliff of their own accord. The Gerasenes know that Jesus is a threat to the stability of their society, he has taken away their scapegoat. If he is now sane, what are they.

Hamerton-Kelly states:
The demons recognize Jesus as their nemesis and try to persuade him not to expel them from the system of violence altogether, but merely to transfer them from one location to another. To do this would be to manage violence by means of violence within the closed sacrificial system. Jesus, however, removes them altogether by sending them into the swine, which, contrary to the demons'' expectation, rush into the lake and drown. The herd of two thousand swine is an eloquent symbol of the mob in pursuit of a victim. The herd's drowning means that violence ceases when the mob disappears. The order of expectation is reversed and instead of the victim going over the cliff the mob goes over!

Jesus is the enemy of the crowd. He refuses to provide the mob with another victim. Deprived of a scapegoat the mob destroys itself. This is the wrath of god. The mob not being provided with a scapegoat as a substitute for themselves, will destroy itself. This is the wrath of God. Jesus has taken away their scapegoat. God doesn't need to destroy them for their sins, they will destroy themselves. They are deprived of a scapegoat to place their violence and sins upon.

The Gerasenes ask Jesus to leave. Have we as Americans in our rush to make Iraq a scapegoat asked Jesus to leave?

Saturday, September 30, 2006


I've previously discussed Achan here, here, and here. The passage was also recently discussed at Grow Mercy.

The standard conservative/literal reading of Joshua 7 is that Achan caused the defeat at Ai and that it was right and moral for Achan to be brutally killed with stones and fire.

Of course the 21st century mind sees no connection between Achan allegedly taking some spoils from Jericho and the defeat at Ai.

Achan is a precursor or an anticipation of the Christ figure. He is a man innocent of the crime which he is accused. He did not cause the defeat at Ai. I gotta tell you I don't trust any stories that come from lynch mobs. This story is being told by a lynch mob. Achan's confession may be like the confessions in Soviet show trials. This is a story about the formation of group unanimity and renewing the bonds of the group with a blood sacrifice.

Achan was murdered. Achan was viciously killed by a lynch mob. Regardless of how the so-called literalists want us to understand this text, God was on the side of Achan and not the lynch mob.

Joshua was supposed to be a "Shepherd". He was not a good "Shepherd. Jesus was a good shepherd, he didn't lose any of His sheep. In this story Joshua makes a human sacrifice of one of his sheep. Achan is sacrificed for group unity. Achan is sacrificed in Joshua's place. Jesus is the new Joshua. Jesus doesn't kill any of his sheep to save Himself.

After the defeat at Ai the group was on the verge of disintegration. Joshua knew that because as the leader he would sooner or later himself be sacrificed to restore group unity. Joshua wasn't a good shepherd. He knew that someone had to die, and it wasn't going to be him. He needed a scapegoat. Achan had all the signs of a scapegoat. Achan was not a man well-liked by the people. A sinner and hardened criminal. He didn't have friends. If Joshua pointed the finger at Achan, no one would come to his defense. It may have been a long time that people had been wishing for Achan's death. Joshua knew it was either him or Achan.

Numbers 27:15-21 would lead one to believe that the cause of the defeat at Ai was that Joshua did not lead his people into battle. In this section God commands Joshua to march at the head of the army. Now I think you could make a pretty good case that Joshua was in fact responsible for the defeat at Ai. Joshua was supposed to lead the army into battle, to "go out before them".
From the Legends of the Jews:
"He, however shall be a man 'which may go out before them,' who, unlike the kings of the heathens, that send their legions to war but themselves remain at home, shall himself lead Israel to war. But he shall also be at man 'which may come in before them;' may it be granted him to see the number of those returning from war no less than that of those going into war. "O Lord of the world!" continued Moses, "Thou hast led Israel out of Egypt, not to punish them for their sins, but to forgive them, and thou has not led them out of Egypt that they may be without leaders, but that they may indeed have leaders..."

Joshua is not the good shepherd, not only has he lost sheep, but he has intentionally sacrificed one. Did he stay at home out of pride and hubris?

Achan, if we believe what the text says, has realized that he is the lamb that will be sacrificed for group unity. He doesn't point the finger at others, he takes Joshua's sins and the community's sins upon himself and the community is cleansed and renewed by the death of Achan. Achan removes the sin of the community. The community has united around the dead and brutalized body of Achan. This story has many similarities with Isaiah 53. The Achan story is a real-life atonement event. Stories like Achan's are what underlie the Atonement ritual. Stories similar to this underlie the Gospels and what Jesus is doing. Jesus is uniting humanity around His broken body. He allows His body to be broken so that others won't have to be.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Saved from Sacrifice

S. Mark Heim has a new book out entitled Saved From Sacrifice, I haven't read it yet but it discusses Rene Girard and atonement theology.

Previously in the Christian Century, "Visible Victim: Christ's death to end sacrifice."
Part One
Part Two

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Isaiah 53:4 and Penal Substitutionary Atonement

It's been a while since my last post, I've been doing research for a novel I hope to someday write. I know, I have weird hobbies, I spend my time going back and forth between amateur theologian and amateur, aspiring novelist, but it keeps me busy.

I've also been reading a new blog, The Rebel God, Derek Flood has been doing a pretty good job struggling with the atonement.

Now on to today's brief observation.

Matthew 8:16-17 quotes from Isaiah 53:4
16When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:

17That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.

Penal substitutionary atonement states that God the Father laid the sins on Jesus, but I think what the Gospel of Matthew is saying here in it's quotation of Isaiah 53:4 contradicts this. The people brought their sicknesses, sins and infirmities to Jesus and Jesus took them and absorbed them. He bore/forgave their sins. God the father doesn't seem involved with any kind of laying on of sins here.

Luke 5:21 says:
21And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?

If penal substitution is the law, how can sins be forgiven before the penalty has been paid. How can Jesus forgive sins anyway, if it is God the Father who needs to be paid?

Jesus removed ritual impurites from the people. He restored the outcasts to the community. The cleansing of lepers, and the bleeding woman are examples. As Margaret Barker says, "the miracles were not general acts of healing; Jesus did not mend broken bones. The miracles all have a ritual significance and present Jesus as the restoring high priest. Paul presents the same ideas in a different way; the work of Christ brings sinners back into the community (he uses the term 'justification') and then no supernatural powers are ever again able to separate them and cut them off."

Again you must read Margaret Barker's essay on the atonement. She writes:
Third, there is additional information about the scapegoat in the Mishnah; people pulled out the goat’s hair as it was led away (m.Yoma 6.4). In the Epistle of Barnabas42 there is a quotation from an unknown source about the scapegoat: ‘Spit on it, all of you, thrust your goads into it, wreathe its head with scarlet wool and let it be driven into the desert’ (Barn.7). The goat suffered the fate of the Servant: ‘I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard. I hid not my face from shame and spitting (Isa.50.6); and ‘He was pierced for our transgressions’ (Isa.53.5). Barnabas continues: ‘When they see him (Jesus) coming on the Day, they are going to be struck with terror at the manifest parallel
between him and the goat.’ The reference is to the future coming of the LORD to his people. This is another Servant motif; the recognition of who the Servant is43. Barnabas, too, associates the scapegoat with the Day of the LORD: ‘They shall see him on that Day, clad to the ankles in his red woollen robe, and will say, ‘Is this not he whom we once crucified and mocked and pierced and spat upon?’ (Barn.7).

On Isaiah 53 she writes this:
Second, we see that Isaiah 53 could have been inspired by the Day of Atonement ritual. A few points must suffice.
1. ‘He shall startle many nations’ (Isai.52.15); yazzeh, the apparently untranslatable verb means ‘sprinkle’ in the atonement ritual (Lev.16.19). The Servant figure does not ‘startle’ many peoples; the original Hebrew says he ‘sprinkles’36.
2. The Servant ‘carries’ the people’s sicknesses or weaknesses (Isa.53.4).
3. The Servant has been wounded for their transgressions. Wounded, hll, is a word which carries both the meanings required by Mary Douglas’s theory of atonement, viz. to pierce or to defile.
4. ‘Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole’ (Isa.53.5b) can also be translated ‘The covenant bond of our peace was his responsibility’37. ‘With his stripes, hbrt, 38we are healed’ would then become ‘By his joining us together we are healed’, forming a parallel to mwsr, covenant bond. The primary meaning of hbr is to unite, join together.
5. The Servant pours out his soul/life as a sin offering, `sm (Isa.53.19). The `sm is,
according to Milgrom, the sacrifice which redresses the m`l, which is either sacrilege
against holy things or violation of the covenant.39 The soul/life was in the blood of the sacrifice, hence it was poured out.
All this suggests that the Servant figure was modelled on the one who performed the
atonement rites in the first temple40. This figure appears in Enoch’s Similitudes in his heavenly aspect as the Man, the Anointed, the Chosen One. In the ritual of the second temple, the figure became two goats: one bearing the sins away and the life/blood of the other being taken into the holy of holies where the ark, the throne had been41.
In pagan/primitive religion the people always believed that the god/person they just lynched restored peace and unity to the community through his beneficence and foreknowledge. It was his plan to be killed by the lynch mob so that the community could be united. This is how the lynch mob saw things. It wasn't the person that was brutally murdered that united them, it was their own collective violence directed toward the scapegoat.

I think it was Nietzsche that said Christianity is structurally the same as pagan religion. In Christianity the lynchers hear the cock crow. Jesus is not turned into a minor deity because people realize what they have done. They killed him, they were responsible for His death. Jesus poured his blood and soul out to them. He becomes the God of Love and Forgiveness who has bore/forgave their sins. So unlike pagan religions, where the people have to constantly reenact the original lynching by finding new scapegoats, Christians must follow Jesus and bear/forgive the sins of others and no longer give into violence and make more scapegoats.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mark 8:22-26 and Trees of Righteousness

Mark 8:22-26 is the story of Jesus healing the blind man at Bethsaida.

Jesus comes to Bethsaida and the people bring a blind man to him. Jesus spits on his eyes and puts his hands upon him. Spit was apparently defiling in Judaism. Then the blind man looks up and sees "men as trees, walking". This refers to Isaiah 61:3. Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:16-21, this reading inaugurates the 10th and final Jubilee. So the blind man sees men walking around as righteous, glorifying the Lord, rebuilding old wastes, raising up former desolations, repairing the waste cities and the desolations of many generations (Isaiah 61:4). In Enoch the opening of blind eyes is linked to the overthrow of evil and releasing from bondage, both Jubilee themes. Luke 4:18 mentions recovery of sight to the blind as part of Jubilee. In Luke Jesus quotes from the Septuagint text of Isaiah 61 (the definition of the relevant Greek word) not our Old Testament/masoretic text if I'm reading everything correctly.

So basically all I really want to say is that the trees that are walking around refer to Isaiah 61:3 and this is all related to the Jubilee which Jesus has inaugurated and will be fulfilled in His renewing of the convenant at the Cross.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yahweh, Jesus, Isaiah 53 and Penal Substitutionary Atonement

I don't have time to actually do research and then write an article or an appropriately organized and coherent blog post, so what will follow below are notes to a hypothetical article. I'll be doing research while I'm writing this, it's like real-time, I don't know, real-time something. Well, let's begin.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory uses Isaiah 53 as evidence of God wounding/killing the Son for our sins. The specific verses include Isaiah 53:6-7 and Isaiah 53:10.

Isaiah 53:6-7 and Isaiah 53:10 do not support the theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

There are two questions I want to explore. Both lines of thought are inspired by Rene Girard's mimetic theory and Margaret Barker's research into First Temple symbolism.

1. The New Testament declares that Jesus is Yahweh. Yahweh is the Son of God. Jesus is Yahweh. Penal Substitution Atonement theory (hereafter abbreviated, PSAT) doesn't seem to take this into account when it uses these verses as evidence and support.

Philippians 2:9-11 - God gives Jesus a name. What is that name? Is it the tetragrammaton YHWH? 2:11 says that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the God the Father. "Lord is equivalent to "Yahweh".

Margaret Barker thoroughly lays out all the evidence in her book "The Great Angel", a portion of which may be found here. You'll have to find the book for the chapters on the New Testament and the first Christians.

So the question right now, for PSAT, is how does Yahweh, not God the Father, lay all sin on Himself. I of course believe that in fact it is not God the Father or Yahweh placing all sin on anybody, rather it is the people who have placed their sins onto the Servant. Eucharistic theology. Yahweh pouring His blood out to the people. Think last supper.

Isaiah 52:15 says the servant will sprinkle many nations. His blood will be sprinkled on many nations.

Margaret Barker's Atonement: The Rite of Healing (pdf)

According to Barker Isaiah 53:5 can be translated "The covenant bond of our peace was his responsibility".

Also, "With his stripes, hbrt, we are healed' would then become 'By his joining us together we are healed', forming a parallel to mwsr, covenant bond. The primary meaning of hbr is to unite, join together."

Immediately reading this I think of Girardian mimetic theory. What's the high priest in the gospels say, it is better that one man die than for the whole nation to be destroyed, or something like that. Barker states, "The Servant 'carries' the people's sicknesses or weaknesses." So because the servant is carrying all the negativity of the community, all contagion, all sin and violence, all that's bad, he must be removed. The community is united against the servant. He has restored the community/covenant by his death. People formerly on the fringes are brought back into the community.

Girard says that in the ancient world collective stonings and lynchings really did unite people, so much so that he posits that the foundation of primitive religions can be found in the circle of people around the stoned and lynched victim. Primitive religions, when they found that their societal unity was beginning to disintegrate tried to ritualize and reenact this founding event. They reenacted the founding event, the collective lynching/stoning of a victim, to restore the stability and bonds of the community. This went on till it exhausted itself and another actual, collective stoning/lynching had to take place. Then a new god or religion was born. The sacred awe of ancient crowd, who had previously been undergoing societal disintegration (i.e. actual violence between community members) suddenly, after the collective stoning of the victim found that peace had been restored and the bonds of the community had been restored, sins had been forgiven (i.e. the cycle of revenge had ceased). These ancient people soon discovered that the victim who they thought was evil, who had united them to collectively stone him. He wanted them to stone them, so that they may be united. So this victim was evil, was the cause of violent plague that beset the community. But now, something strange has happened, peace seems to have fallen on the community. People formerly at each other's throats are now smiling at each other, crops which weren't being planted/harvested now are growing and healthy. The violence that previously was destroying the community has left with the victim who was stoned. Things previously not working because of the violence, now are working because people are no longer fighting. The ancients don't perceive that it was their own violence that was causing the society to disintegrate. After everything is renewed, they go back and pinpoint the collective stoning/lynching of the victim as the beginning of the renewal. This victim is turned into a primitive god. The people think the victim was both evil and good. The Greek word pharmakos means both cure and poison. The Greeks threw the pharmakos over the cliff whenever they were suffering a plague (not biological plague, but violent plague). So whenever there is trouble in the community people try to ritualize what brought peace before. They ritually reenact the whole situation that led up to the collective stoning/lynching. This cures the community.

2. James Williams' interpretation of Isaiah 53. From his Bible, Violence and the Sacred (via Girardian Lectionary).

He says, "This song or poem is a kind of antiphonal dialogue between the God of Israel and the people. God speaks in 52:13-15 and 53:11-12, and in my judgment the people speak in 53:1-10."

After discussing who is speaking in each verse , Mr. Williams summarizes,
"Because he poured out his soul [or life, nefesh] to death": this is the key, as I construe the passage. The Servant willingly gave himself for his people. It wasn't God who caused his suffering, it was oppressors. As the divine voice says in an oracle found in chapter 54:
If any one stirs up strife,it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you
shall fall because of you. (54:15)
"Strife" -- the conflict of mimetic rivalry that results in violence -- does not come from God. The two lines seem to indicate strife within the Israelite community (15a) and strife in the form of attacks upon Israel (15b). In my reading I see the Servant as the object of oppression resulting from this strife. He does not intend to become a "sacrifice," and God does not subject him to suffering, although Second Isaiah perceives that the people continue in the ambiguity of the tradition still rooted in the sacrificial cult.
It is the people who oppress the Servant, not God. The Servant is the substitute for the entire community. If the Servant is not destroyed, the community will destroy itself, by its own violence and hatred. The Servant renews the Covenant by shedding his blood. His blood seals the covenant. His expulsion and death holds the people together. Their anger and violence is directed toward him and not each other. He is the substitute for the community. He dies so that they don't have to. Instead of killing each other, he allows the community to unite around him in a collective expulsion. A collective murder. His blood his poured forth. His blood, like in the Day of Atonement ritual, is sprinkled on the community. He carries the community's sins, sicknesses and violence away.

Mr. Williams states:

The Servant of the Lord depicted by the Second Isaiah is a paradigm of the victim whose expulsion is coterminous with his calling. "By oppression and judgment he was taken away . . . he was cut off out of the land of the living." But in this role he stands for the whole, the entire community. From the standpoint of the community whose theology is still rooted in the principle of god's wrath and still has not quite attained a theology of the innocent victim, it appears that this suffering has been imposed by the God of Israel on his servant, yet it is a condition the Servant has accepted voluntarily. It is very ambiguous from the standpoint of the collective voice of the social order, and thus it must always be. The suffering of the innocent victim will always be ambiguous from the standpoint of any society, which always has at the core of its structure a victimization mechanism and its sacrificial outlets. The victimization mechanism may be qualified, and there may be substitutions upon substitutions whose use seems to deny the effectiveness of sacrificial violence. Even if sacrificial violence seems to be a thing of the remote past, nonetheless culture and language are permeated with strong traces of that which brought about hominization in the first place: mimetic desire and rivalry, collective violence, prohibition, and sacrifice.

However, the prophetic author of the Servant poem has insight that transcends the point of view of the collective chorus that comments on the Servant and his work. He sees that it is not the will of God to bruise him, but it is the will of God to use him -- to speak through the excluded one, who suffers on behalf of others. In understanding his suffering, in standing with him and not with the persecutors, those who are taught by him begin to transform the structures of sacred violence.

One final thing to stick in here at the end.

Barker states that Isaiah 53:1 could be translated, "To whom has the offspring/seed of the Lord been revealed". Jesus is the root and offspring of David (Revelation 22:16)

Barker says that the "'Root of Jesse' is a triumphant figure, the banner to which all nations will be drawn on the day when Israel is gathered together again".

Jesus allows Himself to be killed by the mob, and instead of violent retribution He distributes His body and blood in an act of forgiveness, so that we may turn from our sin and hatred of our neighbor. In accepting the body and blood we realize what we have done. Instead of killing others to bring peace we must now accept the forgiveness and the broken body and blood of Jesus. Instead of unity found around the bodies of our murdered victims, we must find unity around the broken body and blood of Jesus. Eucharistic Atonement? Jesus/Yahweh coming from the Temple/Heaven with His blood to forgive us and unite us in love around Him. Primitive religions found their communion around their collectively stoned victim, Christians should find their unity around the broken body of Jesus. We have killed the Author of Life. We must stop murdering people.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Melchizedek, Jesus and Jubilee

In Luke 4:15-22 Jesus quotes a section from the Book of Isaiah.

18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

19To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

I'm still using Margaret Barker's "The Time is Fulfilled; Jesus and the Jubilee" (pdf).
That section is from her book the Great High Priest.

Barker says that the Qumran Melchizedek text refers many times "to the Jubilee oracle in Isaiah 61: '...the Lord God has anointed me...to proclaim liberty to the captives'"

Hebrews 7 makes a connection between Melchizedek and Jesus.

Barker states:

Daniel’s seventy weeks of years were reckoned from this time ‘when the word went forth to restore and rebuild Jerusalem’ (Dan.9.25), and the seventy weeks of years were to end when transgression, sin and iniquity were finally removed and Jerusalem was destroyed (Dan.9.24,26). The Day of Atonement was also the Day of the LORD, the Day of Judgement13. The description indicates a final Day of Atonement when prophecy and visions are fulfilled and the Anointed One appears.
The seventy weeks of years, 490 years, were ten Jubilees, and the alternative way of reckoning this period was as ten Jubilees. Jewish tradition remembered that the 490 years ended in 68CE; calculation from the second temple Jubilee sequence beginning in 424BCE gives 66CE. A two year discrepancy is hardly significant in the light of what this implies, namely that the tenth Jubilee began in 17/19 CE. In other words, tenth Jubilee fervour and expectations were the context for the ministry of Jesus.

The Qumran Melchizedek text describes the events of the tenth Jubilee.
Isaiah 52:7 is another important Melchizedek and Jubilee text. In this tenth Jubilee there was going to be a final day of Atonement.

In Luke's gospel Jesus claimed to have inaugurated the final Jubilee. Isaiah 61 was also central to the Melchizedek text. Barker states:
The first miracle was an exorcism (Mark 1.21-26), setting one of his own people free from the power of Belial. He spoke of a woman bound by Satan and released her (Luke 13.16), of slaves to sin whom the Son could release (John 9.31-38). He forgave sins and illustrated his teaching with a parable of two debtors whose debts were cancelled (Luke 7. 41-48). The healing miracles restored to the community people who would have been excluded as ritually unfit: the disabled, the lepers, a woman who was bleeding. This was the great ingathering of the Jubilee. Jesus spoke of those who would inherit the earth (Mat.5.5) and at the Last Supper, he spoke of the New Covenant and of his blood poured out for the remission of sins (aphesis, the Jubilee word, Mat.26.28).

In the "Risen Lord" Barker states, "The Qumran Melchizedek text shows that there were some in first-century Palestine expecting a divine high priest at the end of time bringing the day of the Lord which was also the great day of Atonement."

Psalm 110, the Melchizedek Psalm, is the the most frequently used text in the New Testament.

Jesus as Melchizedek?

Melchizedek, Jubilee and Jesus.

Barker again: "Melchizedek was central to the old royal court...and that this priesthood operated in the mythology of the sons of Elyon and the triumph of the royal son of God in Jerusalem."

Barker again: "In the Elyon tradition, Melchizedek was one aspect of the role of the king in his embodiment of the Spirit of Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel."

Melchizedek was a priest of El Elyon.

Were the ancient kings both sons of David and sons of Elyon? Was this how Jesus was understood?

Jesus inaugurated the Jubilee. Jesus declared the forgiveness of sins and the literal and financial remission of debts. Jubilee and the Day of Atonement restore the covenant. The Jubilee was to bring the lost and disenfranchised back into the fold. It was supposed to restore creation. Heal the wounds in creation.

What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Son of God? Were the ancient and first temple kings known as Sons of God? How did the Day of Atonement renew the covenant? So much material to assimilate. Remember this isn't really an argument, but rather a collection of notes, maybe for some future, hypothetical argument that I'll maybe make. Just trying to lay some groundwork for an understanding of Jesus, the Gospels and the New Testament, by using the Isaiah Servant Songs as a general inspiration and focus.

James Alison, Some Thoughts on the Atonement.
Margaret Barker, Atonement: The Rite of Healing.
Margaret Barker, Beyond the Veil: the High Priestly Origin of the Apocalypses

Introductory Notes to the Isaiah Servant Songs and the Jubilee

In the comments section of my last post Mr. Randle suggested I do some biblical exegesis. He suggested Isaiah 53:5. So I'll use that verse and the Isaiah Servant Songs as a general inspiration and focus. There's a lot of material to go over so don't expect anything like a linear article, it'll just be an outline, notes and comments.

1. In this study I'll be generally following Rene Girard's mimetic theory (summary from Girardian Lectionary) and Margaret Barker's research into first temple symbolism.

2. Isaiah and Jubilee

Leviticus 25 deals with the jubilee system. A ram's horn was used as a trumpet to announce the year of jubilee. The jubilee year came at the end of the cycle of Sabbatical years. Leviticus 25 states it's the 50th year, but others believe it may have been the 49th. In this year liberty was proclaimed to Israelites who had become enslaved to debt and land was restored to families who because of economic need had been forced to sell in the previous 50 years. Most of this is based on Margaret Barker's article "The Time is Fulfilled; Jesus and the Jubilee" (pdf) and the Anchor Bible Dictionary and a Qumran dictionary.

Things I find particularly noteworthy from Barker's article:


The Jubilee, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, was proclaimed on the Day of Atonement (Lev.25.9) and so the custom of Jubilee must be understood in this context. Since atonement was itself a rite which restored the eternal covenant and enabled the whole creation, not just the community of Israel, to be restored to its original state3, the Jubilee was a practical application of the atonement. The key figure in the rite of atonement was the high priest who was the visible presence of the LORD on earth 4, and, just as the LORD had ordered the creation at the beginning, so he recreated it on the Day of Atonement at the New Year. The Jubilee recreated society by restoring people to their own land and by removing the burden of slavery and debt.

"The Jubilee was closely linked to the role of the Servant of the LORD, Isaiah’s depiction of the royal high priest of the first temple."

"Isaiah 61.1-9 is a significant Jubilee passage; someone anointed with the Spirit is to bring good tidings to the poor, comfort the broken hearted and proclaim liberty, deror, to captives."

"Daniel’s seventy weeks of years were reckoned from this time ‘when the word went forth to restore and rebuild Jerusalem’ (Dan.9.25), and the seventy weeks of years were to end when transgression, sin and iniquity were finally removed and Jerusalem was destroyed (Dan.9.24,26). The Day of Atonement was also the Day of the LORD, the Day of Judgement13. The description indicates a final Day of Atonement when prophecy and visions are fulfilled and the Anointed One appears.
The seventy weeks of years, 490 years, were ten Jubilees, and the alternative way of reckoning this period was as ten Jubilees. Jewish tradition remembered that the 490 years ended in 68CE; calculation from the second temple Jubilee sequence beginning in 424BCE gives 66CE. A two year discrepancy is hardly significant in the light of what this implies, namely that the tenth Jubilee began in 17/19 CE. In other words, tenth Jubilee fervour and expectations were the context for the ministry of Jesus."

"The liberty of the Jubilee is interpreted as release from iniquities, the beginning of the atonement which will occur on the Day of Atonement at the end of the tenth Jubilee. The return and the release from iniquity were to happen in the first week, the first seven years, of the tenth Jubilee i.e. approximately 19-26 CE. If Jesus was born in 7/6 BCE15 and was baptised when he was about thirty years old (Luke 3.23), he began his ministry during the crucial first ‘week’ of the tenth Jubilee."

So the themes/subjects I'll be continuing to explore are the Isaiah Servant Songs, the Jubilee, the connection between Jesus and Melchizedek, the Day of Atonement and whatever else I'll find interesting.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Iraq War and Penal Substitutionary Atonement

It is my prediction that the War on Iraq will finally make Penal Substitutionary Atonement untenable to all but the most strident ideologues.

Jesus was killed by an angry mob.

Iraq War was launched by an illogical, angry mob.

In both cases evidence didn't matter. Evidence wasn't even considered. Paranoia, hatred and violence ruled. It was better for someone else to die, and Iraq's case a lot of somebody elses, than for our self-esteem to take a hit.

Those who wish for death want to be lost in the crowd. They want to be lost in the waters of chaos at the beginning of Genesis. Yahweh emerged from the Temple carrying His blood, killed by the violence of those who inhabit the waters, and Yahweh established dry ground. Jesus was light. We must take responsibility for our own violence. The mob killed Jesus and the mob continues to kill Jesus. If you kill the least of these you kill Jesus. We have killed children in Iraq. How many children must die for American self-esteem?

We have exported our violence to Iraq, and now Iraq is filled with violence. For too long talk-radio and the propaganda of Conservatism has fomented hatred. Hatred of the Liberal, hatred of our neighbors who we resent, and who seem to be always more insidiously powerful.
Hatred, endless hatred and resentment. Behind hatred is the wish to kill and murder. Americans are not allowed to kill each other. Talk radio propaganda has built up hatred in the Conservative soul. They couldn't actually kill Liberals, because well first of all they don't exist, and secondly because if they should find one of these mythical creatures U.S. law prevents murder. A substitute had to be found. This substitute was Iraq. This substitute had to be weak. Iraq was the target because it couldn't fight back and no one would defend her. We could have our way with the people of Iraq. They were designated as evil. It was now Ok to kill them, because they were evil, and we told ourselves that we were at war. Murder, we tell ourselves, is perfectly fine during war. During war we break things and sometimes innocent people and children get killed, and burned alive and dismembered. This was Ok because it was war, and also we wouldn't be suffering the consequences.

It's always fun to gang up on the little guy and kick his ass. It's better his ass than mine. Camarderie with the big and serious people. War is serious business.

The War on Iraq was waged for no reason. Sure Saddam was responsible for a lot bad things, and because Saddam is guilty of bad things this gave us a free pass to commit bad things of our own. Always comparing ourselves to someone else. War propagandists always want us to base our behaviour on the behaviour of same bad and evil guy. Saddam killed his own people, so that makes it OK for us to kill his people too.

Moral Relativism. Conservativism is moral relativism. War is murder. Murder is a sin. We must repent of murder.

God the Father handed Yahweh/Jesus over to us. Instead of following the commandments we murdered the author of life. We always believe the crowd is in the right and the person being killed is in wrong. In Penal Substitutionary Atonement God is no different than Satan. Satan is violent and murderous, but God is violent and murderous to a much greater degree. If there's anything that we respect it is authoritative violence. In Penal Substitutionary Atonement God is the Lynch Mob who authoritatively kills the designated victim/victims.

What do we say? Penal Substitutionary Atonement makes no sense. God handed over the Iraqi people to us, and instead of dealing with them with love and mercy we demand their deaths. Of course, the war propagandists burnt a whole bunch of incense and clouded the whole thing in mystery and told us that we were only killing bad guys and that we were doing a great and noble thing by liberating Iraq. As Christians we know, and the War on Iraq has made perfectly clear, is that we longed for the death of the innocent children, we longed for their fiery deaths, their dismemberment and rape. This is War. War is Hell. Christianity believes in a literal Hell. There's no need to spiritualize it into some long distant future last judgment. People are living in Hell right now. The War on Iraq is Hell. Hell inhabits people who want to kill, who demand sacrifices to whatever god they worship.

Penal substitutionary atonement should have fallen apart after Hiroshima/Nagasaki and the Nazi death camps. Humans are responsible for violence and murder. Humans were perfectly capable all on their own of murdering Jesus. It was a human decision that Jesus must die. Humans are lost in sin. Jesus on the Cross is the Last Judgment. Jesus on the Cross is the Light in Genesis 1:3. Death and blood and resurrection and return from the dead of Jesus create the world.

God is Love. Penal Substitutionary Atonement doesn't understand Love. Love for them can only be understood in terms of inflicting violence on someone. God doesn't scream for blood, humans do.

Iraq was a sacrifice to our god. Two goats. George W. Bush is the High Priest. He places the sins of the community on the head of Iraq and sends them over the cliff in the wilderness. Our soldiers are the second goat who is sacrificed. The soldiers are a substitute for George W. Bush, who is a substitute for us. The blood of our soldiers was supposed to renew our society and heal the wounds of Liberal disintegration.

George W. Bush

This post over at the Preaching Peace blog got me thinking about our dear leader, George W. Bush.
It brought to mind this quote from his 2002 State of the Union Address:

"If it feels good, do it." Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: "Let's roll."

He is also quoted as saying this:

"If it feels good, do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else," to a culture in which each of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make in life. I call it the responsibility era.

I don't think we need to mention that these are the words of man who has spent his whole life apparently doing anything that felt the least bit good.

How do I describe it? I have listened quite extensively to the discussions of conservatives on talk radio and blogs. Sexual licentiousness is a dominant or obsessive subject of the discussions. From never ending discussion of homosexuality to Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction. The "responsibility era", what does this mean to a Republican party that consistently preaches that individuals have absolutely no responsibility to the greater community. Apparently the only time when we have claims made upon us by the greater community is when it is time to take someone or some country out back and kill them.

So I think all this sexual licentiousness and economic jealousy/envy inevitably lead us to the scapegoat. George W. Bush realizes this. "Let's Roll" is a call to community. They have designated the victim who will take responsibility for all our misdeeds. It really doesn't matter if they're guilty of anything. The reasons to go brutally murder these people really don't matter, it's just so much smoke and incense. We were in a frenzy. A sexual and economic frenzy. We hated each other. We were tired of competing of the envy and jealousy. Put all the SUV's and boats and vacation homes, the suburban square-footage comparisons, the sexual competition and frustration, put all that behind us. Take my hand brother and let us all go kill the infidel. Glory, Yes, just like our fathers in WWII, in the big one. Saddam is Hitler, we're going to liberate those people, flowers will reign down on us, people will hug us in the streets.

Conservatism is obsessed with the Other. Resentment which is the driving power of Conservatism is obsession with the Other. With the Good-Looking guy down the street, with the Liberal, with the Homosexual, with the rivalrous Woman, always their eye is on someone else. It hurts, this obsession with other people, obtaining their identity from their neighbor or their television. How someone else always seems to be more authentic and more powerful.

We've wanted to kill for a long time, and suddenly a victim is designated, a country who literally cannot fight back. A country who's people it is safe to brutalize and dismember. Of course to us this was a religious ritual. We were the good guys, the allies in this new World War. We wanted to be able to fight these people, these evil-doers without regret. To brutalize them with our big military guns. We didn't want to be nice. This frenzy we worked ourselves into. These people were evil and we were right to "shock and awe" them. To show them our authenticity, our manliness. We were men. American males had doubted this for too long. This "War", or religious ritual, would restore our authenticity, our maleness, our goodness.

In this religious ritual, which was an atonement ritual, we wanted to, or tried to, place all our jealousies, rivalries, hatreds and sins onto the head of the Iraqi people. This didn't work as well as some of us hoped, well because we are a nation based on Christianity and it was so easy to see that Iraq was being scapegoated, for the our own sins.

The War on Iraq was wrong and evil. Tens of thousands of innocent people were killed and brutalized. Innocent people, children and unborn babies were killed, burnt alive, dismembered by our bombs. All for our self-esteem and the illusion of our own goodness. There still among us people who truly believe that these Iraqi children are guilty of the "crimes" that we accused them.

George W. Bush's words were a call for the lynch mob to form. George W. Bush and the Republican party's sole purpose is to blame someone else for our misdeeds.