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.

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