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, 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?