Archive for November, 2013

Faustian Patterns

Posted in Uncategorized on November 25, 2013 by ancienthopes

Faust in medieval lore was a philosopher-scholar who mastered everything there was to know but was disgruntled. This made him vulnerable to Mephistopheles, a demon, who came to him offering a deal with the Devil; his soul for 20 years of complete power and everything he could ever want at his behest. The deal sealed with his blood, Faust experienced all pleasures and learned all the secrets of creation, but was still unhappy. This is when Faust asked Mephistopheles for Helen of Troy, the most beautiful women who ever lived. There was one problem, however, and that was that she was dead, and for him to have her, she had to be a demonic representation. Mephistopheles knew that if Faust carried this through that it would finalize the loss of his soul, for intercourse with a demon means irrevocable damnation (vis-a-vis Gen. 6:1ff.). He asked Faust if he understood the consequences. Faust acknowledged that he did, demanded Helen, and Mephistopheles complied. The story ends with the demons dragging him off to hell.

The outline of this story is as old as man. Actually, we see it here in these opening chapters of the Bible twice, once with the antediluvians and then again with postdiluvians. The antediluvians, Cain’s line as we observed in the post of Oct. 15 (Cain’s Alternative Culture), and Ham’s line after the flood, have parallel Faustian elements. Both are deeply active culturally, building cities and creating all sorts of things (cf. Enoch in Gen 4:17 with Nimrod in 10:10 where he was a “mighty hunter,” meaning that at the beginnings of postdiluvian civilization it was a king’s duty to rid the land of wild animals). Cain’s ancestor Lamech becomes violent and warlike (4:23-24), and Nimrod’s establishment of the city-states in Shinar implies to the ancient mind warfare (10:10). The outcome of both cultures, as in the Faustian legend, culminates with intercourse with demons. We see this with the antediluvians in Gen. 6ff, but also in 11:1-9 with the building of the tower of Babel (see previous post). Evil comes to a point where Judgment is the only remedy. As we look ahead in the history of the kingdom of Israel/Judea, beginning with Solomon and his great wisdom like Adam, wealth, and building projects, the evil crescendos to Manasseh and the unforgivable sin of witchcraft that brought irrevocable judgment on Judea (II Kings 21). History repeats itself in patters.

The point here is not that human culture is evil in and of itself. There are many good things about it, not to mention that we must live in it! The point here is that all major cultures “made with human hands” eventually follow a pattern, ultimately a Faustian one. “Made with human hands” is a biblical code word for the great cultures of the world in contrast to God’s kingdom that is not built with human hands. (See Daniel 2:34-35 where the “stone cut out by no human hand” broke to pieces the great Neo Babylonian Empire becoming a mountain [Eden] that fills the whole earth.) In contrast, the Tabernacle was made according to the vision God gave Moses (Ex. 25:9, 40, 26:30, 27:8), which we know is the model for Eden as well. The Temple was made of stone not cut at the Temple site, but in the quarry according to exact proportions so no sound was made when placed together (I Kings 6:7). Although it was made of human hands, this process symbolized that this Temple was unlike Babel, but was the heart of the Kingdom of God on earth. Though it too failed, it became a symbol of the eschatological Kingdom and the City of the Great King that is not made with human hands. (For an excellent book on this, see The Temple and the Church’s Mission, by G.K. Beale.) Of all the myths that best describes our western culture and America itself, it is the Faustian legend.

Thus we end our discussions on the great Primeval History. It is the very foundation of our Christian cosmology; in it all the motifs of the rest of the Bible are established. There is no end to its subtleties and profundities; it is a many faceted jewel which sends off sparkles of light and brilliant colors as we turn it round in our hearts and minds. In it we know our origins, and if we know where we came from, we know who we are, and what our end will be, for in all living things, the end is hidden in its beginnings.


Babel, the Culmination of the Fall

Posted in Uncategorized on November 18, 2013 by ancienthopes

We often think of the fall in terms of the temptation narrative in 3:1-7. This episode, however, is merely the introduction to a wide-ranging fall narrative that culminates with Tower of Babel. We have established that God intended humanity to spread out and fill the earth, expanding the garden in Eden throughout the whole world, subduing its wildness so as to make the whole earth a “holy of holies.” (This is called the Cultural Mandate.) With Adam and Eve’s failure, we see that Cain’s line reversed this original intention by filling the earth with violence, necessitating judgment and the flood.

In the last post we explored the idea that like Adam Noah also experienced a fall with wide-spread implications for humanity through his three sons. Japheth’s line is briefly passed over (10:2-5), for the main focus is on Ham’s line that sets up the critical conclusion to the fall narrative, the tower of Babel (10:6-20). More will be said about this in the next post. Shem’s line is then given in 10:21-31, but is taken up again after the Babel story, specifically focusing on Shem’s line through Arpachshad, the ancestor of Abraham. The overall effect of this is to sandwich the story of Babel with Shemite genealogies. This structure sets Babel in contrast to Abraham, through whom God will ultimately fulfill the cultural mandate.

Ham’s line directly challenges the mandate by building “a city and a tower with its tops to the heavens” so as not to be “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (11:4). What we have here is the dark side of the city motif where humans unite together to create an alternative culture built on oppression, moral depravity, and violence. The tower is a proud attempt to re-create the original mountain of Eden, built by human hands. In effect, it was a “magic mountain,” or “cosmic mountain,” whose foundations descended to the underworld and its gods, its base on earth touching nature deities, and its top reaching to the great celestial gods. To build such a mountain was to create a magical cone of power, the focal point of the intercourse of the gods from the netherworld to the heavens.

The reason for this enterprise is that men wanted to “make a name for themselves.” The word “name” in Hebrew is, curiously enough, “Shem,” the name of Noah’s blessed son and ancestor of Abraham, whose genealogy surrounds this narrative. We will talk about this “bright side” of the fame motif latter. Here it connects with the Nephilim of the dark narrative of Genesis 6:4, who were “men of renown” (same Hebrew word “shem”). They were also motivated by fear; fear that if they are scattered over the earth that they will lose their autonomy, their control. Like Eve, humanity doubted God’s intentions for them, and therefore took matters into their own hands.

All this bluster is silly to God, who has “to come down and see” this sight, the Hebrew suggesting that for God, it took some effort to bend down from His lofty heights to observe this operation, which to its builders was of massive proportions (11:5 is the very center of the narrative structured in a tight chiasm). Rather than destroy by flood, God judges by confusing their language, thus forcing them to spread out over the world and fill the earth as He purposed from the beginning. However, implicit in this is the fact of linguistic, racial, and cultural walls that divide humanity and is understood here to be a product of the fall. Thus the fall narrative began with the false words of the serpent and ends with the confusion of words in multiple languages as judgment for rebellion.

Noah: His Fall, Curses, and Blessings

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 by ancienthopes

Noah pleased God, was righteous and perfect, walked with God, and was obedient in carrying out God’s incomprehensible command to build a huge ship and collect animals. This does not mean, of course, that he was sinless, for this sort of perfection does not belong to the fallen sons of Adam. Perfection is an orientation, a dynamic relational idea in Scripture, as we have said before in this blog (see Dec. 10th 2012-Feb. 5th 2013). What is most striking is that his life ends in a sordid little story which, as it turns out, is far more theologically profound than what one might think on a superficial reading.

Noah was the first to cultivate the vine. It is not clear whether his drunkenness was the result of initial experimentation or that he just imbibed too much one day. Whatever, he laid drunk in his tent, and his son Ham “saw” his nakedness. What this means is unclear, but to “uncover the nakedness” is a euphemism for sexual encounter; this along with the statement that Noah “knew what his youngest son had done to him” (the word “to know” in this context of nakedness implies a sexual act) suggests the worst. In contrast, his two brothers, out of respect for their father, would not look upon the scene, but walking backwards, covered up their father. Rather than curse Ham and thus 1/3 of the human race, Noah curses Canaan his son, who evidently manifested his father’s sexual perversion to lower depths, thus placing a moral stigma on the Canaanites (represented famously by Sodom and Gomorrah), prophetically justifying the conquest.

What we have here is another fall narrative. Like Adam, Noah is a “first man,” beginning well as a “priest-king” in a fresh environment. Adam tended a garden, Noah a vineyard. Adam took from the forbidden fruit; Noah imbibed fruit to excess. The result for both was nakedness, exposure, and shame. Adam covered himself with leaves; Noah was covered by his sons. Both stories end with a curse; the ground for Adam’s sake, and Canaan for the lewd act of his father. The point is that this new start was poisoned right after the covenant; history repeats itself.

Out of the squalor of this story the subsequent history of the world is determined. Japheth is to the north and west, Ham to the south, and Shem to the east. Right in the middle where these three converge is Canaan; it is the center of the biblical world geographically. Shem is blessed, and Canaan is cursed to be his slave. The land of Canaan is destined to be the stage, the theater upon which God will display His saving acts. It will, in fact, become the new Eden, the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey, the new mount and temple, the navel of the earth. Strangely enough, Japheth will “dwell in the tents of Shem,” thus prophesying that he will conquer Shem militarily. However, Shem will conquer spiritually, for the phrase “blessed be YHWH God of Shem” denotes that YHWH will display His glory to the world through the Shem, specifically, as we will see, through Abraham’s seed.

I find it amazing that this most antique of prophesies outlines the geographical, historical, and spiritual movements of the human drama even to this day. Israel will not go away; her presence in the old land is the source of worldwide tensions. Over this thin little stretch of land along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean eastern man and western man historically have converged in conflict. The west tends to dominate militarily (Greece/Rome, briefly during Crusades, modern times) but the east spiritually, for the west converted to YHWH, the God of Shem.

The Noachian Covenant: A Temple Document

Posted in Uncategorized on November 4, 2013 by ancienthopes

The first time the word “covenant” occurs is Genesis 6:18. The usual terminology is to “cut a covenant,” since animals were cut in half to solemnize the event (Hebrew kārat barît). Here, however, we have the Hebrew verb qûm which in this context can well be translated “re-establish” or “perpetuate” an existing covenant (cf. 9:11 with the same verb). Though there is no formal covenantal ceremony in Genesis 2, we see that there is indeed an agreement or at least conditions by which Adam and Eve must live which contain promise or punishment. Every covenant has symbols, and the symbol of the Edenic covenant is the tree of life and the garden in general, which we have identified as the Holy of Holies. With the loss of the garden, and the subsequent crescendo of evil in the antediluvian world, one wonders whether the promise of Eden, the tree of life, is cut off forever to humanity. With Noah we find that God indeed perpetuates His original covenant promise with humanity. The Noachian grows organically out of the Edenic.

The symbols of the Noachian covenant are two-fold. The rainbow was intended for God to see lest, when beholding evil with pure eyes, He should render justice and destroy the world again. It acts as a divine restraint so that mercy prevails. The ark functions as the other symbol. As we have seen in the former post, the ark is, in fact, a miniature Eden containing another “first man” and animals. As an Eden, it is understood as a temple before which we see Noah building an altar to God where he sacrificed. God promises not to curse the earth again, nor destroy it as He just did with the flood, “while the earth remains …” (8:21-22). This last phrase is loaded eschatologically, for the assumption is that this earth will not exist forever in an endless cycle of seasons like the pagan animistic religions understood, but that there is a climax and an end to history as we know it.

Before the ark Noah is blessed to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Therefore, Adam’s original purpose, that of guarding and keeping the temple, as well as expanding it to the whole earth, is perpetuated in this covenant. Moreover, the animals disperse, but now under different conditions. That God would place blood restrictions on the eating of animals assume that with the degradation of humanity before the flood humanity gorged on animal meat as animal devours animal with pulsating blood, or at least with blood not drained. To preserve the imago dei in humanity, God allowed for the eating of animal flesh, but with the restriction of draining the meat properly. Obviously, animals are less inclined to buddy-up to men who desire to eat them. It is contrary to original design for animals to fear humanity, or vice versa. This covenant accepts this reality of the new order, but again, with restrictions so as to keep order in the cosmic temple as man and beast spread forth.

Then there is capital punishment. Before with Cain, murder was dealt with mercifully, and man responded to God’s patience with presumption, killing indiscriminately. Now the killer must be put to death for the specific reason that man was made in the image of God. To kill a man is to strike at God, and God bestows the right and responsibility on the human community to execute the offender. Again, order must be maintained in the cosmic temple as humanity expands. That these blood restrictions are placed on the human race with regard to beast and fellow men underlines the fact that humanity has become blood thirsty; this new covenant is designed to place boundaries on the shedding of blood.

Apart from the confines of the altar, the shedding of blood defiles the temple in ancient Hebrew thinking. As God mandates Noah to start anew in the original purpose of filling the earth and making it the temple of God, tight blood restrictions were necessary. In this way we see that the Noachian covenant, with its symbols, mandate, and blood restrictions is, in fact, a temple document.