January 12, 2011

Never Mind the Evidence….

Category: Bible - OT - Ezekiel :: Permalink

Recently, I read Michael David Coogan’s translation of Stories from Ancient Canaan.  It’s a collection of the four myths dug up at the ancient Canaanite city of Ugarit, and so it gives a picture of Canaanite life and especially of Canaanite religion, since the mythology has to do with names familiar to us from the Bible: Baal, Anat, and Asherah.

Coogan thinks the Bible draws on this Canaanite poetry and he points out what he sees as parallels.  For instance, Mount Zaphon is Baal’s home in this mythology, and Coogan quotes Psalm 48:2-3 (“Mount Zion, in the recesses of Zaphon, is the city of the great king” in his translation) — and he simply takes it for granted that Psalm 48 is drawing from Canaanite mythology.

He doesn’t consider another possibility: “Zaphon” means “north.”  In Genesis 2, it is clear that Eden is a mountain down which flow four rivers, all of them heading south, which indicates that Eden is in the north.  So God’s sanctuary garden is associated with a mountain in the north at the outset of the Bible.  The memory of that could easily have been transmuted into Canaanite mythology, locating Baal’s palace on “Mount North.”  And it’s not surprising either that Psalm 48 would identify God’s current throne-mountain, Zion, with the original throne-mountain in the north.  But Coogan doesn’t consider these possibilities.

Coogan also notes that Canaanite poetry relies heavily on parallelism and shows that biblical poetry does, too.  Fair enough: they both do.  But anyone who reads these myths will find that they rely far more on repetitive parallelism than the Bible does. Sure, Numbers 7 repeats the same thing twelve times, but that’s unique in the Bible.  Sure, there’s parallelism in the Psalms, but there’s also far more diversity than the plodding repetitiveness of every second (and sometimes third) line in these Canaanite poems.  And rarely in the Bible do we find anything like “So-and-so dreamed that X, Y, Z … he woke up and X, Y, Z … he sent a messenger to someone else saying that he dreamed X, Y, Z and then he woke up and X, Y, Z … and that other person said that since he dreamed X, Y, Z and then woke up and X, Y, Z, he had better go on and …”  Yawn.  Just as poetry these poems deserve to return to the oblivion they were in before 1929.

But what I found particularly amusing was Coogan’s insistence that the “Dan(i)el” mentioned in Ezekiel  14 and 28 must be the Danel who stars in the myth entitled “Aqhat”:

The Danel or (as traditionally pronounced) Daniel in question, also mentioned together with Noah and Job in Ezekiel 14, was generally identified with the legendary hero of the Book of Daniel until the discovery of the Ugaritic texts.  But the spelling of the name in the Hebrew text, its date, and its context make it clear that the Danel referred to by Ezekiel is the Canaanite king, the father of Aqhat (28).

Oh, really?  I grant that this is a widespread opinion, which you’ll find, for instance, in the commentaries by Douglas Stewart (Communicator’s Commentary) and John Taylor (Tyndale).  But is it right?  Coogan appeals to three things (and you can find some helpful discussion of them here):

(1) “the spelling of the name in the Hebrew text”: the difference is that in Daniel, the name has a yodh in the middle of it.  But such things happen sometimes in Hebrew: the yodh may be silent or it may be something that Daniel himself includes as a first-person indicator or … well, there may be other explanations.  But the spelling doesn’t determine the matter.  And even if this “Danel” isn’t the biblical Daniel, that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s Danel the father of Aqhat!

(2) “its date”: Coogan apparently believes Daniel wasn’t written by Daniel and is later than Ezekiel, and that’s not only debatable; it’s flat out wrong, based primarily (I suspect) upon the belief that Daniel could not have predicted the history he outlines in his later chapters.

(3) “its context”: I’m not entirely sure what Coogan means, nor does he explain.  Perhaps he’s thinking that both Job and Noah are non-Israelites, and that’s true.  But that doesn’t mean that Danel must be a non-Israelite either.  The list of the three names are not necessarily three non-Israelites; they may be three righteous people who were outside the promised land.

Again, even if we grant that Ezekiel isn’t talking about the biblical Daniel, how do these three things “make it clear” that Ezekiel is speaking of the Danel in the myth Coogan is translating?  Maybe it’s some other Danel altogether.  But Coogan doesn’t even consider that possibility.  Surely that must be because the Danel in the myth is an exemplar of righteousness and wisdom, right?

Well, as for righteousness, the Danel in the myth serves false gods, unlike Job or Noah.  But what about wisdom?  After all, Ezekiel 28 uses the phrase “wiser than Danel.”  So what about it, Coogan?  Um …

The three fragmentary tablets from Ras Shamra that deal with Danel and his son do not, unfortunately, illustrate his proverbial wisdom; we must presume that other parts of the cycle, as yet undiscovered, contained episodes similar to the biblical passages that show Solmon to be the quintessentially wise king (27).

We must, must we?  Never mind the very unfortunate lack of plausibility, not to mention  evidence.  Just accept it.

Or we could just laugh, as I did when I read this book.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:26 pm | Discuss (0)
January 7, 2011

Mr. Right

Category: Marriage,Uncategorized :: Permalink

It’s ludicrous to believe that successful marriages depend on discovering the one person out of the more than six billion people on earth who is just right for you. — Les & Leslie Parrott, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, 31.

The problem the Parrotts identify here is related to a popular view of the will of God.  According to this view, God has a plan for your life that will lead to the greatest possible happiness, fulfillment, fruitfulness, and blessing.  The plan is not spelled out in Scripture — Scripture doesn’t say what courses you should take in college or what jobs you ought to accept or whom you should marry — but you are responsible to discover the plan and follow it.  And if you miss “God’s perfect will for your life” — if you take the wrong classes, accept the wrong job, marry the wrong spouse — the result will be misery.

Well-meaning people sometimes try to comfort a single friend by saying, “Don’t worry.  God has someone out there who is just perfect for you.  Apparently Bob wasn’t the one, but the right one is out there somewhere.”

Well, maybe.  In fact, maybe there are a thousand men who would be, if not Mr. Right, at least a suitable and godly spouse with whom this single girl would be able to have a marriage that glorifies God and that enriches both partners.  It simply isn’t true that God has chosen one man (or, if you’re male, one woman) who would be the right spouse and whom you’ve somehow got to locate and wed or you’ll be doomed to marital misery.  And it isn’t true that if you marry someone and then have problems, it must mean that you missed out on Mr. or Miss Right, that you missed out on the person God made who would be perfect for you.

There is no Mr. Right, no perfect spouse, no “perfect will of God for your life.”  That’s a truth that ought to give singles hope, an increased hope of finding a spouse without being scared off by every flaw and a hope that goes hand in hand with responsibility.  Choose wisely, but know that whoever you choose you will not be Mr. and Mrs. Right.  And then work in faith to serve God together in your marriage as Mr. and Mrs. Suitable-and-Growing.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:49 pm | Discuss (2)
January 4, 2011

The King of Victories

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

In an essay in Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth, which I’m rereading, Doug Wilson comments on one of the names used for God in Beowulf.  God is the “Lord of Victories”:

“No man could enter the tower, open hidden doors, unless the Lord of Victories, He who watches over men, Almighty God Himself, was moved to let him enter, and him alone” (ll. 3053-3057).  Whether the victory is Grendel falling before Beowulf, or Satan crushed beneath the heel of Christ, God is the only One to bestow any victory.

The psalmist asked the God of Israel to rise up and scatter His enemies; whenever the Power of His right hand is pleased to do so, those enemies are driven before Him like smoke in a gale.  The Church today is a stranger of victories because we refuse to sing anthems to the king of all victories.  We do not want a God of battles, we want sympathy for our surrenders.  We need to be taught to sing as Alfred the Great taught his men before going into battle — “Jesu, defend us” (43).

And that starts with us learning to sing the Psalms.   Do we not have enemies?  Do we not love our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted in the Middle East and in Darfur and throughout the world?  How can we truly love them if we are not singing the imprecatory psalms and hymns like them, calling on the King of Victories to rise up and overthrow their enemies and rescue them?

Posted by John Barach @ 4:41 pm | Discuss (0)
January 1, 2011

Odd Ministers

Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

I never knew a good horse which had not some odd habit or other, and I never yet saw a minister worth his salt who had not some crotchet or oddity: now these are the bits of cheese which cavillers smell out and nibble at; this man is too slow, and another too fast, the first is too flowery, and the second is too dull.

Dear me, if all God’s creatures were judged in this way, we should wring the dove’s neck for being too tame, shoot the robins for eating spiders, kill the cows for swinging their tails and the hens for not giving us milk.  When a man wants to beat a dog, he can soon find a stick; and at this rate, any fool may have something to say against the best minister in England. — Charles Spurgeon, John Ploughman’s Talk, 23.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:15 pm | Discuss (0)