“You shall not do injustice in judgment; you shall not show partiality to the powerless; you shall not give preference to the powerful; you shall judge your fellow citizen with justice." Alternate translations here.
In the third and final presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said the following about Supreme Court nominations. "And the kind of people that I would be looking to nominate to the court would be in the great tradition of standing up to the powerful, standing on behalf of our rights as Americans."
This is the sort of leftist claptrap according to which the judiciary assumes legislative functions and the Constitution is a tabula rasa on which anything can be written. The purpose of the court is not to stand up to the powerful or take the side of the powerless, but to apply the law and administer justice.
There must be no "partiality to the powerless." Might does not make right. But neither does lack of might.
(Credit where credit is due: I am riffing on a comment I heard Dennis Prager make yesterday.)
By Edward Buckner, here, at Dale Tuggy's place. Ed's text is indented; my comments are not. I thank Ed for the stimulating discussion. He begins:
I have been telling the Maverick Philosopher here about Benjamin Sommer’s theory of divine fluidity, which is one solution to the problem of anthropomorphic language in the Hebrew Bible. The problem is not just Genesis 1:26 (‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’) but also Genesis 3:8 ‘They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze’. Can God be a man with feet who walks around the garden leaving footprints? As opposed to being a pure spirit? The anthropomorphic conception is, in Maverick’s opinion ‘a hopeless reading of Genesis’, and makes it out to be garbage. ‘You can’t possibly believe that God has feet’.
Yet Benjamin Sommer, Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary, proposes such a literal and anthropomorphic interpretation. As he argues (The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel), if the authors of the Hebrew Bible had intended their anthropomorphic language to be understood figuratively, why did they not say so? The Bible contains a wide variety of texts in different genres, but there is no hint of this, the closest being the statement ofDeuteronomy 4.15 that the people did not see any form when the Ten Commandments were revealed at Sinai.
I should first of all say that I haven't read Sommer's book; so none of this is directed against Sommer except in modo obliquo. My target is Buckner's take on the matters discussed by Sommer. I should also point out that Ed quotes from my Combox where I am known to make remarks even less guarded than in my main entries. I was a little irritated that he had hijacked my thread by using 'anthropomorphic' in a way other than the way I had defined it. My post has nothing to do with the Bible or divine revelation. You could say that my concern there is the absolute and therefore ontologically simple 'God of the philosophers' not 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,' to acquiesce for a moment in that dubious but provocative distinction.
My aim there was to show that (i) univocity of predicate sense across such predications as 'God is wise' and 'Socrates is wise' is incompatible with the divine simplicity, and that the friends of univocity support a conception of God that is anthropomorphic in the narrow sense of being a conception according to which the great-making properties of God are really just great-making properties of creatures even if they are the maxima of those of the great-making properties that admit of degrees. This narrow and refined sense of 'anthropomorphic' has to be distinguished from the more ordinary, crude sense according to which 'anthropomorphic' means having the form of a human animal, including its physical form and composition. So if you imagine God stomping around in a physical garden leaving footprints, then your conception is crudely anthropomorphic. But if you think of God as a pure spirit having many of the same properties as Socrates possesses, but none of his physical properties, and having all of his properties in the same way that Socrates has his -- two different but connected issues here, nota bene -- then you have an anthropomorphic conception of God, albeit a refined one.
But now onto the topic dear to Ed's heart. He asks: " if the authors of the Hebrew Bible had intended their anthropomorphic language to be understood figuratively, why did they not say so?" This rhetorical question is grammatically interrogative but logically declarative: it amounts to the declaration that the authors did intend their crudely anthropomorphic language to be taken literally because they didn't say otherwise. This declaration, in turn, is a telescoped argument:
The authors did not say that their language was to be taken figuratively;
Their language is to be taken literally.
The argument, however, is plainly a non sequitur. It therefore gives me no reason to change my view.
Besides, it is preposterous to suppose that the creator of the the physical universe, "the heavens and the earth," is a proper part of the physical universe. Since that is impossible, no intelligent reading of Genesis can take the creator of the universe to be a bit of its fauna. Presumably, God gave us the intelligence to read what is obviously figurative as figurative.
And if one takes the Bible to be divine revelation, then it is natural to assume that God is using the authors to get his message across. For that to occur, the authors needn't be terribly bright or apprised of the variety of literary tropes. What does it matter what the authors intended? Suppose they intended talk of man being made in the divine image and likeness to be construed in some crassly materialistic way. Then they failed to grasp the profound spiritual truth that they, willy nilly (nolens volens), were conveying.
‘Until Saadiah [the 10th century father of Jewish philosophy], all Jewish thinkers, biblical and post-biblical, agreed that God, like anything real in the universe, has a body’. A proper understanding of the Hebrew Bible requires not only that God has a body, but that God has many bodies ‘located in sundry places in the world that God created’. These bodies are not angels or messengers. He says in this this interview that an angel in one sense is not sent by God but actually is God, just not all of God.
>>[It] is a smaller, more approachable, more user-friendly aspect of the cosmic deity who is Hashem. That idea is very similar to what the term avatara conveys in Sanskrit. So in this respect, we can see a significant overlap between Hindu theology and one biblical theology.<<
Do hard-assed logicians such as ourselves balk at such partial identity? Not necessarily. I point to a shadow at the bottom of the door, saying ‘that is the Fuller Brush man’. Am I saying that the Fuller Brush man is a shadow? Certainly not! Nor, when I point to a beach on the island, saying ‘that island is uninhabited’, am I implying that the whole island is a beach. By the same token, when I point to the avatar, and truly say ‘that is God’, am I implying that God is identical with the avatar? Not at all. Nor am I saying that God has feet, even though the avatar has feet. The point is that the reference of ‘that’ is not the physical manifestation before me, but God himself. Scholastic objections that we cannot think of God as ‘this essence’ (ut haec essentia) notwithstanding.
I grant that if an avatar of God has feet, it doesn't follow that God has feet. My wife's avatar on Second Life has a tail, but you will be relieved to hear that my wife does not, literally, have a tail. And yet there is a sense of 'is' according to which the avatar is my wife. But how does this deal with my objection? My point was not that God cannot have feet, but that God cannot be a physical being. The creator of the physical universe cannot be a proper part thereof.
Now suppose God himself is a pure spirit who has the power to manifest himself at will in and through various physical avatars. This is an interesting and quite different notion, but apparently not the one that Sommer is floating.
The Jewish philosopher/theologian who turns my crank is the great Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) as he is known in the West. He goes to the opposite extreme rejecting both crude and refined anthropomorphism. His path is that of the via negativa, a path beset by its own perils. I hope to say something about it in a later entry.
If man is made in God's image and likeness, does it follow that God is essentially embodied?
Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram . . . (Gen 1, 26) Let us make man in our image and likeness. . .
Et creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam. . . (Gen 1, 27) And God created man in his image. . .
I used to play chess with an old man by the name of Joe B., one of the last of the WWII Flying Tigers. Although he had been a working man all his life, he had an intellectual bent and liked to read. But like many an old man, he thought he knew all sorts of things that he didn’t know, and was not bashful about sharing his ‘knowledge.’ One day the talk got on to religion and the notion that man was created in the image and likeness of God. Old Joe had a long-standing animus against the Christianity of his youth, an animus probably connected with his equally long-standing hatred for his long-dead father.
Recalling some preacher’s invocation of the’ image and likeness’ theme, old Joe snorted derisively, "So God has a digestive tract!?" In Joe’s mind this triumphal query was supposed to bear the force of a refutation. Joe’s ‘reasoning’ was along these lines:
1. Man is made in God’s image. 2. Man is a physical being with a digestive tract, etc. Therefore 3. God is a physical being with a digestive tract, etc.
But that’s like arguing:
1. This statue is made in Lincoln’s image. 2. This statue is composed of marble. Therefore 3. Lincoln is composed of marble.
Joe’s mistake, one often repeated, is to take a spiritual saying in a materialistic way. The point is not that God must be physical because man is, but that man is a spiritual being just like God, potentially if not actually. The idea is not that God is a big man, the proverbial ‘man upstairs,’ but that man is a little god, a proto-god, a temporally and temporarily debased god who has open to him the possibility of a Higher Life with God, a possibility whose actualization requires both creaturely effort and divine grace.
In Feuerbachian terms, the point of imago dei is not that God is an anthropomorphic projection whereby man alienates his best attributes from himself and assigns them to an imaginary being external to himself, but that man is a theomorphic projection whereby God shares some of his attributes, such as free will, with real beings external to him though dependent on him.
Which is true? Does man project God, or does God project man? Is man the measure, or the measured? Does man 'create' God, or God man?
Note first the following asymmetry. If God is literally an anthropomorphic projection, then God does not exist. It would be absurd to say that God exists as an anthropomorphic projection when it is built into the very concept of God that he be a se, from himself, i.e., incapable of any kind of ontological dependency. But if man is a theomorphic projection, then man exists to a degree greater than he would exist if there were no God. For if man is a creature of God, and indeed one created in the image and likeness of God, then man has the possibility of a Higher Life, an eternal life.
The paradox is that when atheistic man tries to stand on his own two feet, declaring himself independent of God, at that moment he is next to nothing, a transient flash in the cosmic pan. But when man accepts his creaturely status as imago Dei, thereby accepting his radical dependence, at that moment he becomes more than a speck of cosmic dust slated for destruction. Thus Jean-Paul Sartre had it precisely backwards in thinking that if God exists then man is nothing; it is rather that man is something only if God exists. For if man exists in a godless universe he is but a cosmic fluke and all the existentialist posturing in the world won't change the fact.
Is "image and likeness" a redundant phrase, or does it mark a distinction? Arguably the latter. To be created in God’s image is to be granted the potentiality for sharing in the divine life, a potentiality that may or may not be actualized and is shared in equally by all human beings without their consent. Likeness, however, results from man’s free actualization of that potentiality. Whereas the image of God is imposed on man, likeness to God is not, but requires the free cooperation of the creature. (Cf. Harry Boosalis, Orthodox Spiritual Life, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1999), pp. 28-29.)
I am not free with respect to the image of God within me since I am not free to renounce my potential for divine sonship; but I am free with respect to the likeness since it is up to me whether I actualize the potential.
Well, does God exist or not? Before one can answer this question, one must understand it. In particular, one must understand that it cannot be dismissed as one the answer to which is obvious. To wax Continental for a moment, one must restore the question (die Frage) to its questionableness (Fragwuerdigkeit), where ‘questionable’ means not only able to be questioned, but, as the corresponding German term suggests, worthy of being questioned, of being raised as a question. And for that it is necessary not to take phrases like imago Dei in a crude materialistic way in the manner of old Joe and so many others.
One reason so many are atheists is because they are crude materialists: they cannot conceive how anything could be real that is not material. This, in turn, is aided and abetted by, and perhaps grounded in, their concupiscence: The lusts of the flesh have persuaded them that the sensible alone is real.
One must see that there is nothing obvious in the Feuerbachian suggestion, even though the weight of our culture favors this obviousness; one must see that the opposite and much much older suggestion, according to which man is a theomorphic projection, is just as reasonable.
But reasonable is not the same as true; so in the end one must decide what one will believe and how one will live.
In these regions of inquiry one cannot prove anything. To think otherwise is to fail to grasp the concept of proof.
I write about what interests me whether I am expert in it or not. Some find this unseemly; I do not. I oppose hyper-professionalization and excessive specialization. Every once in a while I post something that is mistaken, someone corrects me, and I learn something. I admit mistakes if mistakes they be.
Time to admit a mistake. Johannes Argentus comments and I respond (in blue):
"To get a feel for how there might (epistemic use of 'might') be a trumping or suspension of the moral/ethical, consider the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac. This is an example of what could be called 'trumping from above.' On Dylan's telling, God said to Abraham: "Kill me a son!" But Isaac was innocent and in killing him Abraham would be violating God's own Fifth Commandment. Had Abraham slaughtered his son he could not have justified it in terms of the moral code of the Decalogue; nor can I imagine any consequentialist line of moral reasoning that could have justified it; but he could have justified it non-morally by saying that God commanded him to sacrifice his son and that he was obeying the divine command. If God is absolutely sovereign, then he is sovereign over the moral code as the source of its existence, its content and its obligatoriness. He is outside of it, not subject to it; it is rather subject to him and his omnipotent will. We are in the vicinity of something like Kierkegaard's "teleological suspension of the ethical" as conveyed in Fear and Trembling."
The key factor for a correct understanding of God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac is the timing of the event with relation to God’s gradual revelation, and with relation to human reason’s gradual illumination and liberation, by God’s word, from the darkness into which it had fallen since the time of original sin.
According to the timing of the event with relation to God’s gradual revelation, there was no problem in God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son because it was centuries before He decreed the prohibition of human sacrifices in the Law given through Moses (Deut 18:10). Thus the command did not contradict any positive divine law known by Abraham.
BV: Excellent criticism. I mistakenly ignored the proper sequence of Biblical events. Contrary to what I suggested, God was not putting Abraham in a situation where he had a non-moral reason to override a known divine absolute moral command. Nevertheless, in commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac God was commanding an absolutely immoral act. The act-type -- slaughtering an innocent human being -- was no less ojectively immoral for being unknown to Abraham.
And according to the timing of the event with relation to human reason’s gradual liberation from darkness, there was no problem either because that process was just starting, and Abraham lived within a culture in which it was a common practice to sacrifice the firstborn son to the personal or local god. Thus the command did not contradict the clouded knowledge that Abraham had of natural law.
The command, then, was not a case of 'trumping from above' a rationally discovered or divinely revealed moral commandment, because Abraham was not aware of any such commandment forbidding the sacrifice of his firstborn, which in his cultural environment was a fairly common practice.
BV: Argentus is right.
Neither does the command necessarily show that God is arbitrarily sovereign over the moral code, which would be the case only if the event had taken place after the revelation of the Decalogue. Rather, the event is wholly dependent on Abraham's (and his contemporaries') state of ignorance regarding moral law and more broadly the meaning of life, which required the establishment of the only base on which the whole edifice could be built: absolute trust and obedience to Absolute Being.
Thus, the pedagogical and "that-time-only" nature of the event is fully consistent with the notion that moral law is inherent to human nature and therefore fully determined once human nature is, so that the acts forbidden by the Ten Commandments are not morally bad because they are forbidden, but rather they are forbidden because they are bad, because they are against human nature. Thus, God is absolutely sovereign to design human nature (except of course for logical contradictions), but once designed, He cannot contradict the moral law inherent in that nature because He cannot contradict Himself. Moral design is already in the ontological design.
BV: Whatever the solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma, it remains the case that God commanded Abraham to do something objectively immoral, even if Abraham did not know it was immoral or believed it was not immoral.
When Thomas Aquinas and Baruch Spinoza write about the God of the Old Testament, they write about numerically the same Biblical character using the same Latin word, Deus. They write about this character, refer to it, and indeed succeed in referring to it. But Aquinas and Spinoza do not believe in the same divine reality. Of course they both believe in a divine reality; but their conceptions of a divine reality are so different that it cannot be maintained -- or so I argue here contra F. Beckwith -- that it is one and the same reality that they believe in. Nor do they succeed in referring to the same reality. Since it cannot be the case that both divine realities exist, one of the two philosophers fails to refer to anything at all. It follows that they cannot be said to worship the same God: one of them worships an idol.
God, Adam, Moses, "and all them prophets good and gone" (Bob Dylan, Gospel Plow) actually exist qua characters in the Biblical narrative. But of course it does not follow that they exist 'outside' the narrative in reality.
A few months ago in the wake of the Wheaton contretemps we were much exercised over the question whether the God of the Christians is the same as the God of the Muslims. I wonder if the distinction between God as Biblical character and God as divine reality can help in that dispute. Perhaps some variants of the dispute arise from a failure to draw this distinction. Perhaps the following irenic proposal will be acceptable:
Christians and Muslims write about, talk about, and refer to one and the same Biblical character when they use 'God' and 'Allah.' In this sense, the God of the Christians and that of the Muslims is the same God. It is one and the same Biblical character, God. But Christians and Muslims do not refer to one and the same divine reality by their uses of 'God' and 'Allah.' This is because extralinguistic reference is conceptually mediated, not direct, and no one item can instantiate both the Christian and the Muslim conceptions of God. Nothing can be both triune and non-triune, to mention just one important different in the two conceptions.
So either the Christian is failing to refer to anything such that his worship is of an idol, or the Muslim is failing to refer to anything such that his worship is of an idol. The situation is strictly parallel to the Aquinas-Spinoza case. The two philosophers are clearly referring to the same Biblical character when they write Deus. But their conceptions of God are so different that they cannot be said to be referring to the same being in external reality.
My suggestion, then, is that some may have got their knickers in a knot for no good reason by failing to make the above-captioned distinction.
. . . there is at least one sort of case where it is clear they [Aquinas and Spinoza] are using the name ‘God’ in exactly the same way, namely when they discuss the interpretation of the scriptures. Aquinas does this many times in Summa Theologiae, using the words of the Bible and the Church Fathers to support complex theological and philosophical arguments. Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise is an extensive commentary on the text of the Bible and its meaning, also supported throughout by biblical quotation. So when Thomas writes
According to Chrysostom (Hom. iii in Genes.), Moses prefaces his record by speaking of the works of God (Deus) collectively. (Summa TheologiaeIª q. 68 a. 1 ad 1)
and Spinoza writes
As for the fact that God [Deus] was angry with him [Balak] while he was on his journey, that happened also to Moses when he was setting out for Egypt at the command of God [Dei]. (Tractatus ch. 3, alluding to Exodus 4:24-26)
it is clear that they are talking about the same persons, i.e. they are both talking about God, and they are both talking about Moses. It is somewhat more complicated than that, because Spinoza has a special theory about what the word ‘God’ means in the scriptures, but more of that later. In the present case, it seems clear that whenever we indirectly quote the scriptures, e.g. ‘Exodus 3:1 says that Moses was setting out for Egypt at the command of God’, we are specifying what the Bible says by using the names ‘Moses’ and ‘God’ exactly as the Bible uses them. Bill might disagree here, but we shall see.
I agree that they are both talking about the same persons qua characters in the Old Testament. The fact that Ed puts 'God' and 'Moses' in italics suggests, however, that he thinks that there is more here than reference to Biblical characters: there is also reference to really existent persons, and that our two philosophers are referring to the same really existent persons. But here I suspect that Ed is attempting a reduction of bona fide extralinguistic reference to what I will call text- and discourse-immanent reference, whether intertextual (as in the present case) or intratextual (as in the case of back references within one and the same narrative). If Ed is proposing a reduction -- or God forbid an elimination -- of real extralinguistic reference in favor of some form of discourse-immanent reference, then I have a bone to pick with him.
The issues here are much trickier than one might suspect. They involve questions Ed and I have been wrangling over for years, questions about fiction and intentionality and existence and quantification and logical form and what all else.
A recent Richard Fernandez column ends brilliantly:
We often forget that the sacred texts of mankind began as practical documents. They were checklists. And we may well rediscover this fact before the end. One can imagine the last two postmoderns crawling towards each other in the ruins of a once great city to die, and while waiting to expire engage in conversation to pass the time.
“Waldo,” the first said, “do you remember that tablet displayed in front of the Texas Statehouse. You know, back when there was a Texas?”
“Yeah, didn’t it have a whole bunch of stuff scrawled on it? Tell me again what it said,” replied the other.
“Waldo, it said, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ And ‘thou shalt not lie’.”
“Yes it also said, ‘thou shalt not steal’. Plus somewhere in the middle said, ‘thou shalt not have sex with people you weren’t married to.’”
“Yeah, I remember it now,” the second post-modern said. “What a bunch of hooey. It’s a right wing, nutjob, racist document called the Ten Commandments. It’s a religious document.”
“No Waldo,” the first replied. “That’s where you’re wrong. It ain’t no religious document. I just figured out it was a survival manual.”
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of debt, I fear no bankruptcy, for Obama is my shepherd. He prepareth a table of food stamps before me, and maketh me lie down beside waters He hath cleansed and seas He hath made recede, even though the bad Republicans wisheth the earth to be burnt unto a cinder, and will not buy the electric car that is good, for it hath zero emissions, and receiveth its power from a power plant, which hath not zero emissions, but the ways of the President are mysterious.
He hath told the stubborn Israelites, evil builders of apartments, that they know not their own interests and He does, and know not what they do, when they fear the nuclear weapon of the Persians. The ways of the President are mysterious. He alloweth the Persians to get the nuclear weapon (unless He hath something up His sleeve), for He knoweth that when they behold Him they will stay their hand, and not burn the Israelites unto a cinder, as they pronounce.
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise ye princes, and prepare the shield. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with such heed. . . . And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief, "There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth, None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke, "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate, So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too. Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl, Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
The absurdist sensibility of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde gave way, after the July 1966 motorcycle accident, to a renewed seriousness. Life is no joke. We've been through that. No more talking falsely now, the hour is getting late.
The following is from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous but who wants me "to hear a different perspective on the matter than that of the Calvinists who comment on your blog: I don't want you thinking they are the ones rightly interpreting the Christian texts."
Jesus and Paul had a rather liberal interpretation of the Old Testament Law, by which I mean a non-literal, moralist interpretation. I shall explain this in further detail by offering a few exemplary statements from them both.
Jesus famously said that "What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them" (Mt 15:11), specifying what he meant a few verses later: "But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person" (vv. 18-20). This is directly contradictory to the teaching of the Old Testament Law; after a long list of animals the eating of which is strictly forbidden, Lev 11:24 reads: "You will make yourselves unclean by [eating] these." Jesus denies the literal truth of Lev 11:24 by denying the reality of ritual purity and impurity; instead he gave a spiritualized, moralist interpretation of purity and impurity: the only true (im)purity or (un)cleanliness is moral (im)purity or (un)cleanliness.
A further expression of the denial of the reality of ritual purity and impurity and, implied with this, a rejection of the temple sacrificial system of worship is involved in Jesus' quoting the verse from Hosea 6:6, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." When the Pharisees see that Jesus eats at the same table as many tax collectors and sinners -- i.e., those who would render him ceremonially unclean and incapable of participating in the temple cult, thus removed from the blessings of God -- Jesus responds that God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Mt 9:10-13). "Sacrifice" is connected to a concern for ritual purity, as well as participation in the temple religious system; what God wants is not this, but mercy towards those who are in need of love: particularly those rejected by the religious figures and "holy men" of his time. God evidently is not concerned with ritual purity; he wishes that men be kind to one another, and he makes an effort to show such kindness himself through Jesus. But a rejection of ritual purity, the requirement for sacrifice, the legitimacy of the temple, etc., is a rejection of a literal reading of many Old Testament texts.
Consider also Jesus' and Paul's affirmation that the true fulfillment of the Law is obedience to the command "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (see, e.g., Mt 22:34-30; Rom 13:8-10, Gal 5:14). This cannot be literally true, for the various ritual and ceremonial injunctions of the Law (e.g., regarding circumcision, dietary habits, sacrifices, etc.) cannot in any plausible way be interpreted as mere instances of love for neighbor; no one would ever get the impression that the command to circumcise one's child on the eighth day is an instance of "love thy neighbor" by reading the relevant OT texts. What this statement suggests, rather, is a non-literal and moralist interpretation of the Old Testament: what is really of value is the moral teaching about loving your neighbor; all that ritual and ceremonial stuff doesn't mean much of anything and can even at times be ignored.
One more example would be Paul's affirmations regarding the ultimate insignificance of circumcision: "A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code" (Rom 2:28-29); "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts" (1 Cor 7:19); "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation" (Gal 6:15). No one would ever come to such a conclusion merely reading what the Old Testament says regarding the requirement of circumcision: "Every male among you shall be circumcised. . . . My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people" (Gen 17:10, 13-14). Paul elevates obedience to the moral commandments of God, especially "love thy neighbor", above the command of circumcision, so much so that the latter command is effectively annulled.
No one would come to the conclusions that Jesus and Paul did merely by reading the salient Old Testament texts themselves; their interpretation is non-literal and moralist, and is merely one manifestation of the tendency towards spritualized, internalized interpretations of inherited religion that appears in other places (e.g., ancient Greek religion with the advent of the philosophers) as well. (For more on this, see Stephen Finlan, The Background and Contents of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors (Boston: Brill, 2004), 47ff.)
BV comments: I find the foregoing persuasive and would extract the following argument against inerrancy from it:
1. If the Scripture is inerrant, then no later passage revises, corrects, contradicts, annuls, or abrogates any earlier passage.
2. There are NT passages that contradict OT passages, e.g. MT 15:11 contradicts Lev 11:24.
3. It is not the case that the Scripture is inerrant.
The argument is valid in point of logical form. If the first premise is not true, then I simply do not know what plenary inerrancy means. (I assume we mean by inerrancy plenary (full) inerrancy. Otherwise I could maintain that my blog is inerrant, provided you ignore all assertions in it that are mistaken. "It is everywhere inerrant except where it isn't.") The first premise is true and so is the second as the anon. contributor demonstrated. Therefore, the Scriptures are not inerrant.
ComBox open. But if you comment, be BRIEF and address PRECISELY WHAT IS CLAIMED by the anonymous contributor. Otherwise you will be unmercifully cast into the outer cyber-darkness where there is much weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
An archeologist who claimed to have uncovered the site of Plato's Cave would be dismissed as either a prankster or a lunatic. There never was any such cave as is described in the magnificent Book VII of Plato's Republic. And there never were any such cave-dwellers or goings-on as the ones described in Plato's story. And yet this, the most famous allegory in the history of philosophy, gives us the truth about the human condition. It lays bare the human predicament in which shadow is taken for substance, and substance for shadow, the truth-teller for a deceiver, and the deceiver for a truth-teller.
The reader will have guessed where I am going with this. If the allegory of the Cave delivers the truth about the human predicament despite its falsity when taken as an historical narrative, the same could be true for the stories in the Bible. No reasonable person nowadays could take Genesis as reporting historical facts. To take but one example, at Genesis 3, 8 we read that Adam and Eve, after having tasted of the forbidden fruit, "heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the Garden . . . ." Taken literally, this implies that God has feet. But if he has feet was he shod on that day or not? If shod, what was his shoe size? 10 1/2? Obviously, nothing can have feet without having feet of a determinate size! And given that the original parents heard God stomping around, then he had to be fairly large: if God were the size of a flea, he wouldn't have made any noise. If God were a physical being, why couldn't he be the size of a flea or a microbe? The answer to these absurdities is the double-barreled denial that God is a physical being and that Genesis is an historical account. I could give further examples. (And you hope I won't.)
This is why the deliverances of evolutionary biology do not refute the Fall. (I grant that said deliverances refute some doctrines of the Fall, those doctrines that posit an original pair of humans, without animal progenitors, from whom the whole human race is descended.) Indeed, it is quite stupid to think that the Fall can be refuted from biology. It would as stupid as to think that the truths about the human condition that are expressed in Plato's famous allegory can be negated or disconfirmed by the failure of archeologists to locate the site of Plato's Cave, or by any physical proof that a structure like that of Plato's Cave is nomologically impossible.
And yet wasn't that what Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago biologist, was quoted as maintaining?
I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness.
I suppose this shows that the wages of scientism are (topical) stupidity.
Addenda (10 September 2011)
1. I said that the Allegory of the Cave "gives us the truth about the human condition." Suppose you disagree. Suppose you think the story provides no insight into the human condition. My point goes through nonetheless. The point is that the truth or falsity of the story is unaffected by empirical discoveries and nondiscoveries. Anthropological and archeological investigations are simply irrelevant to the assessment of the claims being made in the allegory. That, I hope, is perfectly obvious.
2. There is another point that I thought of making but did not because it struck me as too obvious, namely, that the Allegory of the Cave is clearly an allegory, and is indeed explicitly presented as such in Chapter VII of the Republic (cf. 514a et passim), whereas the Genesis account is neither clearly an allegory, nor explicitly presented in the text as one. But that too is irrelevant to my main point. The point is that biological, anthropological, and geological investigations are simply irrelevant for the evaluation of what Genesis discloses or purports to disclose about the human condition. For example, at Gen 1, 26 we are told that God made man in his image and likeness. That means: Man is a spiritual being. (See my post Imago Dei) Obviously, that proposition can neither be established nor refuted by any empirical investigation. The sciences of matter cannot be expected to disclose any truths about spirit. And if, standing firm on the natural sciences, you deny that there is anything other than matter, then you fall into the easily-refuted mistake of scientism. Furthermore, Genesis is simply incoherent if taken as presenting facts about history or facts about cosmology and physical cosmogenesis. Not only is it incoherent; it is contradicted by what we know from the physical sciences. Clearly, in any conflict between the Bible and natural science, the Bible will lose.
The upshot is that the point I am making about Genesis cannot be refuted by adducing the obvious difference between a piece of writing that presents itself as an allegory and a piece of writing that does not. Plato's intention was to write an allegory. The authors of Genesis presumably did not have the intention of writing an allegory. But that is irrelevant to the question whether the stories can be taken as reporting historical and physical facts. It is obvious that Plato's story cannot be so taken. It is less obvious, but nonetheless true, that the Genesis story cannot be so taken. For if you take it as historical reportage, then it is mostly false or incoherent, and you miss what is important: the spiritual, not the physical, meaning.
3. The mistake of those who think that biology refutes the Fall is the mirror-image of those benighted fundamentalists and literalists who think that the Fall 'stands or falls' with the historical accuracy of tales about original parents, trees, serpents, etc. The opposing groups are made for each other. The scientistic atheist biologist attacks a fundamentalist straw man while the benighted fundamentalist knocks himself out propping up his straw man. Go at it, boys! The spectacle is entertaining but not edifying.
I want to give you a heads up on the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil". The phrase is probably an idiom that means something like 'universal wisdom' or 'all knowledge'. A better translation may be 'The Tree of the Knowledge of Everything From A to Z'. There is, in fact, nothing in the story that indicates that Adam and Eve had no free will before the eating of the fruit. God, in fact, gives them orders that presuppose the freedom to disobey...to tend the garden, to refrain from eating some fruit, etc. The eating of the Tree was literally to eat of the fruit that gives one the wisdom of God, to overcome the limits God had placed on them and become more like Him. And the result is the clothing of the self, and later the tilling of soil and animal husbandry and after Cain the building of cities. It is not 'moral' knowledge they are coming to but the knowledge of what it takes to enact their own wills to 'get what they want...things like technology and the building of cities.
Peace and Blessings, Joshua Orsak
1. The crux of the matter is indeed the interpretation of 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.' So one question for Mr Orsak is how he would support his interpretation. After all, the phrase speaks of the knowledge of good and evil, not the knowledge of all things.
2. In yesterday's post I did not say that Adam and Eve did not have freedom of the will before eating the forbidden fruit; I said that they were not moral agents before eating it. I specified two individually necessary conditions of moral agency (and I left open the question whether they are jointly sufficient). The one is free will and the other is knowledge of the difference between good and evil. Since both conditions are necessary, absence of either prevents a being from being a moral agent. So what I was arguing is consistent with Adam's and Eve's possession of free will prior to their eating of the forbidden fruit.
3. The point I was making (and I got this from Peter Lupu, to give credit where credit is due) was that there is something prima facie puzzling about Genesis 2 & 3. Roughly: How can God justly banish Adam and Eve from paradise for disobedience prior to their knowing the difference between good and evil?
4. Orsak's solution is to interpret 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil' as referring to a tree the eating of the fruit of which confers all knowledge. I agree that if this interpretation is defensible, then the puzzle collapses. But what considerations speak for Orsak's interpretation? After all, the most natural way to interpret 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil' is to interpret it as referring to a tree the eating of the fruit of which confers either (i) the knowledge that there is an objective difference between good and evil, or (ii) the knowledge of which actions/omissions are good and which evil, or (iii) both.
At Genesis 2,17 the Lord forbids Adam from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, on pain of death. In the next chapter, however, Eve is tempted by the serpent, succumbs, eats of the tree, and persuades Adam to eat of it too. As punishment for their disobedience, Adam and Eve are banished from the garden of Eden and put under sentence of death. Thus mortality is one of the wages of Original Sin.
The story has a puzzling feature that Peter Lupu made me see. Let us agree that a moral agent is a being that (i) possesses free will, and (ii) possesses knowledge of the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. Clearly, both conditions are necessary for moral agency. And let us agree that no agent can be justly punished unless he is a moral agent and does something wrong. But before eating from the tree, Adam and Eve are not moral agents. For it is only by eating from the tree that they acquire the knowledge of good and evil, one of the necessary conditions of moral agency. And yet God punishes them. How then can his punishment be just? My problem concerns not the truth of the story, but its coherence and meaning. The problem can be set forth as an aporetic pentad:
1. If God punishes, God punishes justly. 2. If God punishes an agent justly, then that agent is a moral agent that deliberately does something wrong. 3. A moral agent possesses the knowledge of good and evil. 4. God punishes Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit. 5. Adam and Eve did not possess the knowledge of good and evil prior to eating the forbidden fruit.
The pentad is logically inconsistent: the first four limbs entail the negation of the fifth. To rescue the coherence of the story one of the limbs must be rejected. But which one?
(1), (3), and (4) are undeniable. This leaves (2) and (5). One might think to deny (2). My dog is not a moral agent, but I can justly punish it for some behavior. But punishment in this sense is mere behavior-modification and not relevant to the case at hand. So it appears that the only way out is by denying (5). Adam and Eve did possess the knowledge of good and evil prior to eating the forbidden fruit. If so, the so-called 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil' is not a tree the eating of the fruit of which is necessary for becoming a moral agent.
Support for this way out can be found at Genesis 1, 26: "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness . . . ." This image, I argue, is a spiritual image. You would have to be quite the lunkheaded atheist/materialist to think that the image is a physical one. Now if God created man in his spiritual image, then presumably that means that God created man to be a moral agent, a free being who is alive to the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong. So before receiving the command not to eat of the tree of good and evil, Adam and Eve were already moral agents. On this interpretation, whereby (5) is rejected, the coherence of the story is upheld.
"But then why is the tree in question called 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'?" I have no idea.
Another intriguing suggestion that Peter Lupu made to me in conversation was that the Genesis story recounts not the Fall of man, but his rise or ascent from a pre-human condition of animal innocence to the status of a moral being possessing the knowledge of good and evil. This makes sense if if it is by eating the forbidden fruit that man first become man in the full theomorphic sense. And so, to put it quite pointedly, it is only by disobeying the divine command that Adam becomes a son of God! Before that he wallows in a state of animal-like, pre-human inocence. Now surely a God worth his salt would not want mere pets; what he would want are sons and daughters capable of participating in the divine life. He wants his 'children' to be moral agents. Indeed, one might go so far as to suppose -- and this I think is the direction in which Peter is headed -- that God wants them to be autonomous moral agents, agents who are not merely (libertarianly) free, and awake to the distinction between good and evil, but who in addition are morally self-legislative, i.e., who give the law to themselves, as opposed to existing heteronomously in a condition where the law is imposed on them by God.
The trajectory of this interpretation is towards secular humanism. God fades out and Man comes into his own. I don't buy it, but that's another post.
John Farrell, a long-time friend of Maverick Philosopher, has an article in Forbes Magazine entitled Can Theology Evolve? Early in his piece Farrell quotes biologist Jerry Coyne:
I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness.
Commenting on this quotation, Farrell writes, "I don’t know about human specialness, but on the Fall he [Coyne] is correct."
Let's think about this. If one rejects the literal truth of the Adam and Eve story, must one also reject the doctrine of the Fall? We can and should raise this question just as theists while prescinding from the specifics of Christianity, whether Roman, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant. For if the issue is, as Coyne puts it above, one of the compatibility/incompatibility of "science and faith," then it won't matter which particular theistic faith we adopt so long as it includes a doctrine of the Fall of Man.
The question, then, is whether the rejection of the literal truth of the Adam and Eve story entails the rejection of the Fall of Man. Coyne and Farrell say 'yes'; I say 'no.' My reason for saying this is that man can be a fallen being whether or not there were any original parents. I will assume (and I believe it to be true) that evolutionary biology gives us the truth about the origins of the human species. So I will assume that the Genesis account of human origins is literally false. But what is literally false may, when taken allegorically, express profound truths. One of these truths is that man is made in the image and likeness of God. I explain the easily-misunderstood sense of imago Dei here.
But how can God create man in his image and likeness without interfering in the evolutionary processes which most of us believe are responsible for man's existence as an animal? As follows.
Man as an animal is one thing, man as a spiritual, rational, and moral being is another. The origin of man as an animal came about not through any special divine acts but through the evolutionary processes common to the origination of all animal species. But man as spirit, as a self-conscious, rational being who distinguishes between good and evil cannot be accounted for in naturalistic terms. (This can be argued with great rigor, but not now!)
As animals, we are descended from lower forms. As animals, we are part of the natural world and have the same general type of origin as any other animal species. Hence there was no Adam and Eve as first biological parents of the human race who came into existence directly by divine intervention without animal progenitors. But although we are animals, we are also spiritual beings, spiritual selves. I am an I, an ego, and this I-ness or egoity cannot be explained naturalistically. I am a person possessing free will and conscience neither of which can be explained naturalistically.
What 'Adam' refers to is not a man qua member of a zoological species, but the first man to become a spiritual self. This spiritual selfhood came into existence through a spiritual encounter with the divine self. In this I-Thou encounter, the divine self elicited or triggered man's latent spiritual self. This spiritual self did not emerge naturally; what emerged naturally was the potentiality to hear a divine call which called man to his vocation, his higher destiny, namely, a sharing in the divine life. The divine call is from beyond the human horizon.
But in the encounter with the divine self which first triggered man's personhood or spiritual selfhood, there arose man's freedom and his sense of being a separate self, an ego distinct from God and from other egos. Thus was born pride and self-assertion and egotism. Sensing his quasi-divine status, man asserted himself against the One who had revealed himself, the One who simultaneously called him to a Higher Life but also imposed restrictions and made demands. Man in his pride then made a fateful choice, drunk with the sense of his own power: he decided to go it alone.
This rebellion was the Fall of man, which has nothing to do with a serpent or an apple or the being expelled from a physical garden located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Original Sin was a spiritual event, and its transmission is not by semen, pace certain Pauline passages, but by socio-cultural-linguistic means.
If we take some such tack as the above, then we can reconcile what we know to be true from natural science with the Biblical message. Religion and science needn't compete; they can complement each other -- but only if each sticks to its own province. In this way we can avoid both the extremes of the fundamentalists and literalists and the extremes of the 'Dawkins gang' (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, et al.)
Our question was whether rejecting the literal truth of the Adam and Eve story entails rejecting the doctrine of the Fall. The answer to this is in the negative since the mere possibility of an account such as the onejust given shows that the entailment fails.Man's fallenness is a spiritual condition that can only be understood in a spiritual way. It does not require that the whole human race have sprung from exactly two animal progenitors that miraculously came into physical existence by divine agency and thus without animal progenitors. Nor does it require that the transmission of the fallen condition be biological in nature.
It is not just some Christians who feel the moral dubiousness of joy and celebration at the death of evildoers. Here is Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld. "So our tradition is clear: Public rejoicing about the death of an enemy is entirely inappropriate." Here is a delightfully equivocal statement by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman.
Interestingly, Dennis Prager is still pounding on this theme. About twenty minutes ago I heard him repeat his argument against me and others. The argument could be put like this:
1. The Israelites rejoiced when the Red Sea closed around the Egyptians, drowning them. (Exodus 15) 2. This rejoicing was pleasing to God. Therefore 3. To rejoice over the death of evildoers is morally permissible.
This argument is only as good as its second premise. Two questions. First, does the Bible depict God as being pleased at the rejoicing? Not unequivocally. Prager could argue from Ex 15: 22-25 that God was indeed pleased because he showed Moses a tree with which he rendered the bitter waters of Marah sweet and potable. The Israelites were mighty thirsty after three days of traipsing around in the wilderness of Shur after emerging from the Red Sea. Unfortunately, Prager provided no support for (2).
But more important is the second question. Why should we take the fact that God is depicted as being pleased at the rejoicing -- if it is a fact -- as evidence that God is pleased? I grant that if God is pleased at some behavior then that behavior is morally acceptable. But the fact that God is depicted as being pleased does not entail that God is pleased.
And so, as a philosopher, I cannot credit the (1)-(3) argument. It assumes that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. But this is not to be assumed; this is to be tested. The Bible has to satisfy reason's criteria before it can be accepted as true. If the Bible violates the deliverances of practical reason (as it quite clearly does in the Abraham and Isaac story, see my Kant on Abraham and Isaac) then it cannot be accepted in those passages in which the violation occurs as the word of God.
We who have one foot in Athens and the other in Jerusalem face the problem of how we can avoid being torn asunder. On the one hand, philosophy can bring us to the realization that we need revelation; on the other hand, nothing can count as genuine revelation unless it passes muster by reason's own theoretical and practical lights. This is not to demand that the content of revelation be derivable from reason; it is to demand that nothing that purports to be revelation can be credited as genuine revelation if it violates the clearest principles of theoretical and practical reason, for example, the Law of Non-Contradiction and the principles that one may not kill the innocent or rejoice over another man's evil fate.
The problem is to reconcile divine authority with human reason and autonomy. Two nonsolutions may be immediately dismissed: fideism which denigrates reason, and rationalism which denigrates faith.
I was a bit surprised to read that in response to your post about tempering one's joy at Osama's demise, "Prager pointed out that the Jews rejoiced when the Red Sea closed around the Egyptians, and that this rejoicing was pleasing to God."
First, I was surprised because a quick look at Exodus 15 does not say that the Israelites' rejoicing was pleasing to God. Maybe this was "lost in translation," but I very much doubt that, since the Bible is the most carefully translated book in the world.
You are right: Exodus 15 does not explicitly say that the Israelites' rejoicing was pleasing to God. But one can infer from verse 25 that God was pleased, or at least not displeased, since God shows Moses a tree with which he sweetens and makes potable the bitter waters of Marah after they make it through the Red (Reed?) Sea and are mighty thirsty (Ex 15: 23-25). I should add that "this rejoicing was pleasing to God" was Dennis Prager's addition, as I understood him.
Second, I was surprised because I imagine that Prager was at some point exposed to a Talmudic story which is often recounted at the Passover Seder. A version that I was able to locate fairly quickly on the Web follows. As evil as Pharoah and the Egyptians were, when it came to their destruction at the hands of God through the plagues (particularly the death of the first born)and at the Sea of Reeds, the rabbis went to great lengths to temper our joy. A famous midrash in the Talmud makes the point:
When the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the ministering angels began to sing God's praises. But God silenced them, saying: How can you sing while my children perish? We may rejoice in our liberation but we may not celebrate the death of our foes. To underscore the point, and re-enforce the value, the rabbis instructed that ten drops of wine be spilled from our cups [at the seder] diminishing the joy of our celebration, as a reminder of those who peished in the course of our liberation. It is said that this is also the reason why a portion of the Hallel (the great songs of praise) is omitted on the last six days of Passover.
By the way, I would like to question your agreement with Prager that pacifism is "immoral." Is it really immoral, or just not morally obligatory? Or perhaps it should be approached as part of an aspirational ethics. While I'm not a pacifist, I think it's something to which I ought to aspire. Perhaps one is less guilty for aspiring to, but not realizing pacifism, than for not aspiring to pacifism at all.
We agree that being a pacifist is not morally obligatory. So the question is whether it is morally permissible. The answer will depend on what exactly we mean by 'pacifism.' Suppose we mean by it the doctrine that there are no actual or possible circumstances in which the intentional taking of human life is morally justified. Someone who holds this presumably does so because he thinks that human life as such has absolute value. Now if that is what we mean by pacifism, then I think it is morally impermissible to be a pacifist. Here is an argument off the top of my head:
1. We ought to (it is morally obligatory that we) work for peace and justice and oppose violence and killing. "Blessed are the peacemakers." 2. It is sometimes necessary to kill human beings in order to maximize peace and justice and minimize violence and killing. 3. To will the end is to will the means. Therefore 4. It is morally obligatory that we sometimes kill human beings to minimize violence and killing. Therefore 5. It is morally impermissible that we never kill human beings to minimize violence and killing.
(1) is a deliverance of sound moral sense. The NT verse is a mere ornament. It is not the justification for (1). Examples of (2) are plentiful. (3) is an unexceptionable Kantian principle. (4) follows from the first three premises. (5) follows from (4).
Should we aspire to be pacifists? In some senses of that term, sure. But not in the sense I defined. It's a large topic.
If everything in the Bible is literally true, then every sentence in oratio obliqua in the Bible is literally true. Now the sentence 'There is no God' occurs in the oblique context, "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1) So if everything in the Bible is literally true, then 'There is no God' is literally true and the Bible proves that it is not the word of God! Again, at Genesis 3:4 the Bible reports the Serpent saying to the woman (Eve), "You surely shall not die!" So if everything in the Bible is true, then this falsehood is true. Ergo, not everything in the Bible is literally true.
Someone who concedes the foregoing may go on to say, "OK, wise guy, everything in the Bible in oratio recta is literally true." But this can't be right either. For the Bible tells us in oratio recta that light was created before sources of light (sun, moon, stars) were created. The creation of light is reported at Genesis 1:3, but the creation of sources of light occurs later as reported at Genesis 1: 14-17. Obviously, light cannot exist before sources of light exist. So what the Bible reports on this head is false, if taken literally. Furthermore, if the sun does not come into existence until the fourth day, how can there be days before the fourth day? In one sense of 'day,' it is the period of time from the rising of the sun to its setting. In a second sense of 'day,' one that embraces the first, a day is the period of time from the rising of the sun to its next rising. In either of these senses there cannot be a day without a sun. So again, these passages cannot be taken literally.
But there is a deeper problem. The Genesis account implies that the creation of the heavens and the earth took time, six days to be exact. But the creation of the entire system of space-time-matter cannot be something that occurs in time. And so again Genesis cannot be taken literally, but figuratively as expressing the truth that, as St. Augusine puts it, "the world was made, not in time, but simultaneously with time." (City of God, XI, 6)
And then there is the business about God resting on the seventh day. What? He got fagged out after all the heavy lifting and had to take a rest? As Augustine remarks, that would be a childish way of reading Geneis 2:3. The passage must be taken figuratively: ". . . the sacred narrative states that God rested, meaning thereby that those rest who are in Him, and whom He makes to rest." (City of God, XI, 8)
What is to be taken literally and what figuratively? ". . . a method of determining whether a locution is literal or figurative must be established. And generally this method consists in this: that whatever appears in the divine Word that literally does not pertain to virtuous behavior or to the truth of faith you must take to be figurative." (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book Three, Chapter 10)
This method consigns a lot to the figurative. So it is not literally true that God caused the Red Sea to part, letting the Isrelites through, and then caused the waters to come together to drown the Pharaoh's men?
This post continues my commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes, the first installment of which is here. But a brief review is in order. The central theme of the book, you will recall, is the vanity and futility of all human endeavor including such pursuit of wisdom and understanding as the Preacher himself undertakes in the book in question. Surprisingly, this seems to extend even to God's rewarding of the righteous and punishing of the sinner. "This too is vanity and striving after wind." (2:26) Here are some questions that the book suggests:
Herewith, a first installment of some chapter-by-chapter observations on the magnificent Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, with an attempt to lay bare some of the philosophical issues lurking below the surface of the text.
1. Chapter 1 sounds the central theme of the Book: Omnia vanitas, "All is vanity." What is the scope of 'all'? Presumably it does not include God, but it does include every human pursuit whether for pleasure, power, possessions, progeny, or any other finite good that mortals strive after. All is vanity and "striving after wind." (1:14) Even the striving for wisdom is a vain pursuit. (1:17-18)