Monday, January 28, 2008

Why the Democrats have me pissed off

First let me say that I have been a lifelong Democrat. I am also proud to say that I am a liberal Democrat. I know we use the word Progressive now, but we shouldnt shy away from the word liberal, as it means open minded and not rigid in thinking. So why am I pissed off. Well the Decomcratic candidates for President have signed a pledge not to campaign in Florida. The Democratic National Committee has stripped Florida of its delegates. All of this because we moved our primary up to January 29th against their wishes. First someone needs to tell me why Iowa and New Hampshire should have such a large say in choosing a nominee. Why should other states have a larger say then Florida. I have heard the argument that it is tradition. Yet the very word liberal eschews tradition. The only argument I could come with on my own is that our country in its founding was structured to protect the smaller states. Yet that is why the Senate is structured the way it is.

So the real question is why should I support the Democrats in November if they are not even willing to visit my state for the primary and in essence have voided our primary. Did they not realize that this would dissafect Democratic voters in this State? What were they thinking. Florida is a pivotal state for tryting to recapture the Presidency. Why would they risk losing in the National Election next November just to show that they can exert their will and power over the state primary. This is all about power and control, not about what is best for the party or the people of this country (and the people of this world) This is short term thinking in my opinion.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Movie Review - The Hurricane - 8 of 10 stars

This movie is the story of the former boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, played by Denzel Washington, his false imprisonment and eventual freedom, but it is so much more than that. An 8 on the J Scale of 1-10 on movies ratings.

Just watched “The Hurricane” for the second time…I like watching movies a second time to see details I might have missed along the way the first time…looking for meanings in the story whereas the first time I am focusing on the story….So after this movie, I went out on the porch and sat watching the rain pour down with my dog Linus by my side, and a cup of coffee in hand, just thinking about the insights of this movie….it seems so rare that I just think anymore…just do, make decisions and implement….and do….not to think, to delve into things, to wonder about the thing called life….

The movie is about freedom, at least one mans freedom, but the message is about freedom…the last scene struck me…all these men in prison and this is the life they live…it is the only environment they are aware of and they live by the rules that are set up for that environment…..and I thought about myself, although I have a multitude of choices, I live by the rules of my environment, and make choices by the rules of my environment….the difference is the people in that prison don’t have a choice about their environment and I choose to live by the rules of my environment…so often humans don’t even recognize they have a choice, or that they are even that their actions are ruled by their environment…those that do become self aware, then have to make that choice which is to decide whether to live within the constraints of their environment….and accept that, or not to.

Another point the movie makes is transcending ones own environment…or shutting oneself off from the unobtainable possibilities so that they can survive within the environment they are living in….obviously the choice this movie promotes is transcending ones own environment, and helping others transcend it….that love and hope are the two elements that allows one to truly transcend it….it shows that one can trancend by looking inward, but the problem with that is that it shuts out the rest of the world…one can transcend their environment through internal means to make their current situation tolerable, or survivable….but without opening ones heart and mind to others and the possibilities of the world being a better place, then we can never truly achieve personal freedom…we can only achieve true freedom of mind through love and hope and openness of our souls, not contracting our souls so that we save only ourselves or protect only ourselves. We can only truly save and protect ourselves by opening ourselves up to which of course leads to the risk of pain…

He talks of letting the light in…obviously I love the analogy of light and darkness, from my earliest days of reading Dylan Thomas poetry, “Rage against the dying of the light”…amazing to this day, how that poem has affected my life….but it is true, we let light into our life, it can blind us , but it is the only way we can truly see what is in front of us…in the darkness we can sense what is around us, and in reality it is a way of focusing on the senses…when we are not truly aware sometimes it takes the darkness to force us to sense what is around us, the trick is not to get stuck in the darkness…use the darkness to become aware, and use the light, and let it in to allow us to truly see the world for all its wonders…

One other line in the movie I found intriguing is one that said that he used writing as a weapon…it wasn’t meant as a negative….but more as something that allowed one to express themselves, their anger, their outrage in a constructive, thoughtful way…a way to better understand oneself and ones thoughts and ideas…I don’t look at it as a weapon of destruction but as a tool of enlightenment…it is something that got me writing this…here I was sitting in my backyard watching the rain and thinking thoughts that were deeply insightful to me at least, but if I didn’t write them down, they would be gone forever, like the leaves blowing in the wind swept away in hurricane winds as the hurricane of life throws us off balance…

Although I didnt give many specifics about the movie, but rather more how it impacted me philisophically and emotionally, that to me is the mark of great movie, one that makes you think deeply.

Friday, January 18, 2008


As much as we know it is coming
As much as we try to prepare
There is nothing
That can prepare us
For the emptiness
When it happens
Mountains climbed
Rivers crossed
Uncharted territory
And now
Only a memory
Of how we got to here
But every moment is a memory
And every moment is new
Every end is a beginning
As we try
To fill up the void of emptiness
Until we empty it again
Moment by Moment
Each day diminishes
At a quicker pace
As we are nearer to the end
Than the beginning
And that makes
Each new day
More valuable

Thursday, January 17, 2008


How can I let others
Dictate what is mine
How can I let others
Drive me far from home
Why do I doubt
What I know to be true
How can one day
Change what is within.
If there is an eternal
And if I want to search
No one else can stop me
They can only look down from their perch
Look down and beat me down
Throw hurdles in my path
Throw hurdles to salvation
With piety as their wrath
Why could they not see
What I know is inside of me
What others see and assure me
Is the righteousness of my path…
They made me doubt myself
They made me question my way
They are like the drain in my sink
That sucks the life of water away
The water goes down and goes out
Goes about its way
Not staying where it cleansed
But into another place
A river, a lake, a sewer
To add to some other life
Maybe it makes it way back
And then again maybe not
But it flows just as life flows
Sometimes resting
Sometimes turbulent
I’d rather be the water,
Then the rock standing
In idle judgement
The rock that is pounded
As water rushes by
The rock that is hardened
By life and is set
The rock that never changes
Yet they are both
Part of the river
They are both
An integral part of life
The river has a path
Defined by its boundaries
Of land and rocks
On either side
So is the water truly alone
Is it truly free
To flow where it wants…
Once it reaches the ocean
Of all oneess, it interacts
With all the other water
But even then
It is confined by continents
So we all have some boundaries…
Until we are flooded by all that we are
Just as times the waters flood the land
But they eventually recede
To allow all to live in harmony
For the land to view
With beauty and awe
The beauty of the water
And the sun rise
And the sun set
And yes, I would rather be the water
Providing such beauty and awe
Than be the land which looks on in awe
Which is defined by which
Land by water
Or water by land
Or do they coexist
Do they define each other
Can we define ourselves
Or are we defined by others…
When we define ourselves
Is that when we overcome
The others
But at what price
For if the water overcomes the land,
it will destroy the land
If the land overcomes the water
It will dissipate the water
How does one find harmony
With their surroundings
How does one find self
Amongst other competing interests
Trying to force their own definition
There is only one answer…
We are either all separate beings
Vying for power
Or we are all the same being
Trying to work together
When we do not realize this
An imbalance occurs
And one definition reigns
I cannot define myself
Without taking account
Everything else that is around me

I cannot define myself
Without realization
That all that is
Is interconnected to me
There is a purpose
To all that has led me here
There is a purpose
To all that I do
I will be respectful
Of all around me
But mostly
I must be respectful
To myself
To what I know is true
To who I am
To the whole of creation
To the beauty of life
To the wonders of the universe
And never forget
That I am a part of it
That I am
Not because I think
Just because I am
And I will rise
And I will fall
And I will love
And I will hate
And I will grow
And I will evolve
And I will evoke my will
To be who I am
For I am who I am
that was enough for God
It should be enough for me
And if it is not enough for others
Then at least
I will be who I was
I will be who I am
I will be who I want to be
Not who others want me to be

We are all Slaves - Some comments on Philemon

Although The Letter of Paul to Philemon is the shortest of the Pauline letters it has generated a significant amount of research due to the question as to how the letter depicts the Christian ethic in regard to slavery. The letter raises many questions. Who is the letter addressed to? Is Paul accepting the institution of slavery, or is he trying, in his own way, to surreptitiously destroy slavery? Who is Onesimus and how did he meet Paul? Was this letter merely an appeal from the author to its recipient or did the letter have any deeper purpose? Because of its brevity, there are not many details to answer these questions and we are required to look for insights where they may be none. The mere lack of evidence of course has never stopped anyone from drawing conclusions, including myself.

One question that is heavily debated in research relates to whom the letter is addressed to. Upon first and subsequent readings, it seemed natural to me that it was addressed to Philemon and was meant to be read aloud to the church in his house. There is much scholarly debate as to whether the letter is truly addressed to Archipus, and just delivered to Philemon to whom Paul knew. I think J Estill Jones makes a good point that the church meets in Archipus’ house due to the fact that the phrase “follows his name immediately and the pronoun would not jump over two names to take its reference back to Philemon”[1]. There is debate as to whether Apphia is Philemon’s wife and whether Archipus is Philemon’s and Apphia’s child. I really do not think this point is relevant. Whether Onesimus is Philemon’s slave or Archipus’ slave doesn’t change the content or meaning of the letter. For the remainder of this paper I will make the assumption the letter was written to Philemon. By including the names of all three individuals and “the church in your house” the letter was meant to be read to all in the church and thus it was meant to be a public letter. I think this last fact is quite important in relation to the purpose of the letter. If this letter is merely an appeal to the owner of Onesimus, its public nature was meant to insure compliance. If the letter had a deeper purpose, its public nature was meant as a teaching for the community.

I think a critical difference in Philemon versus other Pauline letters is the prologue in which Paul refers to himself as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus”. The use of this phrase could merely indicate that Paul was in prison. However, none of the other Pauline letters, even the other prison epistles use this phrase in the prologue. I do not think it is a coincidence that Paul uses this phrase in a letter that is dealing with slavery. If Paul’s goal was merely to obtain Onesimus’ freedom, why would he not utilize his apostolic authority to do so? The fact that he uses this phrase in the prologue as opposed to the phrase apostle or servant is because he wants to bring focus to the issue of slavery. Kirk Lyons believes “Paul’s intention was to promote an ideology affirming that within the church of Jesus Christ the primary relationship would be a pseudo-familial relationship among peers”.[2] I think this concept is somewhat diminished by the fact that Paul makes it clear he could use his apostolic authority but chooses not to. Is coercion through the threat of authority, any different than the actual use of authority? Or perhaps as it found in many other letters, Paul’s apostolic authority is in question, and thus he uses other tactics to achieve his goal, which is Onesimus’ freedom from slavery to serve Paul and thus serve Christ.

Who is Onesimus? Much of traditional exegesis treats Onesimus as a runaway slave from Philemon. Paul Rees among many others suggests that “Onesimus was arrested and the two met in prison.”[3] I find this highly unlikely. It is clear from the letter that Onesimus has been of service to Paul in prison. I find it hard to believe, that of all the prisoners in all the prisons of Rome, it would be likely that a runaway slave of a friend and church leader would just happen by coincidence to be put in the same cell as Paul. There are some who argue that Onesimus sought out Paul as a unbiased third party arbitrator to appeal to the slave owner. I again find this hard to believe. I cannot imagine a runaway slave voluntarily seeking out someone in prison (even if it was only house arrest) for fear of being arrested themselves. Although it is not specified anywhere many scholars point to this letter being written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Due to the similar greetings in this letter and the letter to the Colossians it is assumed that addressees of Philemon were from Colossae or that general area. Due to the distance between Colossae and Rome I would find it hard to believe that Onesimus would travel all that way merely to engage Paul as a mediator.

Nordling makes a long, well documented but rambling defense of the runaway slave theory. He documents very well the history of and impact of runaway slaves in the Roman Empire. Yet I find he doesn’t overcome the basic challenge that the letter doesn’t indicate in any form that Onesimus is a runaway. In trying to describe why Paul did not mention Onesimus was a runaway, he states “Paul’s purpose here is primarily conciliatory: to persuade Onesimus’ angry owner to welcome back his previously disobedient slave.”[4] First there is nothing to indicate that Philemon is angry, and secondly, I think it is clear that Paul wanted Philemon to free Onesimus so Onesimus could be of service to Paul and Christianity. In his final conclusion Nordling states:
The ultimate danger of the new interpretation is that it could turn a letter which manifestly breathes the great hearted tenderness of the apostle into a rather dispassionate non-theological financial transaction between Paul and Onesimus owner. Yet I doubt that such a routine scrap of business correspondence would ever have become part of the canonical NT”[5]

I think the use of the word danger is an overstatement. Merely because something is new doesn’t make it dangerous in and of itself. I do not think the mere fact that Onesimus is or is not a runaway diminishes what Paul is trying to accomplish in this letter nor diminishes Paul’s spirit filled heart. I do agree that if Onesimus was a runaway, Paul’s request would have been of greater magnitude and at a higher cost of Philemon’s reputation. However I would never call a request for the freedom of a human being under any circumstances “a routine scrap of business”. The issue as to why the letter is included as cannon is a much larger issue, but I think it boils down to the fact that the letter was confirmed as authentically Paul’s which in and of itself, was reason enough to include it.

I think it is far more likely that Onesimus was sent to Paul from the Colossae church. I think Onesimus’ time with Paul is coming to an end and Paul was hoping to continue to have his services. In verse 13 he states “I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place”. I think this is a key phrase. Perhaps Philemon was supposed to be the one to come and aid Paul, but instead Philemon sent his slave. If this is so, why would Philemon send a slave who was an unbeliever to Paul. One possibility is that he sent him to Paul with hope the slave would be instructed in Christian ways. I do not think this to have a high probability, but wanted to give Philemon the benefit of the doubt. Another alternative as to why Philemon sent a slave instead of himself is that possibly Philemon was not a strong believer in Christianity, and or perhaps was miffed that he had to send one of his slaves away for a period of time. Due to this, he sent a slave to Paul that was an unbeliever and one with whom Philemon had challenges with. Onesimus would have certainly indicated to Paul the challenges, and between such challenges and the time spent away from service from his master very well could have been the cause of the need for verse 18.

If we continue along this line of thinking, the letter then appears to be a rebuke to Philemon. It was a way of embarrassing Philemon for sending an unbelieving slave to help Paul The entire letters’ outward goal is to coerce Philemon into freeing Onesimus. I think along those lines, without question, Paul is saying Christianity should not practice slavery. Christians should be “beloved brothers” and sisters. I think Paul is against slavery, but he feels he cannot come out and outwardly denounce slavery for fear of retribution. He believes the better course of action is to change society one heart, one person at a time, with the teachings and spirit of Jesus. I think there is no question that the letter would have been read by the guards, and if he had publicly denounced slavery, there would have been a backlash as much of the Roman economic system was based on free labor from slaves. I think Sabine Bieberstein relates this to modern times quite succinctly by indicating “Our concern today must be to use such individual cases to unmask systems that show contempt for human beings, and to tell the story of the victims”[6] I think the challenge we have today, is that over saturation through the media tends to make people tune out to the suffering in the world. This letter is a reminder that injustice can be changed by independent actions by individuals.
On a different note, W.H. Griffiths Thomas in quoting Dr. J.H. Jowett states
Although personal liberty was an exceedingly precious thing – a pearl of great price - there was something more precious still – a pearl of great price – the welfare of all the Christian faith, might not only have jeopardized the interests of the struggling infant Church, but would have plunged into even great hardships all the slaves throughout the Empire. So Onesimus voluntarily went back into bondage, sacrificing his personal liberty for the common good, the good pearl for the sake of the better, and in so doing proved himself a worthy member of the Kingdom of God.[7]

I think this analysis is hyperbole and even dangerous. I think Paul did worry about the effect on Christianity if the religion became thought of by the government as fermenting slave revolt. Yet it is clear that during that time in history there were many runaway slaves and there were slave revolts. So I do not see the request to free one slave as a creating a hardship for slaves throughout the empire. Yet much of Christianity theology is based on sacrifice. I just think it is dangerous to indicate that the way to become a member of the Kingdom of God is to enslave ones self. Again if one is reading this allegorically, the concept of enslaving oneself to Christ could be an acceptable reading. Alternatively, to accept physical slavery as the sacrifice necessary to attain redemption is despicable.

There seems to be an ongoing justification in scholarly writings as to why Christianity accepted slavery. William Richardson seems to put forward and apologetic response. He indicates that “it is questionable whether people were even capable of envisioning a society where all were in theory free”[8] I find this statement incredulous. The whole basis of Christianity was the vision of a society where last would be first. Richardson goes on to reflect about Paul’s “commitment to the Christian mission”[9] and quoting Ernest F. Scott states “an attack on social and political institutions would not have accomplished anything save the exposure of his mission to danger as a revolutionary movement”[10] If one takes this point of view, one is saying the end justifies the means. Religion at that point in time in history was very interwoven into politics. Christianity in its goal to preserve itself, tried to avoid conflict with governments. Yet instigating governments is exactly what Jesus did. Christians often won converts through their martyrdom. I would argue that Christian passiveness which may have allowed the religion to survive, may have extended Roman rule and bloodshed and caused countless deaths. Perhaps they did not have the courage of their own convictions. Or maybe they truly believed death was preferable to engaging in violence.

Craig De Vos tries to argue that due to the nature of the slave culture, which was “lazy, negligent, willful, cowardly, and criminal“[11] and “had values such as obligation, duty, obedience to authority, subordination and acquiescence, dependency, and respect for tradition”,[12] that even if Paul were to be successful in obtaining Onesimus’ freedom “the legal act and structural change of manumission would not have changed this”.[13] It is true that one learns a way of life based on their circumstances and it can become entrenched. It becomes a part of who you are. But if the cycle is broken under which the circumstances of such behavior are created, then over time one’s life can be tranformed. I believe one the great things about Christianity is the notion of personal transformation and its availability to all people. I would also challenge the basic argument of his statements. In order to enslave someone we must first demonize them. So I think slaveholders attribute negative attributes to such people to justify their own actions. I also do not view the value of duty the same as submission out to fear of retribution. Additionally the fact that there were so many runaways as documented in various articles, leads me to believe that many salves did not accept it as a way of life. I think the concept of personal freedom burns deeply in the soul of every person. Slavery breads hatred. One may be subservient because they are not willing to accept the consequences of pain and death. But few people voluntarily choose slavery. I think the story of Christ and thus Christianity is that we must accept the consequences of not accepting societal norms, even if it means one’s own death, just as Jesus sacrificed himself as opposed to denouncing his beliefs.
Perry Kea in looking at whether Christianity is really counter cultural or just a sub culture of society, indicates that “he (Paul) is responding to the cultural expectation that an owner should gain from his slave’s service” and “Paul addresses the master-slave relationship of Philemon and Onesimus with respect for the dominant social role of Philemon”.[14] His conclusions seem to indicate that Christianity is not challenging the dominant culture but is just a part of the grander mosaic of society. I disagree. I think Paul views Christianity as very egalitarian, which would be counter cultural. I think this letter is about dealing with power even within the Christian community. Paul is never one to follow convention in his actions. He does follow the law when it suits him and it is to his advantage. I think to some degree Paul feared Philemon’s power or retribution if Onesimus was not returned. Or perhaps Paul was trying to help give justification to Philemon within the community as a way to make it easier within the cultural setting to release Onesimus. Andrew Wilson feels:
“Philemon’s position is particularly vulnerable, for any FTA (face threatening act) in the letter is made the more so by its public mention before Philemon’s immediate community. We might therefore expect Paul to take particular care to mitigate any FTA with politeness strategies to reduce the cost to Philemon in both face and material terms in order to avoid damaging his standing within the Christian community at Colossae.”[15]

I think Paul wanted everyone to be prisoner’s to Jesus Christ, not to each other, which is a counter cultural idea. I think Paul just believed in working within society to transform it as opposed to be revolutionary. By making this letter public he is trying to change the balance of power in the community and with Philemon without causing disruption

I would take an even more radical reading of this letter. Perhaps the letter is an allegorical tale regarding slavery. Since most of Paul’s writings are letters dealing with specific situations, it would lead one to believe that the same is the case in this situation. I believe revelation is ongoing and we should read more into this today than what its traditional or historical impetration was. .

Lightfoot points out that the name Philemon relates to the “legend of Philemon and Baucis the aged peasants who entertained not angels, but gods unawares, and were rewarded by their divine guest for their homely hospitality and their conjugal love.”[16] Perhaps this was not coincidence. Conceivably Paul wanted to send a message about what type of love Christian love is. The legend of Philemon is an example of how one should treat their fellow human beings no matter what their station in life may be. That is the same message of this letter.

Slavery was a given fact in the time this was written. Slavery was legal in this country just over 200 years ago. We often forget that even today physical slavery is still a common practice throughout the world and occurs even in this country. But on a deeper level, I think the point that could be made is that we are all slaves. We are slaves to our material possessions, we are slaves to our lifestyle, we are slaves to our families, and as Paul indicated he is a prisoner of Jesus Christ, we are slaves to religion. Paul did not use his authority to show the way to freedom, rather as verse 9 indicates, he wants freedom “on the basis of love”. We must release ourselves from the prisons of hatred and desires and treat people on the basis of love in order for there to be a kingdom of heaven on earth. I thought of this while reading Abingdon New Testament Commentaries which indicated the wordplay on the name Onesimus. It indicates that
Onesimus means useful. There may be a further pun intended too; in Hellenistic Greek, and modern Greek as well the word useful (Chrestos) would have been pronounced exactly Christos (anointed or Christ). Thus useless could also be heard as without Christ. Confusion of the two words was easy.[17]

Onesimus was a common name for slaves. Perhaps the use of this name was a double entendre to indicate that he could only be useful as a free Christian brother not as a slave.
The entire letter would take on a different meaning if the word Onesimus was replaced with Christ. It would be a call to Christianity. It would be a call to personal freedom. Ultimately this was always Paul’s goal, to evangelize the world for Christ. Ultimately that is the purpose and message of Philemon for me.

Bieberstein, Sabine. "Disrupting the normal reality of slavery: a feminist reading of the Letter to Philemon." Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 79 (S 2000): 105-116.
Brown, Raymond E. “An introduction to the New Testament”. New York: Doubleday Publishing, 1996
Carson, Herbert. The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1960.
Cotter, Anthony. "Epistles of the captivity." Catholic biblical Quarterly 4, no. 11 (October 1949): 370-380.
De Vos, Craig Steven. "Once a Slave, Always a Slave?." Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 82 (June 2001): 89-105.
Dunham, Robert E. "Phileomn 1:1-25." Interpretation 2, no. 52 (April 1998): 191-194.
Frinlingosw, Christoper. "For my child, Onesimus; Paul and domestic power in Philemon." Journal of Biblical Literature 1, no. 119 (Spring 2000): 91-104.
Harris, Murray J. Colossians and Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Jones, J Estill. "Letter to Philemon - and illustration of Koinonia." Review and Expositor, no. 46 (October 1949): 454-466.
Kea, Perry V. "Paul's Letter to Philemon : A short Analysis of its Values." Perspectives in Religious Studies 23 (Summer 1996): 223-232.
Koch, Eldon. "A Cameo of Koinonia - The Letter of Philemon." Interpretation 2, no. 17 (April 1963): 183-187.
Lightfoot, J.B. Saint Paul's Epistles To The Colossians and to Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1879.
Lyons, Kirk C. "Paul's confrontation with class: the Letter to Philemon as counter-hegemonic discourse." Cross Currents 1, no. 56 (Spring 2006): 116-132.
Nordling, John. "Onesimus fugitivus : a defense of the runaway slave hypothesis in Philemon." Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 41 (Fall 1991): 97-119.
Osiek, Carolyn. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.
Rees, Paul. The Epistles to eh Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1964.
Richardson, William. "Principle and content in the ethics of the Epistle to Philemon." Interpretation, no. 22 (July 1968): 301-316.
Soards, Marion. "Some neglected theological dimensions of Paul's letter to Philemon." Perspectives in Religious Studies, no. 17 (Fall 1990): 209-219.
Thomas, Griffith, W.H. Studies in Colossians and Philemon. Edited by Edited by his Daughter. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973.
Wilson, Andrew. "The Pragmatics of Politeness and Pauline Epistolography : A case Study of the Letter to Philemon." Journal for the Study of the New Testament D, no. 48 (1992): 107-119.

[1] J Estill Jones, "Letter to Philemon: an illustration of Koinonia," Review and Expositor, no. 46 (O 1949): 457.
[2] Kirk C. Lyons, "Paul's confrontation with class: the Letter to Philemon as counter-hegemonic discourse," Cross Currents 1, no. 56 (Spring 2006): 124.
[3] Paul Rees, The Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1964), 127.
[4] John Nordling, "Onesimus fugitivus : a defense of the runaway slave hypothesis in Philemon," Journal for the Study of the New TEstament, no. 41 (Fall 1991): 107.
[5] "Ibid, pg. 119.
[6] Sabine Bieberstein, "Disrupting the normal reality of slavery: a feminist reading of the Letter to Philemon," Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 79 (S 2000): 116.
[7] W.H Griffith Thomas, Studies in Colossians and Philemon, ed. Edited by his Daughter (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 163.
[8] William Richardson, "Principle and Content in the Ethics of the Epistle to Philemon," Interpretation, no. 22 (July 1968): 307.
[9] "Ibid, pg. 307.
[10] "Ibid, pg. 308.
[11] Craig Steven De Vos, "Once a Slave, Always a Slave?," Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 82 (June 2001): 95.
[12] "Ibid, pg. 95.
[13] "Ibid, pg. 95.
[14] Perry V. Kea, "Paul's Letter to Philemon : A short Analysis of its Values," Perspectives in Religious Studies 23 (Summer 1996): 226.
[15] Andrew Wilson, "The Pragmatics of Politeness and Pauline Epistolography : A case Study of the Letter to Philemon," Journal for the Study of the New Testament D, no. 48 (1992): 109-110.
[16] J.B Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles To The Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1879), 304.
[17] Carolyn Osiek, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 136.

Speaking the Truth to Power - The Book of Job

Why does evil prosper in this world? Why do good people suffer and how should we react to such suffering? These questions were asked over twenty five hundred years ago, and resulted in the Book of Job in the Jewish Scriptures. Yet even today, I find this story and its answers relevant

For those of you who do not know the book of Job, or have forgotten, let me quickly recap it for you. Job is the most pious of men, who is without fault. He is loyal to God and helps the widow and orphan, and is righteous in every way.

Well, basically God makes a bet with Satan, and actually interestingly enough, in the Jewish Scriptures God make a bet with a being called the Adversary who is member of the divine beings who gather with God. Now the issue of how there could a gathering of Divine Beings if there is only one God in the Jewish Faith will have to be a discussion for future sermon. Anyway, the Christian Scriptures change the wording from Adversary to Satan. God is boasting of Job’s piousness. Satan wagers with God that if God allows him free reign to cause havoc in Job’s life, Job will repudiate God. God takes the bet. Well, this adversary character does all he can to make Job turn away from God.

All of Job’s children are killed, his sheep were killed, his camels were stolen (I am not sure why the camels are stolen, but the children and sheep are killed, I will have to dwell further on that one), his wife abandons him, and he is stricken with “Inflammations of sores” from his head to his toes. (I will let you use your imagination on that one, but I’m guessing its very unpleasant)

I do not think I could make up a story like this, yet there it is in the Bible.

So when studying this story, I have to ask, what is the purpose of putting this story in the Bible. It is believed that this story was composed after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Israelites in 587 BCE. I believe this is the story of a people who were trying to reconcile how God could allow such evil to happen to them. Throughout the story there are four people who come to visit Job and there is an ongoing discussion as to why such tragedy has befallen Job. The assumption that these people make is that Job must have done something wrong to deserve these terrible things. Now we as readers have a foreknowledge that Job is completely innocent, and Job steadfastly defends his integrity to these people questioning him.

Throughout the story, Job has argued that he wants a audience, even demanding an audience with God. He even states that he knows God will not answer his questions, but yet he still wants to ask God the question. I believe like many people who cannot explain their circumstances, Job really just wants to be assured that there is a God, that there is some guiding force for justice in the world. How many of us have felt that way at some time in our life, when we through no fault of our own we find ourselves in desperate situations. Or after we hear a child has died. How often did I hear in my lifetime, in my family, the question of if there is a God, how could God have allowed the Holocaust to have occurred.

We see every day in our lives, and on television, ongoing inhumanity against humanity and against nature, and the incessant destruction of people, property and souls, and we wonder, today, where is God. That is what the character Job is asking. That is what the people of Israel were asking 2,500 years ago.

In Chapter 9 Job goes on to state “
God is not a man, like me that I might answer God,
That we can go to a trial together
No arbiter is between us
To lay their hand on us both.

I think this is a telling line. “There is no arbiter between us” I think this brings to bear the same philosophical question we still ask today – How do we gain knowledge. And more specifically, how do we gain knowledge about the mysteries of life. Do we gain knowledge from direct experience, or through ritual and dogma? Much of the arguments brought by Job’s visitors dwell on the wisdom of the elders. This is epitomized in Verse 8 the visitor Bildad states

Ask the generation past,
Study what their fathers have searched out
For we are of yesterday and know nothing;
Our days on earth are a shadow
Surely they will teach you and tell you
Speaking out of their understanding

And Job replies in verse 12
But ask the beasts, and they will teach you
The birds of the sky, they will tell you
Or speak to the earth, it will teach you
The fish of the sea, they will inform you

And of course my favorite quote, in Chapter 13 when Job tells his visitor

“If you would only keep quiet it would be considered wisdom on your part”

So what is Job saying. I believe the message is that we must experience life, and we must gain an understanding of the universe for ourselves, and we cannot learn the mysteries of life through ritual and dogma. We must come to know ourselves, and through the examination of the world around us we must learn that there are universal truths, that there are natural laws about what is what is morally and ethically right and wrong, and just because there is a human law that says otherwise, or just because someone in power tells us otherwise, if we know deep in our heart and souls something is right, we need to stand for it and have faith in our beliefs.

Unitarians have long held to this principle in our country’s history, whether it was being the leading voice for the abolition of slavery, for the women’s rights movement, for the civil rights movement, and in the present day among the many things we stand for, for economic justice, for sane environmental policies and for marriage equality. We stand up for what we know is good and moral even in the face of powerful opposition. My theology tells me we are not born with original sin, we are born innocent and good. And if we don’t stand up for this what is good, then goodness will not prevail.

Now often we have heard the phrase the patience of Job. I really think this phrase is a misnomer. This comes from the Book of James in the Christian Scriptures. In chapter 5 it states

Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance.
You have heard of the endurance of Job.
The King James Version uses the phrase patience instead of endurance.

Well Job certainly endured a lot, but clearly he was not patient. Most of the Book, he is raging against his visitors and against God for an explanation of the injustice done to him. Well finally at the end of the book, God shows up. Yet God doesn’t respond to Job’s Questions regarding injustice. To make a long story short, God verbally tries to browbeat Job, and I paraphrase here, telling Job that Job has no right to question God because God is all powerful and created the universe as it is known. I am thinking maybe God is feeling a little defensive about this whole bet thing with Satan.

But God also states to Job in Chapter 40
Gird your loins like a man (I take that to mean sort of like suck it up)
Would you question my justice?
Then Scatter wide your raging anger
See every proud man and bring him low
See every proud man and humble him
And bring down the wicked where they stand
Then even I would acknowledge you

I see these statements in the Bible as saying that we need to stop complaining and asking for a higher authority to help us solve our problems, that we as humans need to take responsibility for the human condition.

In Chapter 42 in Job’s last statement to God Job says
I had heard you with my ears
But now I see you with my eyes
I repudiate and change my mind about dust and ashes

Now first I must admit that in my research, this last line has literally more than 50 different translations, of which many would give different meaning to the whole book. But when I look at this story from my Unitarian Universalist faith, this translation makes complete sense to me. Dust and ashes is a symbol for meaninglessness. Abraham used the same exact Hebrew phrase in the Book of Genesis in comparing humanity to God. First by emphasizing “now I see you with my eyes” Job is again reiterating direct experiential learning regarding the mysteries of the universe, and in changing his mind about dust and ashes, he is repudiating the meaninglessness of humanity. The message is Humanity is what is meaningful, Humanity is what will make a difference in the world, and that is what this story ultimately is trying to tell us.

So how can we fight injustice. In the end, the story gives us a message for that as well. In the last chapter of the book, God Chastised the Visitors for not speaking the truth about God as did Job. Job’s fortunes were restored, yet it is interesting just how they were restored. They were restored by members of the community sharing their food and money with Job. So maybe this story is a positive commentary on the benefits of socialism, or at the least progressive taxation.

I think in general the mainstream of society is only willing to challenge power when they see injustice befalling people similar to them. If there is injustice against the poor in society, the majority of society turns away. People only pay attention to injustice when they feel it is possible that it could happen to them. One of the messages of Job is that society has to realize that injustice by those in power needs to be recognized, no matter who is affected. Justice can be restored by the community joining together. The community had a choice to help Job at the beginning but abandoned him out of fear. In the end, they joined him and helped him. The book of Job shows how human suffering or the awareness of suffering and injustice can lead to social transformation.

In order to create social transformation though, we need to be transformative in our dealings with injustice. We must be able to reach out beyond our own perspective of the world and try to understand the perspectives of others. We need to understand the perspective of people who are starving while we overeat, the perspective of those jailed or killed for their political views while we have the right to free speech, and the perspective of people who live with little or no prospects to improve their conditions, while we live with ample opportunities to choose our path.

I believe the story of Job is an allegory for the evolution of justice by humanity. There has been some progress over the last 2 millennium. And I do take the long view. I think by continually reviewing such universal stories of justice we will remember deep in our souls to remember the Jobs of this world, and to be like Job. We should shout against injustice, to speak the truth to power no matter the consequences, and to not be swayed from our beliefs by fear. We are the guiding force of justice in this world and we cannot shirk from our responsibilities. In the end, the truth is all that matters and it is the truth that will transform our souls and yes, it is the truth that will set us free.
Thank you

The Akedah

I grew up listening to the story of the Akedah each year at the Rosh Hashanah services. I really paid little mind to it growing up. We were taught that this story was told to explain that God did not want us to sacrifice humans. As I entered my late teens and early twenties, I became infatuated with existentialism, which of course brought me face to face with the writings of Soren Kierkegaard. In his writings he brought up the question “Is there such a thing as a teleological suspension of the ethical?”[1]. The view of the Akedah at that point for me was a basic question as to whether humans should have complete faith in something greater than ourselves and our own experiences, to a point that we would do something unethical. By looking at Abraham’s actions in this vein, we can see that such a view has led many people to do unspeakable things in the name of religion.
More recently, however, I had a much more personal experience that made me dwell on The Akedah. When I received the call to Ministry, my youngest child was (and still is) in school. Obtaining a Masters of Divinity was a requirement for me to obtain ordination in my denomination. I had investigated and searched for Seminaries that would accept students from my denomination. After months of searching, I realized that if I were to pursue my call from the divine, I would have to either move my family away from Central Florida (including my son from his school and friends), or travel away from my family. Either course of action would cause severe pain to my son. As I struggled with this decision, my minister mentioned that she had been to a preaching conference and had heard about the Florida Center for Theological Studies, and thought I should look into it. In finding this seminary, it was as if God had left a ram in the thicket for me. In my heart I knew I would never consciously do anything to harm my son. Still it troubled me deeply that I would have this calling, and yet the only way to fulfill it would be to hurt my son. Why would God do such a thing? I didn’t look at it as a test from God, although perhaps it was. When this incident happened, I immediately thought of The Akedah. It is why I chose these verses as my final paper. I wanted to dig into this verse and try to better understand its mystery, myself, and my mission. These verses have always been challenging as they touch on such profound topics of faith, yet leave so much for interpretation. Maybe that point, in and of itself, is part of the answer. That we must search deeply between the lines of life for answers, as they are not always so obvious. After much research, I found many challenging, thought provoking concepts regarding these verses, which guided me to find my answer. It may not be everyone’s answer, but it is my answer, based on my experiences with the world and with the divine.

The first basic question that troubled me is why God would create such a test? Did God question Abraham’s commitment? What had God asked of Abraham initially? In Genesis 12 he asked very little. “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. He basically asked Abraham to follow his advice and he would give him great blessings and later on promised him land. In Chapter 15 there are more specific promises. There were no other stipulations. In Chapter 17 there is another covenant between God and Abraham. Is this possibly another version of the same story retold in a different way? There is no reference at all to the previous covenants. In Chapter 17, in exchange for God’s blessings, Abraham and his descendents had to “Walk in My ways and be blameless” and partake in the act of circumcision. And then in Chapter 22, he asks for the sacrifice of Abraham’s son. As the bible goes on, there are more and more requirements added. It is almost as if God is continually requesting more and more, once the previous task is completed. Israel Charney in “And Abraham Went To Slay Isaac” states:

“We see in the story of the Sacrifice a stunningly clear statement of where man is in his development as a species, and just where the challenge lies if man is to hope to develop his evolutionary potential for nonviolence.[2]

Although Charney was not speaking specifically to this issue of additional requests, I think his point relates well here. God continues to push us to reach our maximum potential. Almost like a video game, once we reach a certain level, we are ready for higher, more difficult levels. We will evolve as beings by constantly being challenged to reach another level of humankind. This concept is one of the messages of The Akedah. We must constantly challenge and push ourselves to reach our maximum potential as human beings.

The second question that always has troubled me about religion and this story in particular, is why does God require a living sacrifice (animal or human) from humans? In fact, I do not believe God requires sacrifices from us. God is not vain. If God is all knowing, God would know what we think and feel about God. I see two possible conclusions. One is that God is not all knowing and requires sacrifice to better know who loves God. There is no way to determine this conclusion, and it would require a separate theological dissertation to explore this concept. The second conclusion is that God does not require the sacrifice, but rather humans have a desire to sacrifice to God. This sacrifice might be out of thanks for all the blessings that God has given us, or it might be out of a lack of faith that God is really present in our lives, and we have to take some action to satisfy or justify that. Ronald Green in “Abraham, Isaac, and the Jewish Tradition: An Ethical Reappraisal” tries to answer the reason why God would create such a test even if God knew the outcome quotes a midrash:
“It was my wish that the world should become acquainted with thee, and should know that it is not without good reason that I have chosen thee from all the nations”.[3]

I think this view is a rationalization. First, this test of sacrifice was specifically a private ceremony and a private covenant between Abraham and God. Second, I am not quite sure what the test proves to others and why it would impress them. Thinking about it, why does God need to prove anything to anyone for what God does? I found this answer unsatisfying.

Howard Moltz in “God And Abraham In The Binding Of Isaac” makes the case that “God had come to doubt Abraham”[4] and “uncertain of Abraham’s devotion, had devised a brutal test.”[5] By questioning God regarding Sodom and Gomorrah, and by questioning God regarding Sarah’s and his having children, Abraham had not shown faith in God. Through such a test, he showed obedience to God. I find this of little consolation. Abraham had left his family and all he had known to follow God. Again, does God know what we think and feel? If so, why would God doubt Abraham? If not, we know God had been in conversation with Abraham, why would God not just discuss his concerns with him as opposed to creating such a test.

I think Walter Breuggmann captured it best for me when he said
“The command of God is that Isaac must be killed. It follows that there will be no descendents, no future. We are back to barrenness. The entire pilgrimage from 11:30 has been for naught. Abraham has trusted the promise fully. Now the promise is to be abrogated. Can the same God who promises life also command death?”[6]

Clearly Abraham knew that if he followed the order, God’s promise would be broken. He had given up his past by leaving his family. Now he faced giving up the future of his descendents. The message this sends to me is very clear. Our individual relationship with God is unique. We each must progress and develop it on our own. Our parents and our descendents have to come to their own peace with God. We are alone in our relationship with the divine. To me this is powerful. Each of us must find our way to the divine. It cannot be handed to us by a piece of paper, or by some community ritual, but rather we must experience it for ourselves.
I was shocked by the extent of the writings that indicated Isaac actually was killed by Abraham (or at least severely injured), and then resurrected by God. There are some stories that he was severely injured by Abraham before the Angel could stop the knife. There is even significant commentary as to whether Isaac willingly participated in the event. There is some circumstantial evidence to these theories. It states that “Abraham returned to his servants” with no mention that Isaac was with him. Abraham never speaks to God again. After this story, Isaac’s role in the Bible is limited. He does not even search for his own wife; his servant is sent to find her. This is a change from the standard storyline throughout the Bible of searching for a wife. Abraham and Isaac never talk to each other. The most difficult of these issues to explain is that the story doesn’t mention that Isaac came down the mountain with Abraham. Some try to argue that Abraham sent him away to study torah, or to rush home to his mother, but there is no logical basis for those arguments. My only thought is that if he was not killed, Isaac ran away. His father just tried to murder him for no apparent reason. I don’t think I would hang around too long with someone who tried to do that to me. This could also explain why they never talked again. Perhaps Isaac never forgave Abraham. There are many stories in history, and in the present, of fathers and sons not getting along. What this says to me is that it is ok to go our separate ways if we cannot tolerate the situation in life we are faced with. In addition, I believe this reiterates the theme of new beginnings. This is a consistent theme throughout Genesis, with Creation, Adam and Eve, and Noah. Abraham started anew when he left his family. Maybe he just didn’t get along with his family. Now Isaac is starting anew without Abraham.
One commentary stated that Abraham abandoned Isaac on the mountain, “as an expression of estrangement”[7], or I would think, possibly out of a sense of guilt. Maybe Abraham had lost his faith or no longer cared about the future promise after being put through such an ordeal. Why follow a God who makes you suffer? This was a similar question asked by many Jewish people after World War II.
The issue of estrangement could also explain why Abraham never speaks to God again. Although on a positive note, maybe he had realized that he had become one with God; that he didn’t need to speak to God. He now knew and understood God. He now knew Good and Evil. Or, it could be as simple as that the J author took over. Under the E author, there is a pattern of God communicating directly with humans. Under the J author YHWH does not (except the prophets). Most of my research indicates that in the beginning of the verse the E author is present. However, in the two episodes where the angel is talking to Abraham, the J author is present. If the J author finished the story, or if this is a combination of two stories as is suggested often, then the literary style of the author could explain why Abraham never talked to God again. I will touch on the different authors again when I reach my conclusion.

Isaac’s lack of involvement later in the Bible could indicate a multitude of issues. It could indicate that he was injured and thus he did not have all his faculties. It could indicate that he died, and he was added back in order to continue the storyline. It could be that his role in this story and as a conduit to Jacob and Esau were all that was significant about Isaac in his lifetime.

The question I ask myself is, what generated such a barrage of commentary on the death of Isaac? In Shalom Spiegel’s “ The Last Trial” , there is extensive commentary on this. His research points to the possibility that this stems from two stories, one a pagan story of actual child sacrifice edited to give an ending to prohibit such actions. This idea is a rational possibility. His research points to stories of the resurrection of the dead as it relates to Satan. “He is Satan, he is the angel of death, and the victor over Satan is the victor over death”[8]. There is also some discussion of the corollary to the story of Job. Yet there is no history in Judaism of Satan as an evil character. Even in Job, Satan is a servant of God, not the angel of death. I think perhaps these are Judaism’s responses to some Christian concepts of Good and Evil.

More likely than not, these commentaries were composed as a response to Christianity. They wanted to show a sacrifice and resurrection as competition to Jesus. They wanted to show that God had already done this to someone who pursued Judaism, so there was no need to create a new religion out of such an act.
I also think to some degree this was a response to the oppression Jewish people felt during the Roman occupation and later during the crusades where Jewish people sacrificed themselves rather than convert from Judaism. It gave people a reason to sacrifice themselves for a higher ideal. I think this is a dangerous concept to promote. I have always struggled with this issue. Since we live in an “open” society in the United States, we can only imagine conditions that would lead one to do such a thing. Even today, after 9-11, most people cannot and do not understand the motivation for a suicide bomber. Yet here it is in these Bible commentaries. It is expressing this justification that this was an order from God to sacrifice oneself, and an innocent, rather than allow the corruption of your religion. Of course I believe that as long as people are not harming others, they should be allowed to practice whatever religious beliefs bring them closer to the divine. However, just because in a particular society, people are not publicly allowed to demonstrate their beliefs, it does not mean they can no longer have such beliefs. In my view, religious beliefs in no way justify the suicide or murder of any being. However, I think it is clear that such thinking has long been used in Jewish History, Christian History, and unfortunately, is being replayed again today in the religion of Islam.

It is amazing that such a short verse in the Bible is so rich with different and varying interpretations. Although there were many subsequent interpretations, as discussed above, what was the original purpose of the verse? Usually when there are various conflicting ideas regarding the origin of something, I like to utilize the theory of Occam’s Razor, which to paraphrase is “when there are multiple explanations available for a phenomenon, the simplest is preferred”. The simplest explanation for the origin of this passage is what I was taught as a youth. The story was used as a way to convince people not to sacrifice their children. There are many stories of child sacrifices (particularly of first born children) throughout pagan cultures. Gunkel speaks of
The Phoenician cult legend according to which El himself instituted this cult by offering his “only born son” as a burnt offering to his father Uraos in a time of distress on an altar erected for the purpose. The son is called “darling” or “only son”[9]

There have been archaeological digs from pagan cultures that have found remains of a large number of children, suggesting that there had been many sacrifices of children.

Spiegel, in “The Last Trial” also comments on the topic of doing away with human sacrifice. The biblical account, then, came to enforce and validate a new way of worship; and, too, it came to abolish and discredit the statutes of the ancient world. The Akedah story repels once for all the primitive notion of the sanctity of the human first born and its derivative demand for the literal sacrifice of children. The Akedah story declared war on the remnant of idolatry in Israel and under-took to remove root and branch the whole long, terror-laden inheritance from idolatrous generations. [10]

In my view, the wise men included this story as a means to convince people that God did not want child sacrifices, which most moral and ethical people find abhorrent. If one focuses not on the test of Abraham, but on the end result it shows God as merciful and humane.

One of the most interesting and thought provoking thoughts that came up in my studies was the effect that redaction of multiple authors had on the verse. Omri Boehm makes a very strong argument that the J author added in the two angelic speeches in verses 11 and 15. If that is true, it changes the whole nature and meaning of the story. This actually makes sense. The story would then flow as if Abraham himself made the choice not to kill Isaac, and sacrificed the ram instead, based on his on free will. Based on Abraham’s personality this view seems logical. Abraham often was a very practical man, and didn’t always agree with God. He hid the fact that Sarah was his wife to protect himself. He argued with God to try to save people at Sodom and Gomorrah. I think the story of having a child with Hagar is quite revealing as well. At the point in the bible of the first Hagar story (verse 16), it had not been indicated that the blessings for descendents would be through Sarah. This was only indicated in verse 17.16. Abraham was being practical. If he could not have a descendent through his wife, he would have one through someone else. I don’t think that concept should be acceptable today (although I am sure it happens often), but the practice seemed fairly common for that period. As a side note, it would be interesting if the naming of Sarah’s son as the receiver of the blessing was an added redaction in later times. If so, that could mean that Ishmael’s descendents were the heirs for the blessing. Wouldn’t that throw (Jewish) religious thought upside down. But I digress. Clearly it is within Abraham’s personality to be practical and to question God’s command. Secondly, if the original test is from God, why would not God communicate with Abraham? Why would God suddenly send an Angel to act and communicate to Abraham? This does not seem logical to me.

The message here is that we as humans have to make hard choices. We have free will. Just because we receive an order to do something from an authority, does not mean we have to follow it blindly. We have the knowledge of good and evil. We have the ability to choose one over the other, and we have to make those choices wisely with an open mind and an open heart. Abraham, as we are today, was faced with a difficult choice. He looked within himself, based on all the knowledge and all the instinct he had, and made what he felt was the correct moral and ethical choice. Was that the test God had given him? The theological issues this raises are many. Did God give a blatant unethical order? Was it a test to see if Abraham would use his ethical compass even if it differed from God’s command? Next time the order might come from someone else, and we have to be to be strong willed enough to stand up against unethical orders. If one can stand up to God, certainly one can stand up to a human being and defy an unethical order. Maybe God put the ram there to give Abraham a clear choice. I think Boehm summarizes this well:
In disobeying God’s manifestly illegal order, it is Abraham, the monotheistic believer, a knight of faith, who is responsible for the determination of Good and Evil, not God. He thus presents us, not with the “suspension of the ethical”, but with a preference for it.[11]

This concept is where I found my answer. We must continually strive to achieve an ethical and moral life. This is not an easy thing to do. Maybe God tests us to make us stronger, to make us realize our possibilities to make this a better world. Personally, staying with my son, and giving him the best opportunity to succeed in the world, was in the correct ethical and moral choice to make. Finding this school has been like a ram in the thicket. Although doing this part time in addition to a busy full time schedule of work, church and family is a struggle, it has taught me many things. It allows me to achieve my ethical choice, it has taught me patience, it has taught me to balance my life, and it has shown me that God offers up many alternatives. Life is not always either this or that. We have to keep our mind and heart open towards other alternatives, which is the ultimate meaning of The Akedah.


Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984.
Boehm, Omri. "The Binding of Isaac: An Inner-Biblical Polemic On The Question of "Disobeying" a Manifestly Illegal Order." Vetus testamentum, no. 52.01 (2001): 1-12.
Breuggmann, Walter. A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Genesis. Edited by James L. Mays. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.
Charney, Israel W. "And Abraham Went To Slay Isaac: A Parable Of Killer, Victim, and Bystander In The Family Of Man." Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 10.02., (2001): 304-318.
Green, Ronald M. "Abraham, Isaac, and The Jewish Tradition: An Ethical Reappraisal." Journal of Religious Ethics, no. 10.01 (2001): 1-21.
Gunkel, Hermann. Genesis. Translated by Mark E. Biddle. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.
Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling. Translated by Walter Lowrie. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, 1954.
Moltz, Howard. "God and Abraham in the Binding of Isaac." Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no. 96.01 (2001): 59-69.
Rad, Gerhard Von. Genesis A Commentary. Translated by John H. Marks. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956.
Spiegel, Shalom. The Last Trial. Translated by Judah Goldin. Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993.

[1] Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. Walter Lowrie (Garden City: Doubleday and Company, 1954), 64.
[2] Israel W. Charney, "And Abraham went to slay Isaac: A Parable of Killer, Victim, and Bystander in the Family," Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 10.02., (2001): 308.
[3] Ronald M. Green, "Abraham, Isaac, and The jewish Tradition: An Ethical Reappraisal," Journal of Religious Ethics, no. 10.01 (2001): 5.
[4] Howard Moltz, "God and Abraham In The Binding Of Isaac," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no. 96:01 (2001): 67.
[5] "Ibid, 68
[6] Walter Breuggmann, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Genesis, ed. James L. Mays (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 188.
[7] Howard Moltz, "God and Abraham in the Bindng of Isaac," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no. 96.01 (2001): 64.
[8] Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, trans. Judah Goldin (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993), 109.
[9] Hermann Gunkel, Genesis, trans. Mark E. Biddle (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), 239.
[10] Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, trans. Judah Goldin (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993), 73.
[11] Omri Boehm, "The Binding of Isaac: An Inner-Biblical Polemic On The Question of "Disobeying" a Manifestly Illegal Order," Vetus testamentum, no. 52.01 (2001): 12.

Leviticus 11.2-4 - Why?

Although I grew up in a Jewish household I did not follow the dietary laws found in Leviticus. I was well aware of them, but we looked at other Jewish people who followed them as unenlightened. Oftentimes, I saw someone who I knew followed the laws in their homes, but would not think twice about eating pork at a restaurant. I thought this quite hypocritical, and it further justified the reasons for my being non compliant. As I expanded my horizons, I met many people who did quite seriously follow these dietary rules (as well as many other rules) with religious fervor. When I would ask them why they followed these rules, the consistent response I would receive was “because it says so in the bible”. Well, I have never been very good at taking blind orders. I like to understand the reason behind the order. In everything I study in the Bible, I try to understand the purpose of passage. What was its relevance to the people at the time it was written? But more importantly, what is its relevance to our lives today, so that it adds to our lives spiritually and puts us more in touch with the divine? It is not necessary to be relevant in the same way it was to the Israelites twenty five hundred years ago. The greatness of the Bible is whether it can transcend time. Looking at different meanings for different times, might raise the argument of moral relativism. I think that is the mystery of the book, in that it can adapt over time and one can discern meaning it based on their circumstances in life. There may be items in the book that may not relate to our circumstances, and if so then we should look at those items that were needed for another time for people under different circumstances. This does not negate the balance of the book which can be relevant. The purpose for me to study the Bible is to be able to put myself in and to one day lead others to a closer relationship to God. If it is not relevant in any way to our current lives, there would not be a reason to study it.

After reading the chapter 11 my initial reaction was that the prohibition on eating certain types of animals was a health issue. This seemed like a logical conclusion to me. Most of the commentary written about this book seems to dismiss this conclusion outright. Most of the works conclude that this is not the case, because, it was not stated as such in the book, there were many other negative things to eat that were not excluded and many of the animals listed would not have been dangerous to eat. From a purely historical perspective, I still think this is probably the main reason for the passage. The fact that it does not explicitly indicate this reason is by no means a reason to disown this theory. There is no reason given at all for this verse and there are many things that are not explicitly indicated in the Bible. The fact that it doesn’t list all animals, or plants that could possibly be dangerous for health, is not a reason to assume that these items were not included for those reasons. Possibly there were other lists of other animals and plants that were just not included in the final writings. More likely though, my guess is that at the time of the writing, the people may have been suffering from known illness’ which they were able to trace back to one of these animals that had these particular attributes. They then looked at what other animals had the same characteristics as the animal that caused the disease, and banned all of them just to be cautious. We will never really know this, and although I believe this is why it would have been relevant at the time, with advances in medicine, it now renders this theory irrelevant.

Another common theory espoused is that the segregations listed in Leviticus relate to keeping order in the world. The animals, fish, and birds listed as unholy are different from the natural order in some way. In “Leviticus An Introduction and Commentary” by R. K. Harrison, Harrison commenting on Mary Douglas’s “Purity and Danger” says:

“Dr. Douglas argues that since holiness requires individuals to conform to the class to which they belong, the animals that do not exhibit the specified forms of locomotion, namely flying, walking, swimming and running, are unclean.”[1]
In “Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching” Samuel E. Balentine states:

“both Genesis 1 and Leviticus 11 stress God’s ordering of everything in creation according to its/their kind. Leviticus builds on this discernment by stipulation that only the animals that reflect the normal characteristics of their kind are edible. Those that do not possess these characteristics are not only different; they are disadvantaged, because they lack the means for survival that are common to their species”[2]

I have to ask myself what would be the purpose to discussing the differentiation of animals and how it affects our lives. I think in general the segregation of mankind into different sects versus finding our common ground is what leads to many of the challenges we face today in our world. There are a numerous writings that equate the disallowed animals with the oppressed, the widow and orphan based on similar analysis that these animals are somehow “disadvantaged” because they are different. Although there may be some logic behind this, these arguments do not make sense to me, either on their face or theologically. Clearly these animals were created or evolved into the way they were for a reason. If God created all things, then they were created for a purpose by God. Even if you take the theory as I do, that life unfolds by our actions here on earth, these creatures survived, mutated, evolved over time into what they were. These were due to the natural course of events in the world. They survived as a species specifically because they had these features. They adapted to the environment they were living in, with the skills they had because of their differences. I look at this as a strength not as a weakness. I look at it as a testament to our adaptability on earth, so I do not find this analysis of it as helpful.

The question of the type of difference though is important. Leon Kass in “Why the Dietary Laws” brings to the forefront that originally we were vegetarians. He feels that after the flood when God gave man the right to eat animals “God was willing to tolerate meat eating in the hope that man’s ferocity would thereby be sated, that murder might become less likely if human blood-lust could be satisfied by meat”[3]. He argues that the distinction related to the forbidden animals is to whether they eat other animals and their blood and those that do not. He feels “the Levitical laws of purity reintroduce those early distinctions; the children of Israel are not to incorporate animals that kill and incorporate other animals. This restriction tacitly acknowledges the problem of carnivorousness.[4]” Mary Douglas states “Holiness is incompatible with predatory behavior”[5].
Clearly humankind’s ferocity was not and has not been sated. I believe that to be in a close relationship with God, we must control our predatory behavior. The more I read about the dietary laws, the more I think about the Buddhist practice of mindful eating. I believe the dietary laws certainly force people to be mindful at least about what they are eating. It makes them stop and consciously think. Once you are on a path of mindfulness, in one area of life, it makes you a more mindful person in general. This I believe can only lead to a mindset of peace and holiness and is a way to allow one to know them self better and to put oneself in touch with the divine. I am not suggesting that the priests were studying Buddhism, but I am suggesting that maybe mindful eating and mindfulness in general are practices that may be universal to spiritual fulfillment, and the dietary laws were the way the Jewish people implemented them.

The use of the dietary laws as a means of distinctiveness as a people is clearly the most common and most obvious reason to create the laws in Leviticus. I think Harrison reflects this overall sentiment:

“Purpose of the legislation – perpetuation of the separateness of the Israelites, in dietary as well as in ethical and spiritual matters, presumably with the aim of relating one to the other. Adherence to a particular regimen of diet has for millennia constituted a mark of distinctiveness among religious people. To be forbidden to indulge in certain foods because of religious considerations would emphasize for the Israelites the need to obey God’s directions implicitly, while reinforcing in their minds the conviction that they were distinctive as the people of God.[6]
I would credit these laws with creating a cohesive community and condemn them for creating a community that was/is intolerant of others who are different. What would be the purpose of creating separation that would set Israelites apart from other people? I look at the roots of Judaism as groups of tribes that banded together for survival. They as a group of people were looking for a place to settle that they could live their lives in freedom and peace. They were unique in their belief of one God vs. pagan beliefs of many Gods. There are many theories that when they first came into the land of Canaan after the exile in the wilderness they lived side by side with the other people in that part of the world. From most of my reading, it appears that this book was written by the P (priestly) source. If the people were living in peace with their neighbors, why would the priests want this separation? Most academics feel it was not written during the time in the wilderness, and as late as the exile in Babylonia. No matter what the timeframe, there has always been (even to this day) a concern of assimilation and dissolution of the tribes and its faith. I think the priests feared this and created all these laws to create a distinction between the tribes and others.

If I were to be cynical, I would say the priests feared they would lose their purpose in life and their power and privilege in the community. If I were to be positive, I would say that the priests in their heart felt that this was the one true way to experience God, and were truly afraid that people needed this to experience the divine. I think it was both a blessing and a curse. It did create a (somewhat) cohesive group of people that have existed until this day. As a believer in one God, I believe it is a God for all people. I believe that different people see God in different ways. Yet so many of the different religions past and present have different forms, many of them have similar ethical teachings. If the Jewish people are the chosen people to be the messenger of God to all people, I would think the goal would be to integrate with the other people to teach them the message of God as opposed to building barriers that keep people who think differently than they do separate. It was not the form of the Jewish religion that gave the Jewish people its special relationship with God. It was its direct relationship as a people with God and to live out God’s vision in this world.

There are no specific reasons in the Bible as to why one should follow the dietary laws. I do think originally it was due to some sort of health issue; however over time it became a way to separate and segregate Jewish people from non Jewish people. I think today however we should focus on the laws as a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness to the ways of God and the universe. With our knowledge and technology today, there is no longer a need to have to eat animals at all. I would submit humankind should be in search of harmony with nature and the animal world. I think that is what is God would want. I think the dietary laws were maybe just the first step in that direction, to help get us back to a time before the flood, before murder, to a place where creation does not have to lead to violence. That is the message and the purpose I discern from reading Leviticus Chapter 11.

Balentine, Samuel E. Interpretation - A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Edited by James L. Mays, Patrick D. Miller, Paul J Achtemeier. Leviticus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002.
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984.
Douglas, Mary. "The Forbidden Animals in Leviticus." Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 3-23, 1993, 3-23.
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. Leviticus. Translated by Douglas W. Stott. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
Harrison, Roland Kenneth. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Edited by D.J Wiseman. Leviticus An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980.
Kass, Leon. "Why the Dietary Laws?." Commentary, June, 1994, 42-48.
Rooker, Mark S. The New American Commentary. Edited by Ray Clendenen, Kenneth A. Mathews, David S. Dockery. Leviticus. United States: Broadman and Holman, 2000.

[1] Harrison, Roland Kenneth, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D.J. General Editor Wiseman, Leviticus An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 28.
[2] Samuel E. Balentine, Interpretation - A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, ed. James L. Mays, Patrick D. Miller, Paul J Achtemeier, Leviticus (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002), 96.
[3] Leon Kass, "Why the Dietary Laws?," Commentary, June, 1994, 44.
[4] Leon Kass, "Why the Dietary Laws?," Commentary, June, 1994, 46-47.
[5] Mary Douglas, "The Forbidden Animals in Leviticus," Journal for hte Study of the Old Testament, 3-23, 1993, 22.
[6] Harrison, Roland Kenneth, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D.J Wiseman, Leviticus An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, 1980), 123.