Conversations with Bob is an on-line blog chat with my friend and colleague, Bob Campbell. Together we are attempting to find points in common and to clarify differences in a respectful way. Check to the right of this blog for previous posts.
Before I get to the topic at hand, I thought I would tell you this. Hardly anyone in my church comments on this blog. Those who comment are usually bloggers. However, many folks read it. I had a conversation on Saturday with someone who reads Shuck and Jive regularly. She told me how much she appreciated our conversation.
Most of what we write is lengthy and heady theological stuff. It is not for everyone. However, many people are truly interested in honest intelligent conversations between ministers. They usually don't like listening to (or observing) ministers fight (although I am not above doing that on occasion), so it is refreshing to tackle these areas with style. Thanks to you for that! I appreciate that you initiated this conversation! Hope folks in your congregation are checking in as well. You are of course free to post all of these conversations on your blog as well.
Finally, I don't mind if folks in my church or outside my church find your points more persuasive than mine. I offer this conversation and this blog as an opportunity for folks to be challenged in order to make their own decisions.
I appreciate your critique of my last post. I think I left a great many things unexplained. Let me try to clarify.
First: it may be not Crossan but my misreading of him that you have disagreement.
Second: in my head I have Crossan and Walter Brueggemann competing and informing each other. I am tending to read the Hebrew Scriptures through the guide of Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. I think that is a fairly accessible book for the general readership.
Third: my gist regarding the Hebrew Scriptures is that the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) was completed either during or after the Babylonian captivity (circa 500 BCE). Earlier traditions are within the texts, but ultimately, edited and modified in light of this experience of being landless. We have little or no independent access to the historical events in the Torah except for the biblical witness. I follow the viewpoint that the Torah is a saga, a theological story, or to put it boldly, fiction. There may be and likely were historical events, but they are lost to us. So, not only is Genesis 1-11 'prehistory' but the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, even Moses are likely composite characters and their stories are not historical reportage but imaginative remembering, to use Brueggemann's phrase. The Torah is a theological saga and you are absolutely correct that the focus of the Torah (and the rest of the Bible) is about our right relationship with God and with one another. The questions I have are these:
- What is the character of God?
- Following that, what does it mean to be in right relationship with God and with one another?
- Following that, if we do use the creation, fall, redemption schema, what did that mean for the various authors as well as the final product (canon).
- Finally, what might it mean for us today? I am trying to get at these questions.
Humanity did not begin with Adam and Eve, of course. Humans were hunting and gathering for three million years. Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel are fictional characters used to tell a story. That story is about the ambiguity of humanity and its relationship with itself, creation, and the Divine mystery. As the story goes, humanity "ate the fruit" from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and thus acquired self-consciousness, the burden of moral choice, and the recognition of its own mortality, among other things. Cain and Abel are East of Eden, no longer in the garden but in the real world and their struggle is one of violence. Yes it is about nomads and settled people, but even more than that, it is about hunter/gatherer and civilization. Cain goes and builds a city. The city-builder is the one who kills his brother.
Let me go a bit further with this. In the story, YHWH has complex relationship with humanity that has chosen civilization. YHWH decides to wipe them out with a flood and start over, but finds one righteous one. Then, after the flood, YHWH decides that he won't wipe them out, but tries to call humanity back to relationship with YHWH and other human beings within the ambiguity of civilization itself. This call is a call of rejection of violence and inequality.
The reason I say that the Bible is not a book about everything, even God, is that the Bible is a recent product and a limited product. If God is more than a literary character, but is a reality, the reality of the universe itself, then God was doing things long before and in places far beyond what the Bible knows. The Universe has been around (and presumably God) for 14 billion years. Life on Earth has been evolving for four billion years. The birds of the air have known God more than we have and for a great deal longer than we have. If we want to know more about God we need to know more about the Universe and its story, and Earth's story. My son once asked me when he was in grade school why dinosaurs are not mentioned in the Bible. The answer is easy. The writers of the Bible didn't know about dinosaurs. The writers of the Bible didn't know about a lot of things!
But, the writers of the Bible did know about violence. They also knew about peace. They knew about injustice. They also knew about justice. That is why the Bible is a powerful, important story about humanity rising above ownership of Earth, of others, and using violence to serve those ends.
If Creation is the seven day story that YHWH declares good, with all humanity and its beasts of burden, even YHWH, resting on the Sabbath...
Then, the Fall is humanity's plunge into violence due to "ownership" of Earth and the injustice and violence that results, and
The Redemption is God's call back to peace through justice.