Our ongoing discussion about problem Bible texts … goes on. Anthony Le Donne’s latest and most excellent response to my last post is here. Honestly, it grows tiresome to come up with imaginative and original ways to describe how much I like what Anthony is writing. If Anthony was the mensch he’s reputed to be, he’d write a crappy post every now and again, so I could take a day off from having to say nice things about him.
Anthony raised many compelling side issues. Can we conduct an effective Jewish-Christian dialog online? How is it that Anthony is “more invested” in the value of the Old Testament than in the New? But it’s going to take all the time I have to address Anthony’s two main points. The second point, Anthony’s evocative discussion of how problem Bible texts become his adversary and how he’s instructed to love his adversary … I want to join in that discussion, but at a later time. There’s an earlier point I need to address first.
Over at The Jesus Blog, Anthony Le Donne has responded to my prior post on problem Bible texts. His response is a must-read, and makes me question why I’d enter into public discussions with someone who is a PhD, published author and pastor. Two possible answers: these discussions are good for my developmental efforts at humility (still on the drawing board), plus maybe I’ll provoke a piece of writing from Anthony as good as the one we just got.
My favorite part of Anthony’s response is when he talks about how his Christianity is “fused” to him in a way he cannot shed, how he wrestles with texts, and how sometimes “I limp away from Scripture and wonder what sort of God I’m dealing with.” Anthony quotes Ursula Le Guin, who here gives about as good a short description of how to read text as you’re likely to find anywhere:
In the tale, in the telling, we are all one blood. Take the tale in your teeth, then, and bite till the blood runs, hoping it’s not poison; and we will all come to the end together, and even to the beginning: living, as we do, in the middle.
Wow. That’s great stuff.
Over at The Jesus Blog, Anthony Le Donne has posted a preliminary response to my Part 1 on problem Bible texts. In this post, Anthony offers up a few personal “rules for the road” that he follows in Jewish-Christian dialog, and I think his rules are well worth reading. Anthony’s rule #1: “self-disclosure is necessary”. Following his own rule, Anthony stated that he is Christian. This will come as a surprise to few of us.
Anthony suggested that those who participate in this discussion might also self-identify. I’m not sure what to think about this. I think that folks feel enough reluctance as is to get involved in faith discussions, let alone interfaith discussions. On the other hand, it would be helpful to me to know who I’m talking to.
I’d like to open this up for comment. Do you think it’s a good idea for commenters here to identify themselves as Christian or Jewish, or even to self-identify more explicitly?
For the record, I’ve self-identified here, here and here, and I have a more detailed self-identification in the works. But I’m not suggesting that this is appropriate for anyone else.
In my introduction to this series on problem Bible texts, I discussed a few such texts we might examine, and I settled on Ephesians 5:22-24, about how wives must “submit” to their husbands “in every thing”. As I discussed last time, this passage is often used as a weapon against women. How do we address these kinds of problem texts?
Let’s walk through five common techniques used with problem Bible texts. I want to deal with these five techniques together, because I don’t think any of them work. I admit that I’ve employed one or all of these techniques on occasion.
One note before I get started: my thoughts here have been influenced by a talk given last month by Amy-Jill Levine, so it would be well worth your while to listen to what she had to say.
I wrote a series earlier this year about The Quest for the Historical Jesus, and I had occasion to mention a phrase coined by Luke Timothy Johnson: “The Jesus Business”. For Johnson, the “Jesus Business” is the “profitable trade in Jesus by a variety of publications that by creating a commotion in both the academy and the church also create a media-fed demand for more of the same.” I personally think that the Quest for the Historical Jesus has produced many terrific books, but I have to admit: I’ve purchased more than my share of Jesus books that fit Johnson’s description. The latest of these books is the current New York Times best-seller, Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth.
Aslan’s book (and in particular, the nasty way he was interrogated on Fox News) has created something of a firestorm. Aslan is a prominent voice for Islam in the United States, and evidently there are people who question why a Muslim would want to write a book about Jesus. In case it isn’t obvious, I’m all in favor of non-Christians writing good books about Jesus, and for the record I’m also in favor of Christians writing good books about Jesus.
The problem with Zealot is that it’s not a good book.