De-hellenizing the Old Testament

Walter Eichrodt was a mainline German Protestant who nevertheless wrote an outstanding theology of the Old Testament.  The first fifty pages or so was sheer excitement.  I was floored.  Here was one of the world’s leading Old Testament authorities saying everything about Hebrew Thought and God that I had been saying, except he has tenure.

This is only the first two hundred pages of Old Testament theology.  These deal more with covenant and doctrine of God.   The second half deals with covenant leaders, which is important but not relevant to my studies at the moment.  Key here is the contrast between covenant religion and magic (ontology) religion.

“Real God becoming manifest in history to which the SCriptures of the OT bear witness” (15).

“That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments…is the irruption of the Kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here” (26).

The Meaning of the Covenant Concept

  • Factual nature of divine revelation (37).  “God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively.”  As “he  molds them according to his will he grants them knowledge of his being.”
  • A clear divine will is discernable.  “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.’ Because of this the fear that constantly haunts the pagan world, the fear of arbitrariness and caprice in the Godhead, is excluded” (38).
  • The content of that will is defined in ways that make the human party aware of the position (39).
  • Divine election and kingdom:  Jer. 2:1; 1 Sam. 8:1-10; this dual pattern provides the interpretation of Israelite history.
  • The bond of nature religion was broken (42).  The covenant did not allow an inherent bond in the believer, the order of nature, and the god.   Chain of being is broken.  Divinity does not display itself in the mysterium of nature.  Election is the opposite of nature religions (43).  Israelite ritual does not mediate “cosmic power.”  “One indication of decisive importance in this respect is the fact that the covenant is not concluded by the performance of a wordless action, having its value in itself, but is accompanied by the word as the expression of the divine will” (44).

The History of the Covenant Concept

Eichrodt discusses the dangers the covenant idea faced.  Canaanite ideas quickly muted the sharp sounds of the covenant.  “The gulf set between God and man by his terrifying majesty was levelled out of existence by the emphasis laid on their psycho-physical relatedness and community” (46).  It is interesting to compare this description with Paul Tillich’s claim that the church placed the intermediaries of saints and angels over the Platonic hierarchy of Forms.

Refashioning of the Covenant Concept

Dt 4.13, 23 understands berith simply as the Decalogue.   A shift to the legal character.  Man can violate the conditions of the covenant, but he cannot annul it (54).

The Cultus

“Alien from primitive Yahwism, and introduced into the Yahweh cultus predominantly as a result of Canaanite influence, were the massebah, the Asherim and the bull image” (115).  The Canaanites believed this was a transference of the particular object of the divine power effective at the holy place as a whole.

  • Special places were always seen, by contrast, as memorials to Yahweh’s self-manifestation (116).

Pictorial Representations

“The spiritual leaders of Israel, however, always made a firm stand against this adoption of heathen image-worship, regarding it as an innovation which contradicted the essence of Yahweh religion” (118).

Prayer

“Indicative of the pattern of Old Testament piety is the fact that the dominant motives of prayer never included that of losing oneself, through contemplation, in the divine infinity.  There was no room in Israel for mystical prayer; the nature of the Mosaic Yahweh with his mighty personal will effectively prevented the development of that type of prayer which seeks to dissolve the individual I in the unbounded One.  Just as the God of the Old Testament is no Being reposing in his own beatitude, but reveals himself in the controlling will of the eternal King, so the pious Israelite is no intoxicated, world-denying mystic revelling in the Beyond, but a warrior, who wrestles even in prayer, and looks for the life of power in communion with his divine Lord.  His goal is not the static concept of the summum bonum, but the dynamic fact of the Basileia tou Theou” (176).

The Name of the Covenant God

Exodus 3:14:  “This is certainly not a matter of Being int he metaphysical sense of aseity, absolute existence, pure self-determination or any other ideas of the same kind.  It is concerned with a revelation of the divine will” (190).

The prophet Isaiah connects the fact of Yahweh is King with Yahweh’s eschatological act of salvation.

 

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On why I am opposed to magic ontologies

You might expect me to say, “Because God condemns sorcery.”  That is true.  Or you might expect me to say, “Burning incense to the Queen of Heaven is a sin.”  That is true.  But that is not what I am talking about.  I was in some fascinating Facebook discussions about Greek thought.  Here is a summary of my points:

I do not think there is a dichotomy between Hebrew and non-Hebrew languages. In that sense I agree with Barr’s critique. However, Greek though, influenced by Egyptian magic (Plato studied in Egypt), does have differences with the structures behind the “Hebrew way of life.”

We will say it another way–and this is where Augustine is very helpful, if very wrong: when I ascend up the chain of being, do I gain more being inversely with corporeality?

But if you read Ps. Dionysius and others, one knows God by beginning with abstract concepts of Deity and then rises up the chain of being by negating those concepts. Plotinus, Nyssa, Origen, Evagrius and others are very clear on this. Jesus, on the other hand, descends to us and takes flesh and knowing him we know God.

Footnote: in the eschaton are we going to drink wine on Yahweh’s mountain or achieve hyperousia and contemplate the Empyrean Forms?

when I say thought patterns I mean the way the human brain forms ideas. They most certainly saw the world differently, which might be why God called for war against Hellenism in Zechariah 9.

John Henry Cardinal Newman summarizing the anchoretic life (which is Hellenism applied). 
“Surely the idea of an apostle, ummarried, pure in fast and nakedness, and at length a martyr, is a higher idea tha
n that of one of the old Israelites, sitting under his vine and fig-tree, full of temporal goods, surrounded by his sons and grandsons” (Newman, Loss and Gain).

This is chain-of-being ethics in all of its terrible purity. There is a line in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time where wolves will stop what they are doing, even sacrifice the whole pack, to kill a Myrdraal (think goblin bad guy). That’s sort of how I feel about chain of being ontology.

And it is by no means a Greek thing. I have long maintained that the Greeks–Plato–borrowed from Egyptian magic religion. ANd you can find similar horrors in other Eastern religions.

Once you accept chain-of-being as the normative paradigm for getting our thoughts about God, and we see this same paradigm in other religions (and hermetic traditions), then it doens’ tmake any sense to say, “Well, our’s is different.”

I realize it looks like I am equating neo-Platonic magic with all of Hellenism. Allow me to clarify. I see a continuity between neo-Platonism and earlier Hellenisms. Almost all (all?) hold to an ontology of overcoming estrangement. Secondly, neo-Platonism is simply the apex and most beautiful finale of Hellenistic thought. (When the last Magus, Iamblichus, died, NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism (basically the same thing) went underground until the Templars. This lines up with Justinian’s closing the academies and Damasius’s getting back at him by pretending to be Dionysius the Aeropogatie. I pick on NeoPlatonism because most ancient Christian thinkers drew upon some variety of it.

And by the way: I have read DEEPLY into the ancient hermetic, magical, and neo-platonic traditions from a historical standpoint. You can line up Origen and Trismegestus on ontology and it is basically the same thing. I want to consider myself in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets (no, I don’t predict the future). As a result I violently hate all forms of magic. PM me if you want more details. I don’t want to go into it in public.

Did 2 of my PB comments get deleted?

I started a thread on Jack Chick at Puritanboard. Yes, I know he is off-base and I don’t take him seriously.  I intended several things to happen from that thread, one of which was to highlight Jesuitism and Conspiracy Theories.   When I got back from church, the thread was closed.   Not only were some of my comments missing, but those referencing Alvierdo were also missing.

As I tried to make clear–but that comment is now missing–I don’t really care whether Alvierdo was a CIA spy or not.   The other information about the Jesuits–claims that Turretin and Hodge were not afraid to advance–is public knowledge.  I did some research on Alvierdo and noted that two of his biggest detractors were Rome (no surprise) and Christianity Today (probably no surprise).

On not praying to angels

A prior note on terminology.  Anchorites will insist they don’t worship angels the same way they worship God.  The Bible, however, collapses the distinction between doulia (reverence by way of service) and latria (proper worship).  God specifically tells his people neither to worship these gods (however you want to define that term) or serve them.   Further, the claim that praying to an angel is no different from asking your friend to pray for you won’t hold up.  If you examine these prayers, besides the fact it is nowhere commanded by God, the angels are simply asked to intercede, but to act in such a way that they have power to do x and y.  That is simple Paganism.

Old Creation Judged and Gone

Angels ruled the Old Creation.   That has since been destroyed in the Death-Resurrection of Christ and the Death of Jerusalem.  Why would we pray/invoke entities who no longer rule?   Does not the New Covenant say The “lights” of creation (day 4) were designed to rule (thus the language of greater lights ruling over the lesser lights).   Lights (e.g., the sun) manage time, and so also in the Old Creation they are connected with Festivals.

Before Jesus humanity was under angelic tutors. Psalm 104:3-4 (and Heb. 1:7) connects angels with the natural forces.  Further, this is also connected with Torah.  The law was to shut the whole world under sin (Gal. 3:22-23) and was given by angels (Acts 7:53).  Thus we can conclude that the angels had some authority over the world which was connected with Torah.   Paul further connects Torah and Angels with “elementary principles” (stoichea, Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8).  We may further conclude that any attempt to live under the guidance of angels, however slight, is seeking to go back to the stoichea and is elsewhere condemned in the book of Hebrews.  Oliver O’Donovan even notes that Paul connects both Torah with the stoichiea. In fact, Paul even notes (Galatians 4) that the Gentiles were in bondage to Stoichea.  This is shocking.  No one ever accused the pagan Gentiles of being too much under Stoichea. It’s not as shocking as it seems:  apart from Christ both Torah and the stoichea appear to us as a threat (RMO, 22).  This conclusion of Paul’s only makes sense if we keep in mind that Angels, Torah, and Stoichea are interconnected under the Old Creation.

Forms, Realism, and Nominalism

One thing I noticed in recently reading Homer and Vergil is that the pagan deities were often invoked as powers.  This is not that different from the language of Forms.  Forms in this philosophy is not simply an idea of x, but that the higher form causes and acts in such a way that is is a power to the lower forms.  Paul Tillich made the interesting connection that ancient Christianity simply baptized the older view of Forms with the newer view that these forms were saints and angels, which form a hierarchy of being to God.

Tillich’s suggestion makes sense.  After Plato and the skeptics, few Greeks and Romans were stupid enough to believe that Athena sprang from Zeus’ head.  However, Greek mythology did have a lot of explanatory power.  It might have been philosophically naive to suppose that the pantheon was rule, but it was philosophically astute to transpose that understanding of deity to the realm of the Forms.

Maximus the Confessor famously (though not originally) spoke of the distinction between Logos and Logoi.   Jesus is the Form in whom all the forms exist.  He is the inter-causal causal cause.  It’s beautiful philosophy.  It runs into problems with the Forms are identified with the stoichea.

This is why I am neither realist nor nominalist, but covenantal verbalist.
Nota Bene:  I wonder if this is why demon-possession stories are so common in Catholic and Orthodox lands (see Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future and  The Soul After Death).  They are playing too close to the elementary principles of the Old Creation, which God has specifically condemned.  If they get too close to these principles, then God just might let them get close indeed.

On writing my Christian Viking Fiction Book

I’ve always wanted to write a historical fiction book on Christianity in Scandinavia.  Pride of place goes to Lars Walker.  I cannot imitate his ability. I do think he has captured a fundamental idea that most bourgeois Christians gloss over:  pagan gods are actually demons and demons exist.     I do think that this is one area where new ideas are actually possible.  I had wanted to write a biography on Olaf II Haraldsson, since nothing exists on him exact historians’ sneering (and undocumented) slams.  I still plan to do that, but while there is good scholarship on this aspect of Norway, it’s out of my price-range for the moment.

Viking fiction remains one of those anomalies in Western culture.  It is a beautiful setting, a heroic people, and a glorious legacy.  Yet few fictional works, whether in film or in print, are actually any good.   To make it worse, the best Viking “re-telling” is the video game Skyrim!

But I don’t have the ability to write 500 pages of narrative at the moment.  And then I realized, “I don’t have to.”   This one Christian guy wrote a 90 page narrative and it was endorsed by Gene Veith.  Start small, I suppose.

Olav II: Our Template in the War Against Paganism

A few years ago I came across the life and story of Saint-King Olav II of Norway.  His life gripped me in many ways, for many of my intellectual struggles and concerns about my own life and where I am looking into how to express one’s Christianity coincided around St Olav’s life (and legacy).    Several points about Olav before I elaborate on his and our war against paganism:

  1. He demonstrates that many Northern European countries, even until the time of the Schism, held to a form of Christianity that shared similarities with both Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy, yet were markedly different from both.
  2. Even though they were Orthodox, they were distinctively Western cultures and countries.
  3. Thus, Germanic and Scandinavian Orthodoxy was a specifically incarnational Orthodoxy, an Orthodoxy that took root in society’s most basic levels.
  4. Thus, those of us from Northern European stock have precedents, sometimes unknown to us, in Western Orthodoxy.  This is not to say that Western Orthodoxy is the ideal.  In many ways it is lacking.  However, we in the West are Reforming Catholics, and we draw from the heritage available to us.
Olav died in battle defending Christian Norway against those who would return it to Paganism.  While America is not Christian (and even by the most vague standards, it’s debatable if she ever were), America, too, faces an onslaught of paganism.    And perhaps even more than Olav’s Norway, this paganism has governmental and institutional authority.
“God is not separate from the Earth,”
Which means “God = Earth = Earth is God.”
Lest I am misunderstanding him, the pagan groups responded,
“We are Neo-Pagans — implying an eclectic reconstruction of ancient Nature religions, and combining archetypes of many cultures with other mystic and spiritual disciplines — and our beliefs and values are no different from those you describe as your own. Your book, Earth in Balance, is heralded by our People as a manifesto for all we hold dear…Know that there are half million NeoPagans out here who support you, and who voted for you, and who will rally to the aid of your policies for the salvation of the Earth and the reunification of the Great Family”

This was spoken almost fifteen years ago.  No doubt the impetus is stronger.  Let’s ponder St Olav’s last words before leaving,
“Fram, Fram, Kristmen, Korsmen, Kongsmen.”  Forward, Forward, Christ-Men, Cross-Men, King’s-Men

May we, too, have a similar end.