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Old 08-10-2001, 12:41 PM   #1
Apikorus
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Post Is the Hebrew Bible the Achilles' Heel of Christianity?

Does the fact that the gospel authors (and perhaps Jesus) took the Hebrew Bible (in the form of the LXX) so seriously damage the case for Christianity?

The views of rabid minimalists notwithstanding, it seems that a considerable historical core can be teased out of many sections of the Hebrew Bible (most apparently in the Deuteronomistic History but in many other books as well). Still, critical scholarship has eroded many traditional views of the Hebrew Bible (particularly concerning the authorship of the Pentateuch) and exposed them as legend. Can one accept that the Pentateuch is a redacted composite composed between ca. 900 BCE and 400 BCE, that the exodus story is of dubious historicity, that Genesis 1-11 consists largely of aetiological myth, that Solomon's empire was wildly exaggerated, that Isaiah is the work of multiple authors, that Daniel 7-12 is of Hasmonean provenance, etc. yet still logically believe that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God etc.?

I'm particularly interested in the views of liberal Christians. How traditional a view of the Hebrew Bible must one adhere to in order to be a Christian?
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Old 08-10-2001, 02:49 PM   #2
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I’m not sure exactly what your question is.

Liberal Christians can, after all, be pretty darn liberal. One can find a lot of wiggle room in Paul's phrase "The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life." Liberal Christians can tell you the resurrection was spritual. They can tell you Jesus was leading us to the divinity within all of us.


I attended a nominally Episcopal secondary school; Bible history (Old Testament) was taught in ninth grade as I recall. The priest who taught the class stressed “naturalistic” interpretations. For example, during the Exodus, the Egyptian army’s heavy chariots got bogged in the mud of the “reed sea.” I remember him saying it would have “seemed like” a miracle to the Jews at the time. The Eden Creation myth was a morality play – we differ from the animals because we know Good and Evil and hence are capable of Sin. In the heat of battle it would have “seemed like” the sun stood still (was that Joshua?). Etc. etc. Wherever a psychological, metaphorical, mythical, or other explanation offered itself, he went for it.

In later Bible classes we mostly discussed C.S. Lewis and assorted B.S. After all, the student body itself may have been 30% Jewish.

So my experience has been that liberal Christians give themselves all kinds of wiggle room. No problem.
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Old 08-10-2001, 03:09 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally posted by Apikorus:
Hello Apikorus

And welcome to the Boards.

I am unsure what your question really happens to be. What, from your list would present a problem, in your opinion, for orthodox Christians? As I am not a "liberal" by any stretch of the imagination, I will not speak for them, but from my own point of view I do not see any problems for "orthodoxy", and certainly not the things you listed in your post.

In a follow up question, if I may, do you take your statements as known and accepted facts, or merely as the scholarly concensus of the day?

Once again, welcome aboard, and peace.

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Old 08-10-2001, 03:21 PM   #4
Apikorus
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Can you completely reject the notion that the Hebrew Bible is divine, then?

And how much wiggling can you get away with when it comes to the New Testament? Can one call himself a Christian simply because he has adopted a philosophy attributed to Jesus yet remain skeptical on key articles of faith such as the resurrection, the virgin birth, and divine sonship?

What do you think Jesus himself thought of the Hebrew Bible? Do you think, for example, that he believed Elijah really had ascended to heaven in a whirlwind, as described in 2 Kings? Is it possible to reject the historicity of the Elijah story, accept that Jesus believed it, yet still believe Jesus was divine?

P.S. to Nomad: My remarks about the Hebrew Bible were intended as a menu of modern scholarly opinions. I happen to support each of them, but that's irrelevant to my line of questioning. As for what would be a problem for Orthodox Christians, I would think all of them are potential problems. If Jesus believed in Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, then he believed in a legend (Mosaic authorship is hardly advocated anymore, except by the most conservative evangelical scholars). If the apocalyptic sections of Daniel are a vaticinia ex eventu of Hellenistic provenance, I'd think that also would prove inconvenient. Etc.

[ August 10, 2001: Message edited by: Apikorus ]
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Old 08-10-2001, 03:36 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by Apikorus:

Can you completely reject the notion that the Hebrew Bible is divine, then?
Just so that we do not get confused with semantics here, Christians view the Bible as divinely inspired, not as divine in itself. My point here is that Christianity, as defined by the orthodox Church does not see the Bible as dictated by God, nor do we worship it, as do the Muslims with the Qur'an for example.

Quote:
And how much wiggling can you get away with when it comes to the New Testament? Can one call himself a Christian simply because he has adopted a philosophy attributed to Jesus yet remain skeptical on key articles of faith such as the resurrection, the virgin birth, and divine sonship?
Someone can call him or her self anything he or she wishes, but in orthodox Christianity, we confess the Creeds, and this means the acceptance of the physical resurrection of the body, the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ, as well as the oneness of God in the Trinity.

Quote:
What do you think Jesus himself thought of the Hebrew Bible? Do you think, for example, that he believed Elijah really had ascended to heaven in a whirlwind, as described in 2 Kings?
I do not think that the Bible tells us one way or the other what Jesus thought of Elijah's ascension into heaven in the chariot. My personal opinion is that He believed it to have happened, but I do not think that I can prove that.

Quote:
Is it possible to reject the historicity of the Elijah story, accept that Jesus believed it, yet still believe Jesus was divine?
This is now two hypothetical assumptions linked to an unrelated question.

First, can one reject the historicity of the Elijah story and still be an orthodox Christian? Yes, although I think one would have to offer a pretty good reason for that rejection, and thus far I have yet to hear one. I certainly have never heard a Christian explain rationally why he or she rejects the ascension of Elijah.

Now, IF one rejects the historicity of the ascension, why would this same person think that Jesus believed it and STILL considered Him to be divine? I honestly do not know of any such person, but their reasoning skills would be highly suspect in my views. After all, why would someone think of Jesus as being God if he also believed that Jesus was in error on a basic historical fact?

Quite simply, I think the confusion here is that some sceptics believe that Christians must believe a whole host of specific things being true, when the truth of the matter is that Christians have never defined themselves in this fashion. Please do not confuse the beliefs of a small but very vocal group of fundamentalist literalist Christians with the teachings of the catholic and apostolic Church.

At root, what we, as Christians believe, is in the Creeds. To reject those is to place oneself on the outside of orthodoxy, and within, at best heterodoxy, if not heresy.

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Old 08-10-2001, 03:42 PM   #6
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I see that this came up while I was writing my previous post.

Quote:
Originally posted by Apikorus:

P.S. to Nomad: My remarks about the Hebrew Bible were intended as a menu of modern scholarly opinions. I happen to support each of them, but that's irrelevant to my line of questioning. As for what would be a problem for Orthodox Christians, I would think all of them are potential problems.
Speaking as an orthodox Christian, I do not see why the size of Solomon's Temple would be seen as a problem, nor are any other things listed in your original post.

Quote:
If Jesus believed in Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, then he believed in a legend (Mosaic authorship is hardly advocated anymore, except by the most conservative evangelical scholars).
The problem is that we do not have any evidence that Jesus did believe in Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Quote:
If the apocalyptic sections of Daniel are a vaticinia ex eventu of Hellenistic provenance, I'd think that also would prove inconvenient. Etc.
Once again, I am not sure why the dating, or even the authorship, of Daniel would be problematic for any Christians except the most funamentalist literalistic of the bunch.

If you wish to challenge orthodoxy, then you would have to do so from the Confessions of our faith found in the Creeds. The treatment of the stories of the Hebrew Bible are interesting discussions, as is authorship of the books of the Bible, but none of this is central to our faith.

Peace,

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Old 08-10-2001, 03:53 PM   #7
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If I were a Christian the cumulative case against the historicity of the Hebrew Scriptures that has been built up by biblical scholarship would definitely influence my faith but I think for the better. In fact my in-laws, both of whom are Episcopalians, believe that the bulk of the Hebrew Scriptures are mythological and allegorical. Yet, they enjoy a rich spirituality and consider themselves Christians in the sense of finding meaning in Jesus' teachings and attempting to live them in word and deed. Since Marcus Borg's wife (Marianne) is an Episcopal priest here in Portland he often lectures in her cathedral and so I go to hear him speak. A theme of his talks is how the old theology and the old ideas of God no longer work for people. I think that's why Borg, Spong, Crossan, and others like them are struggling to redefine what it means to be a Christian in an age where biblical criticism has destroyed literalism. They are seeking to find new meaning in faith (and hasn't this been the history of Christendom really?) Personally I think this is a healthy turn of events. I don't see why someone can't see the Hebrew Scriptures as largely allegorical, admit that Jesus was a product of his time for viewing them otherwise, and yet consider himself to be a Christian nonetheless.
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Old 08-10-2001, 03:53 PM   #8
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To follow on from Apikorus and Nomad, I am a self confessed liberal Christian but consider myself wholly orthodox because I do subscribe to the creeds.

One important point is that I do not consider the resurrection, virgin birth and miracles to be 'historical facts'. This is not because I don't think they happened but because I consider them outside a historian's remit. Did the disciples believe Jesus rose from the dead is a historical question. Did he actually do it, is not.

So Apikorus's question should I think be framed 'Has modern scholarship disproved the creed?' Does subscribing (as I largely do) to the documentary hypothesis, late Daniel, multi Isaiah mean that I am being inconsistent to continue to assert I believe in the creeds. I don't think it does. Nor do I think the NT supports the view that while a human God (as Jesus) continued to be all knowing. Jesus knew what he was supposed to but by his own admission (such as judgement day) he didn't know everything. I doubt he knew about quantum mechanics or Napoleon's birthday either.

I do think the bible was inspired by God but it was written by man. God's part, I think, was like Rembrandt trying to get a four year old to paint a picture of his house (although the gap between us and God is a lot bigger than that). The house will be painted and have the features that Rembrandt wants but it will still be a pretty poor picture and the window frames could be the wrong colour.

I think the Christians' biggest problem with the Hebrew bible is the law and its less pleasant aspects. It suggests that God was either giving a very free hand here or more into realpolitik than I might like...

Yours

Bede

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Old 08-10-2001, 03:53 PM   #9
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Nomad, indeed I meant to ask whether one could reject divine inspiration of the Hebrew Bible and still be a Christian. Sorry if I misspoke. If I read you correctly you are saying that one must accept that the Hebrew Bible was at least in part divinely inspired in order to be a Christian. Must he also insist that all other texts (e.g. Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, Enuma Elish) are *not* divinely inspired? Must every chapter of the Hebrew Bible be divinely inspired? Would it be heretical to throw out Ezra 2 - it is very boring - so long as we keep Numbers 16?

Your remarks about the Elijah question betray some interesting assumptions. Apparently you believe it would be inconsistent to suppose that Jesus could be divine yet still mistake legend for history. I suspect this must seem a strange question for you, but...why not? Do you have to believe Jesus to have been inerrant about historical matters to have been divine? Or could he have been imbued with "spiritual" divinity alone? Perhaps there are gradations to divinity?! (Do you think that Jesus necessarily knew about the future as well? Did he think about quantum mechanics and the human genetic code? Honestly I am not trying to be irreverent to twit you.)

P.S. Coincidentally, Bede and I came up with the same thought about quantum mechanics. His post appeared while I was writing the above. So far I've found everyone's remarks here to be quite interesting.

I happen to find this an interesting line of questioning because critical scholarship provides a kind of bridge on which we all can meet. Many of the greatest bible scholars have been religious Jews, Catholics, and Protestants. Some really brilliant thinking along these lines has been carried out by Jon Levenson in his book of essays "The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism".

[ August 10, 2001: Message edited by: Apikorus ]
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Old 08-10-2001, 04:38 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by Bede:
<STRONG>One important point is that I do not consider the resurrection, virgin birth and miracles to be 'historical facts'. This is not because I don't think they happened but because I consider them outside a historian's remit. Did the disciples believe Jesus rose from the dead is a historical question. Did he actually do it, is not.</STRONG>
Bede, this is clever but perhaps a bit too slippery. There may be no historical methods to assess whether Jesus was born of a virgin, but there certainly are methods to assess if he was not. (E.g. if there were texts, deemed reliable, which discussed Jesus' early childhood and revealed that he had older siblings. Of course this is wildly hypothetical and intended only for illustrative purposes.) Similarly, that Jesus was resurrected bodily is perhaps a nonhistorical assertion, but if tomorrow a Roman account of Jesus' execution were discovered which revealed that his body was eaten by dogs (sorry if this offends; I think Crossan suggests this! again this is only for illustration), then historical methods once again intercede.

It seems then that the creeds do carry with them some implicit historical assumptions.

James: nice post. I suppose the basic question is whether one's beliefs about Jesus are in any way limited by one's attitudes toward the Hebrew Bible.

[ August 10, 2001: Message edited by: Apikorus ]
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