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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. RulerOfDaPeople

    RulerOfDaPeople Chieftain

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    John is the most reccomended book for a beginner from all accounts I've heard from my former pastor and is repeated by an aunt of mine.

    I agree that Job should be cut out and is too complex. Its also not for the faint of heart.

    For the NT, I've always been a fan of Mathew (though John is more reccomended for beginners as I noted above, due to it's simpler and direct language compared with the other gospels), Corinthians, Romans, Acts, and Revelations. But revelations is a bunch of metaphoric prophocies so it won't make much sense to a beginner. I'd insert Timothy in it's place instead. Both Timothy books are really good and more relatable to daily life, IMO.

    For the OT, I do like Isaiah alot. But as has been said, it is a very long book. Daniel is a good book, but complex as well considering it's code of symbolic/metaphoric prophocies. A novice will not understand it and dismiss it completely.

    Just my thoughts/opinions regarding the books that were mentioned. I would only add Timothy to the conversation.

    It should also be said that anyone starting out reading the bible might want to stay away from the things that were written in the context of the ancient audience, because many of the parables and analogies were intended to relate to those people's lives thousands of years ago. What made sense in 3,000 B.C. will not make much of any sense in 2009 AD.
     
  2. SS-18 ICBM

    SS-18 ICBM Oscillator

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    Why was man not allowed to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge? Am I misinterpreting the Bible when I see this as God wanting to keep us blissfully ignorant?
     
  3. RulerOfDaPeople

    RulerOfDaPeople Chieftain

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    Instantly as you say that, I am reminded what it felt like to be a child when I didn't know the cynical depressing things that go on in the world that we as adults see every day. Or how even someone you once trusted so much can betray you (IE like when you see people cheat). When we were children, we didn't think about such things and it didn't affect us and life seemed care free and joyful. I enjoyed childhood. Life was so much simpler and alot more fun.

    So maybe that's the answer. Maybe so and maybe with good reason. Your question triggered that thought instantly when I started to think about it. Blissfully was a good word. It does say that before eating from the tree of knowlege, man did not know evil, so it's plausible to assume man did not know the feelings of sorrow or anger either.
     
  4. SS-18 ICBM

    SS-18 ICBM Oscillator

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    So what would we be doing without being banished? Just frolicking in the Garden of Eden? Sounds like a meaningless existence to me.
     
  5. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    I think it is often taught that Mankind was actually more intelligent and had a greater knowledge of the laws of nature before our fall. It was not the tree of general knowledge, but of the knowledge of good and evil. This may refers to an experiential knowledge, i.e., having the experience of guilt, remorse, and fear rather than only peace and happiness. The tree itself may have been nothing special, as the knowledge that they had disobeyed God could itself lead to a guilty conscious. The ability to disobey is often considered essential to free will, so God had to give them something they could choose to do that was against his will because they could not truely love him unless they had some way to reject his love. (There are similar arguments that God could not just make everyone to go Heaven because that would be tantamount to rape.)


    Plotinus has spoken of some historical Christian views of this as "the happy sin," arguing that God willed us to fall so that Christ could come to redeem us. These people tend to argue that redemption is better than having never sinned, that a mature understanding and rejection of sin is better than being excused from sin out of innocence, or at least that knowing evil allows us to better appreciate the good.



    I don't think we were ever supposed to just stay in the Garden forever, or that what we would be doing there would be "frolicking." The bible says that Man was created to till the land and to dominate the whole earth, probably indicating that our species was always suppose to go out from the garden in order to finish God's creation by making the whole world a paradise like the example which God gave us. Needing to work is not a punishment for sin, the punishment is that the work is much more difficult and that we lacked the clear vision of how to improve it that access to the garden had provided..
     
  6. SS-18 ICBM

    SS-18 ICBM Oscillator

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    Enlightening post. I especially agree with:

    I do wonder what the basis is for this though:
    and why they would lose that knowledge due to the fall.
     
  7. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    I didn't mean to say that they themselves suddenly forgot everything they knew (although their memories may have slowly failed over the 900 or so years they lived after the fall), but their descendants were less intelligent and they were never able to adequately teach them the things that they had always known without ever needing to be taught.
     
  8. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    You hang around some very odd people. Back in the day, I seem to recall that Mark was the favored Gospel, mostly for simple language, a hearty helping of parables, and being quite short. Luke was the next choice, since it had a nativity story. John was what you read when you wanted to impress the pastor. Allot of heavy literary stylings in that book. I suppose it would probably go over the head of a beginner rather than confuse them, but still, not the first choice.
     
  9. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Indeed. Mark is the earliest of the gospels (Matthew and Luke depend heavily on it, as does John. Starting with John would be reading the NT backwards.) I'd also recommend a book on the history of the biblical texts (how they came to be); without it it is very hard to understand texts written some 2,000 years, translated from a since extinct language.

    Indeed you are. The garden of Eden story is an allegory of how man became sentient, similar to the Greek story of Prometheus. (Incidentally, in this light, the original sin isn't a sin at all; such a view merely purports a lack of undertsanding of human - and implicitly divine - nature.)
     
  10. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    That's one take, obviously. Others would look take it at face value, either as a myth or, well, gospel truth.

    The specific idea, if I recall correctly, is that before the apple (I prefer traditional renditions) was eaten, not only was man ignorant, but also sinless. Eating the apple brought with it the knowledge of good and evil, and sin with. The exact mechanics of course, vary depending on your personal beliefs. The main debate, as far as I can tell, seems to be over whether this made man inherently evil, gave him the inclination to evil, or simply produced an enviroment that would inevitably corrupt him. Or some combination there of.
     
  11. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Calling it an apple has always been a pet peeve of mine. That is a quite recent tradition. The only basis I can think of for it is that in Latin apple and evil are homographs (both spelled "malum," although the first vowel is long in apple and short in evil). Similar reasoning would equate cleanliness and worldliness.

    There is no way to know what kind of fruit it was, but, if indeed it is to be taken as any fruit that currently grows on this earth, the all of what little evidence we have would point instead to the fig. Depictions of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a fig tree date back much further than depictions using an apple tree, and are still much more common in the Orthodox Church (where a homograph that exists only in Latin wouldn't change the tradition).
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm sure we've talked about this before, but I don't believe it's possible to be so certain about what Jews in Jesus' day would or would not have regarded as blasphemous. It's also not at all certain at which point Judaism and Christianity really separated. If, as some people think, most Christians remained Jewish in some significant sense right until the fourth century, then clearly thinking Jesus to be divine was not incompatible with being Jewish (since many, if not most, Christians thought Jesus to be divine by that stage).

    "Messiah" isn't equivalent to "Saviour". In fact there are very few passages in the Gospels where Jesus explicitly claims to be the Messiah - only a couple, to my memory.

    Sorry, I must have missed it in all the mess. There isn't really a name for this field but I suppose it would come under the general heading of the doctrine of creation. The traditional Christian answer is that God did not need to create the world, but he chose to do it for reasons of love. I'm not really sure how that can be cashed out, since I don't see how it's possible to love a non-existent thing, and until God had made the decision, the world was non-existent. A somewhat better answer is that God always acts to maximise the good, and it was better that a universe should exist than that no universe should exist, because a universe is morally significant. The problem with that is that it now seems that God had to create the universe (otherwise he would not be doing what is best, but that is impossible for God), and that is unorthodox.

    John's Gospel certainly teaches very clearly (and tiresomely) that Jesus was pre-existent, and that he was very close to God. But I don't think either of these requires that he be literally divine. A Homoian Arian would have agreed wholeheartedly with all of the verses you quote, but would have vehemently rejected the notion that Jesus was God. And he would have pointed out that in John 14:21, Jesus says that the Father is greater than he is.

    It's not a prophecy, it's an apocalyptic image (i.e. a description of the "true reality" that underlies the sensible world). Jesus seems to have used the title "son of man" (since it appears so often in the Synoptic Gospels, and so rarely elsewhere in the New Testament, suggesting that the Christians didn't much use it themselves). It is likely but not certain that he meant it to refer to himself. However, it is used in various ways in the Gospels. Some seem to reflect the Daniel passage you mention, where it is a reference to a heavenly being who rides on the clouds and ushers in the eschaton. However, some are more like its use in Ezekiel, where it appears frequently as a title for Ezekiel himself and means something like "mortal man". Precisely in what way Jesus used it, and what he meant by it, is a perennial topic of debate among New Testament scholars.

    Again, these only indicate a close relationship between Jesus and God. The idea of "whoever receives me receives the Father" is especially interesting as reflecting ancient notions of messengers or representatives, according to which the person who is sent in the place of the sender could be regarded, in some contexts and in a functional sense, as identical with the sender. I once read a book about John's Gospel which argued that the whole Father-Son theology of that Gospel should be understood in this way, which I thought made a lot of sense. In fact I'm in the Radcliffe Camera right now, which is where I read that book a long time ago, but the shelves of books devoted to the Gospels are so large that I'm not going to search through them now to try to find it.

    The question is too vague - are you asking what the intention of the author of Genesis 3 was, and what motivation he intended to ascribe to God? Or are you asking what views Christians or Jews have of this story and how they explain God's motivation? Or are you asking what God himself actually intended, on the assumption that this story is true?

    Taking the first question, I've had a look at some of the tedious tomes on this subject in the library and it seems that there's a lot of puzzlement regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Its meaning is obscure. Much of the problem here is that the whole story of Adam and Eve comes from different sources, and has been added to and edited by different authors before reaching the form that we have it in Genesis. Each of these stages has changed the meaning.

    The commentary I'm looking at right now argues that the part of the story in chapter 3 is the original core of the story. An unnamed tree in the garden is forbidden. The serpent appears and explains to Adam and Eve that if they eat its fruit, they will gain knowledge. They do eat it, and they do gain knowledge.

    The meaning of the serpent itself is uncertain, but it seems that many scholars think that it's connected to serpent cults that existed in Canaan (see 2 Kings 18:4 and Numbers 21). That would suggest that, in the original story, the serpent is a supernatural, benign (divine?) creature who informs the humans about the tree and the consequences of eating from it. The connection of serpents to life and immortality is common in ancient myths (think of the serpent in the Epic of Gilgamesh). In this case, the original story was about the divine serpent enlightening human beings. But the author of Genesis 3 as we have it disapproved of this and reworked the story to try to subvert this idea: he turns the serpent into a tempter, and has God punish the serpent. What he's really saying is that the traditional serpent cults will not lead to enlightenment after all, but only to death, and God hates them.

    On this interpretation, then, to ask why God would want to prevent Adam and Eve from having knowledge is to ask the wrong question. That isn't what the story is basically about. The story is a reworking of an older myth about humanity learning things from a serpent God, and in the form we have, it tries to subvert that myth and instruct its readers to follow God alone and not such alternative cults. So it presents God as ordering Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of knowledge not because the author thinks God doesn't want people to know things, but because knowledge is what the human beings acquired in the original story. In order to subvert that original story, the author depicts God as forbidding what was acquired in the original story. On this view, then, there is nothing significant about the fact that God orders Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree - the whole point of the story, as we have it, is the disjunction between God and the serpent as rival objects of devotion. Presumably, no matter what the serpent had bestowed upon human beings in the original story, the author would present God as forbidding in his reworking of the story, since his intention is simply to show that the serpent god's promises are sinful and false.

    Others, however, including Clauss Westermann (the author of the text I'm looking at right now, Genesis 1-11), think that this is wrong and that the serpent does not derive from such cults at all. On this interpretation, there was never a stage of the narrative where the serpent was positive, and it was always intended as a tempter. The story is fundamentally about God giving a prohibition and the human beings breaking that prohibition. The dialogue between Eve and the serpent is an externalisation of the inner dialogue of the person who is tempted to sin. The character of the serpent is therefore introduced just to cast that temptation into a narrative form, and the character is a serpent because (a) there are no other human characters in the story yet, so it must be an animal, and (b) serpents are supposed to be crafty and clever. On this view, why does God forbid Adam and Eve from eating from the tree (although not from touching it, as Eve incorrectly tells the serpent)? That is unclear, but one possibility is that in ancient mythology knowledge and death are often closely linked. Again in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu curses the woman who brought him knowledge as he lies dying. There is of course also the idea of the "envy of the gods", another very common theme, which comes across more explicitly in 3:22.

    As for the question what would have happened if Adam and Eve had not eaten from the tree, that is a pointless question in the context of understanding the story in question, since that does not happen in the story. From a theological point of view, theologians have differed over that issue. Irenaeus thought that Adam and Eve were morally immature, and that even if they had not eaten the fruit, they would still have needed to grow up morally - a process which would have been long and possibly unpleasant, and which would have involved the incarnation too. So when they sinned, it was not a great fall from grace, but a truculent childish spat, which may have changed the details of God's plan for humanity but not its basic form. Later, theologians such as Augustine developed instead the notion that Adam and Eve existed in a very exalted state (even with superpowers) and that, had they not sinned, they would have enjoyed this state permanently.

    It is disputed whether John knew Mark.

    I don't think there's any good reason to suppose that it's intended to be an allegory. As far as I can tell, scholarly opinion seems to be divided over whether it should be regarded as mythic in genre or magical in genre (I am not quite clear on the distinction, but then I'm just a philosopher), but neither of those is an allegory.
     
  13. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    That reminded me of reading (only from wikipedia I'm afraid) about how hesed love is viewed in the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism, not Madonna's religion). This fourth sephirah of the tree of life is called the first of the emotive sephirah or sephirah of action. It is considered proactive, the first act which is itself without any cause.

    As covenantial love, hesed obviously entails an absolute loyalty to its object, but as it is an unconditional love it seems it cannot be based on the actual qualities of the object but must be initially quite arbitrary.

    It sounds to me that with this type of love the object need not exist until the decision to love is made.
     
  14. Agent327

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    From a literary point of view (whether one takes the story of the garden of Eden 'at face value' or as gospel truth) it is a myth about aquiring knowledge - and thus knowledge of good and evil. In a larger sense it is then also a coming of age story (of mankind). The idea of the 'original sin' follows a Christian doctrine developed centuries after the fact - it is not recognized by Jewish tradition, just as the divinity of Jesus is not. (For further interpretation I refer to Plotinus' response below.)

    I'd say the First Commandment - well established at Jesus' times - is pretty clear about what constitutes God and what not, wouldn't you? As for the exact point at which Judaism and Christianity separated: it was obviously a process. so such a point does simply not exist. But the etsablishment of a Christian church seems a reasonable 'point' in case - which, by the way, coincided with agrowing anti-Jewish stance within Christianity itself (another clear indication of separation). At any rate, it is rather interesting that the process was already underway with the establishment of the NT, which displays a transition of Jesus viewed as simply a man to Jesus divine (notably in John, as indicated).

    Obviously. (I'm not sure why you mention this, if not for general educational purposes.)

     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Not particularly. You're forgetting the tendency of Judaism - like all monotheistic religions - to temper its monotheism with other elements, such as elaborate angelologies and hypostasising divine attributes. Consider the passages about "Wisdom" in the Wisdom literature such as Proverbs, where God's Wisdom becomes an entity in its own right. The divine "Glory" is another example. John's use of the term "Logos" in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel is probably based, to some degree, upon this sort of thing. And much apocryphal literature is concerned with the various orders of angels, some of which are so exalted that they seem pretty much indistinguishable from God himself. Metatron, above all, was so almighty that he was considered a "second throne in heaven". What's more, in some of the books of Enoch, Metatron was identified with Enoch, a human being who was taken up, transformed into this divine figure, and placed at God's right hand. Now doesn't that sound rather familiar?

    That's not to say that Christianity took these ideas, since it probably didn't, but rather that such notions were quite possible within Judaism at the time. How do we know that a first-century Galilean might not have believed himself to be a new Enoch, without necessarily being insane?

    Neither of these things settles it. The mere founding of a church doesn't imply separation, since it could exist within Judaism. You might as well say that the founding of rabbinic Judaism marks the separation of rabbinic Judaism from the rest of Judaism. As for the anti-Jewish stance - is that anti-Jewish or simply anti-those-Jews-who-reject-Jesus? Hard to say.

    Well, if it's a myth, then it's not an allegory. These are not the same thing!

    What makes you say that?
     
  16. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    I answered within a Christian framework, simply because that's what I'm familiar with, and what most people are after. Naturally, pretty much any attempt to find a moral or allegorical theme in the story is going to be anachronistic.
     
  17. Agent327

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    For one, he did not claim such a thing - which you already admitted yourself - unequivocally. For another, 'monotheistic' religions, as you yourself point out, aren't all that monotheistic in practive. However, both of these contentions are beside the point: Jesus did not himself claim to be God - which is a later, Christian doctrine -, because he was a Jew. You'll find very few Jews claiming to be God (either before Jesus' day or after), for the reason I pointed out.

    I'd say the founding of a Christian (non-Jewish!) church with its own patriarchy does settle the issue. Now, if you disagree with that, I'd like to see an argument. The development of anti-Jewish sentiments was a later development, only to be revoked centuries later - I'm sure you are aware of that.

    Obviously. But myth and allegory -which is a literary category - aren't mutually exclusive, as you seem to think. (Also, see below)

    Reading the whole paragraph might provide you with an answer.

    I gathered as much. But unless you take the garden of Eden story literal - which wasn't the author's intention - it is quite allegorical. For example: a simple visual allegory is the image of the grim reaper. Viewers understand that the image of the grim reaper is a symbolic representation of death.
     
  18. Harshad

    Harshad Chieftain

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    Do you believe in God(s)?
     
  19. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Plotinus has repeatedly claimed to be an agnostic.
     
  20. Harshad

    Harshad Chieftain

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    Thanks Plotinus. :lol:
     
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