All posts tagged: Bible

If the Mother of the Maccabees Knew of Atoms

Social media shoves us all up in each other’s faces in unprecedented ways. Where national politics was once metered in through newspapers and the evening news, now people of all ages have access to global details of immeasurable variety. Through the internet, we can see what friends on other continents had for dinner. We have a finger incessantly on the pulse of global events, from terrorism to natural disasters to scandals in the Catholic Church we never wanted to admit happen. To whatever extent this data dump causes constant anxiety, and constant anxiety upsets brain chemical equilibrium, I have not quite figured out how this torrent of affairs will play out. When I manage to get my nose out of my screen and step away, however, I often think of the Jewish mother of the seven sons in Second Book of Maccabees. She looked upon a different world, but I feel a camaraderie with her. Her story goes back to about 168–166 years before the birth of Christ. Her people, the Maccabees, led a rebellion …

Job and the Problem of Evil Versus the Tribunal of History

Introduction: Beyond the Tribunal of History—Beyond Is For some, for many, maybe even most, it is difficult to shower history with the ethical compliments of “good,” “just,” “fair.” Not that the temptation does not exist: our own—often  momentary—well-being and prosperity, or the well-being and prosperity of our little group, often urges us to extrapolate such a contingency onto the face of history itself. We do so almost by reflex, and such an extrapolation probably represents our instinct to keep our life simple, evade the threat we peripherally sense. But even when we have reduced the scope of our vision to ourselves and/or immediate family and close friends one would have to be extremely fortunate not to come up against the shadowside of illness, death, malice, brokenness, incompleteness. Continuing to deny the reality of evil in general, undeserved suffering in particular, in the face of what encroaches in one’s own life betrays a hysteria to keep the world ordered at all cost. If there is trust here in pattern and meaning, this trust is evasive and …

The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients

I f I seem to take N.T. Wright as an antagonist in what follows, he functions here only as emblematic of a larger historical tendency in New Testament scholarship. I can think of no other popular writer on the early church these days whose picture of Judaism in the Roman Hellenistic world seems better to exemplify what I regard as a dangerous triumph of theological predispositions over historical fact in biblical studies—one that occasionally so distorts the picture of the intellectual and spiritual environment of the apostolic church as effectively to create an entirely fictional early Christianity. Naturally, this also entails the simultaneous creation of an equally fictional late antique Judaism, of the sort that once dominated Protestant biblical scholarship: a fantastic “pure” Judaism situated outside cultural history, purged of every Hellenistic and Persian “alloy,” stripped of those shining hierarchies of spirits and powers and morally ambiguous angels and demi-angelic nefilim that had been incubated in the intertestamental literature, largely ignorant even of those Septuagintal books that were omitted from the Masoretic text of the Jewish …

A Prayer for the Poor

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) is a strange, brilliant, frustrating, and perhaps indispensable book. It remains controversial among economists, of course, if only out of the resentment some of them feel at the very notion that an anthropologist might presume to intrude on their putative area of expertise, and to do so on so vast a historical scale. It continues, moreover, to strain the credulity of those who cannot imagine how anyone could express such doubts regarding the practical inevitability of a monetary economic system, or could seriously propose anarchism as a real alternative to the injustices of capitalism. And, of course, there are those who not unreasonably accuse Graeber of offering a grandly buoyant critique of the contradictions and cruelties of capitalist culture without the ballast of a few proposed solutions. But, exotic as Graeber’s book was as an intervention in economic analysis, at its heart lay a rather ordinary observation, one that was made just as grandly a couple years later by Thomas Piketty in his magisterial treatise Capital in …

How to Reclaim the Literal Interpretation of the Bible

The science and religion debate can become so convoluted and esoteric, and at times, even heated, that it is easy to forget what a clear and definitive answer the Church has to such questions. This is especially true when it comes to conversations about the supposed conflict between the first two chapters of Genesis and generally accepted scientific theories. On the one hand, is the claim that the biblical creation story is incompatible with the scientific dating of the universe and biological evolution, and thus that the science must be wrong. On the other hand, is the claim that because the biblical creation story and scientific accounts of the universe and humanity are fundamentally at odds, the Bible and Christianity must be wrong. The Catholic response to this question is that this disagreement has no grounds to stand on. Purely from the standpoint of biblical interpretation, the first two chapters of Genesis were never meant to be “scientific” in the modern sense of the term. The biblical creation account states profoundly that God created the …

Christians Dare Not Shirk the Work of Ecumenism

Hope, of course, is a theological virtue—a gracious gift of God. It is not the same as optimism. This is a useful distinction, and goad, for many aspects of the Christian life. We are not our own but belong to the Lord Jesus. Accordingly, we might say that our future is not our business: it is given over to God. More than that, we should expect to be led, at least in part, where we do not want to go (John 21:18). Jesus said these words to Peter as a prophecy of his martyrdom, but they equally apply to every interesting aspect of our Christian lives, just insofar as God uses our circumstances to shape and mold us into the persons he would have us become—in marriage and within families, in close friendships, as we engage political and societal questions, as we combat sin within and without, and as we both gratefully and wearily take up our work. My teacher Brevard Childs taught us in our study of Scripture to pray that the Holy Spirit …

Further Reflections on Capital Punishment (and on Edward Feser)

According to Edward Feser, I seem “to think that the moral demands of the Gospel apply in exactly the same way to both the private sphere and the public sphere.” And this, he goes on to say, “is not only not the Catholic position, it is not even the Eastern Orthodox position. It is merely David Bentley Hart’s personal theological position, and he simply asserts it without argument.” Ah. Except that I don’t, and never have (though neither would I necessarily reject the proposition, since it seems a claim more dangerous to deny than to affirm; I would need to know precisely what “in exactly the same way” means in Feser’s mind.) I can see the cause of the confusion, however. The issue is capital punishment, and Feser’s angry expostulation comes near the end of his rancorous reply to two extremely bad reviews—one by me, one by Paul Griffiths—of the “Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment” that he and Joseph Bessette recently published under the title By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed. Now, in fact, nowhere in …

97 Aphorisms Adduced from the Thought of Benedict XVI

1.     Faith is a Contact Sport. 2.     Christianity cannot be a gift to the world if it comes with empty hands. 3.     God sometimes finds it necessary to rough the passer. 4.     Societies and their gods are naturally violent and our only hope is God—the biblical God, beyond all societies and gods, who is Peace itself. 5.     To be free is not only to have avoided the coercion of others, but also the compulsion of the idols of one’s world and society and above all the compulsion and idol that is yourself. 6.     The peace that passeth understanding is neither brought about by nor guaranteed by us. We are cooperative agents in a process and a goal that transcends us. 7.     Conscience is the inconvenience of listening to the clear voice of God rather than the noise of the rabble or the static of the self. 8.     Christianity does not exercise the option for justice because it is made up of good people. It exercises the option because God insists on nothing less. 9.     Love …

Humor in the Bible

We rightly approach Scripture with reverence and a certain solemn spiritual hunger. Therefore, we do not often think of these inspired texts as having any sort of humor or laughter in them. This is especially true if we are Fundamentalists, or, take every word of the Bible literally. Nonetheless, there are a number of Scripture passages that make me pause every time I hear or read them. These are in the Bible itself. They are not just the result of insufficient preparation on the part of the lector in regard to a particular text. One passage in particular comes to mind as an example of the latter: Luke 2:16.  The text may say, “The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger,” but the lector almost always proclaims instead that they “found Mary and Joseph and the baby, lying in the manger.” I will leave to your imagination how the “flaming brazier” of Genesis 15:17 comes across from some lectors. What I am considering is …

Beauty Already Has Saved the World

Editorial Note: This essay was originally delivered as a presentation at “Illuminating the Incarnation: A Musical Meditation on The Saint John’s Bible,” a multi-disciplinary concert sponsored by the McGrath Institute for Church Life, directed by Carmen-Helena Téllez of Sacred Music at Notre Dame, and performed on September 24, 2017 at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame. St. Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians with an exhortation: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. This is what we come here today to do: to place ourselves in the presence of something lovely, something excellent, something beautiful. Yet, this afternoon’s concert is not something that is merely meant to entertain us. This afternoon’s concert, like all great art, is something that is meant to transform us. We’ve come here to experience the beauty of Scripture in all of its truth, purity, …