All posts tagged: Old Testament

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 …

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 …

Ancient Israel’s Law of Defending the Weak

The command to remember is a common refrain in Deuteronomy (eg. Dt 5:15; 7:18 et al.).[1] What the Law requires of Israel is in some sense an extension of what God himself has done for her. The memory of that favor underscores Israel’s responsibility to do the same. This is nowhere more true, perhaps, than in the care for the vulnerable. “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge; but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this” (Dt 24:17-18). Israel is to identify with the weak and to extend what she herself has received. “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (cf. Ex 22:21; 23:9; Lev 19:33-34; Dt 10:19; 23:7). This reception and extension of mercy is expressed beautifully in the life of Ruth, a Moabite and the widow …

Jesus and the Old Testament

The Word of God grows its roots in the heart the more one shares it with others. That is why one of the surest ways of growing in knowledge and love for the Scriptures is to teach them to others, an opportunity I had for the first time (at least, as a theology professor) this semester in a course on the Old Testament. Some bright undergraduates, our diocese’s deacon candidates and their spouses, and I set out to gain a deeper understanding of the sacred texts that are foundational for both Jews and Christians. First, however, we had to tackle the issue of how one should read and interpret them. It is well-known that the divide between historical and theological study of the Bible has been a mainstay in higher education for decades. The predominance of the historical-critical method has separated biblical studies from theology in many seminaries and theological schools.[1] One need only look at the major figures in 20th century theology—Rahner and von Balthasar among them—to see that very few were thoroughly biblical …