Friday, January 22, 2010

Bible Study


On her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination... End of debate. It’s in the Bible - end of argument!

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how best to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wriggle room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.
James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
University of Virginia

Monday, January 4, 2010

“Reading Jesus”

I’ve just read “Reading Jesus” by Mary Gordon. It’s a readable, odd book. She’s obviously familiar with biblical scholarship, but because she values the Gospels as narratives and wants to read them as she imagines an ordinary reader might, she brings very little of that scholarship to her interpretations of the Gospel stories she chooses to write about. She wants them to be encountered as stories without, for the most part, considering the history of their composition. For example, she always writes about similar passages starting with Matthew and then going on through Mark, Luke, and John. She never points out that most scholars think the Mark was the basis for Matthew and Luke. She even writes at one point that Mark borrowed a passage from Matthew, even though Matthew was composed 10 to 15 years after Mark. Also, she seems to put all the sayings of Jesus on an equal footing without regard for which might be early and perhaps attributable to Jesus himself and which might be later and most likely the product of the communities that were struggling with conditions after the time of Jesus. She does discuss Raymond Brown’s work on the Gospel of John, because this Gospel lends itself most easily to anti-Semitic interpretation, and she struggles with the way these stories should be viewed today.
She seems to will herself to be naïve, as if she were still seven years old. Indeed much of the book is devoted to how she heard the stories when she was a child. She doesn’t bring much adult critical thinking to the stories, nor does she try to enter into post-critical naïveté, as she might when attending a play. However, she’s very good at pointing out that many of the stories upend our conventional notions of justice, as in the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Or how some of the stories seem cruel and inexplicable, as in the withering of the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-25). And she points out, in a series of chapters, the many problems encountered in reading the Gospels: miracles, asceticism, perfectionism, apocalypticism, contradictions, conundrums, paradoxes, the anti-Judaism, and the issues around the possible divinity of Jesus. However, many of these problems are the result of her non-historical reading of the stories, which gives every story equal credence without regard to the historical circumstances of their composition.
I finished the book thinking that it is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of reading the Bible without a historical perspective. This intensifies all the problems she identifies. I think that if Gordon had read Don Cupitt’s “Jesus & Philosophy,” (See my blog post on this at: it might have helped her distinguish earlier Jesus sayings from later ones. If we do this, the outlines of a more coherent message might be attributed to Jesus.