Thursday, September 21, 2017

The ACA's Continuing Story

"Last-Ditch Effort By Republicans to Replace ACA: What You Need to Know"
http://billmoyers.com/story/last-ditch-effort-republicans-replace-aca-need-know/

"The National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) warned Republicans on Thursday that the Senate's latest ObamaCare repeal bill would place a massive burden on states."
http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/351846-medicaid-directors-warn-repeal-bill-would-be-largest-transfer-of-financial


Monday, September 18, 2017

Bible in a Year: Ezekiel

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week, I’m studying Ezekiel, a book that I was dreading, because it can be so weird and angry, but at the same time it is so profound and concerned.

In his book Holiness in Israel (Fortress Press, 1989), John G. Gammie writes: “[N]ot only was Ezekiel a priestly prophet and theologian of the divine holiness, he was also a pastor and superb moral theologian. His homilies of divine judgment on the unfaithful shepherds (chap. 34) and of divine hope for the exiles who considered themselves as dead as dry bones in a dry valley (chap. 37) certainly rank among the best-known homilies from all of Scripture. Ezekiel spoke with the eye of a pastor to the needs of those in exile” (pp. 49-50).

Daniel Block describes other aspects of Ezekiel:

“Nor surprisingly, Ezekiel has been the subject of numerous psycho-analytical studies. While prophets were known often to act and speak erratically for rhetorical purposes, Ezekiel is in the class of his own. The concentration of so many bizarre features in one individual is without precedent: his muteness; lying bound and naked; digging holes in the walls of houses; emotional paralysis in the face of his wife’s death; ‘spiritual’ travels; images of strange creatures, of eyes, and of creeping things hearing voices and the sounds of water; withdrawal symptoms; fascination with feces and blood; wild literary imagination; pornographic imagery; unreal if not surreal understanding of Israel’s past; and the list goes on. It is no wonder that Karl Jaspers found in Ezekiel an unequaled case for physiological analysis. E. C. Broome concluded that Ezekiel was a true psychotic, capable of great religious insight but exhibit g series of diagnostic characteristics: catatonia, narcissistic-masochistic conflict, schizophrenic withdrawal, delusions of grandeur and of persecution. In short, he suffered from a paranoid donation common in many great spiritual leaders. This psychoanalytic approach has been rejected by commentators and psychiatrists alike (quoted in Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd edition, 223-223).

Block rightly dismisses this approach, but his comments do illustrate the strangeness of this particular prophet, even among the strange individuals who were gifted with prophecy  in Israel’s history.

Ezekiel was not only a prophet but a priest of Zadoc—the priests appointed by Solomon for the Temple, 1 Kings 2:35 (Jewish Study Bible, p. 1042) This priesthood has an interesting history. Not surprisingly, Ezekiel’s prophecies have a focus of purity and priestly faithfulness. The years of his prophetic office seems to coincide with the twenty years stipulated for priests (Numbers 4:23, 39; JSB, 1044. The purpose of the book is to announce and describe judgment on Judah and to urge repentance. Set during the Babylonian captivity, the book was likely written in about 571 BCE, according to one source.

But Ezekiel's concern to be a watchman is also a very pastoral duty. As Gerhard von Rad points out (Old Testament Theology, Vol. II [Harper & Row, 1965], p. 2320, his prophetic role made him go out among the people and minister to them (pp. 230-231). These words are very famous and are often taken to heart by pastoral leaders:

At the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, and you give them no warning, and do not speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before them, they shall die; because you have not warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life (3:16-21)

This commission of God’s for Ezekiel is reiterated in chapter 33 as well.

*****

The book is more chronological and orderly compared to Jeremiah. Here is a basic outline:

Chapters 1-3, the Lord commissions Ezekiel and gives him visions and messages concerning Judah.

Chapters 4-24. Ezekiel proclaims his message, not only in oracles but also in symbolic actions and parables.

Chapters 25-32 concern God’s judgment against the nations: Ammon, Edom, Philistia, Moab, Sidon, Egypt, and Tyre.

Chapters 33-48 contain the prophets messages of salvation and restoration. This section contains the famous vision of the valley of dry bones, the oracle of Gog and Magog, and finally the vision of the restored Temple.

The Jewish Study Bible identifies thirteen major blocks, from the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile in 593 to the vision of the restored temple in the 25th year:

Ezekiel’s inaugural vision and resulting oracles (1:1-7:27)
Oracles concerning the departure of God from the Temple (8:1-19:14)
Oracles about Israel’s punishment (20:1-23:49)
symbolic actions about Jerusalem’s destruction and the condemnation of neighboring nations (24:1-25:17)
Oracles about Tyre (26:1-28:26)
Oracles concerning Egypt (29:1-32:1-6)
Oracles about the nations; Ezekiel’s role as watchman (32:17-33:20)
Oracles about Israel’s restoration (33:21-39:29)
Vision of the restored temple (40:1-48:35) (paraphrased from JSB, 1045).

*****

God’s holiness is a major theme of the book. Ezekiel expresses God’s desire that God, or the Name of God, shall be known. The phrase “that you (they) may know that I am the Lord” occurs at least 63 times in Ezekiel (Gammie, p. 45).

Also, the Name of God is theological important in Ezekiel. “My holy name” and “for the sake of my holy name” are also frequent phrases in the book (p. 47)

Ezekiel chapter 20 provides the story of Israel, where the people are delivered “for my name’s sake”). Then they are given the Sabbaths and the laws where Israel may know the Lord and sanctify God’s name. The wilderness generation rebelled, too, but God acted again for the sake of God’s name” (p. 46).

Ezekiel also is a theologian of God’s “glory” (kabod). The book begins with a vision of glory: the weird vision that inspired that spiritual, “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel,” perhaps my first acquaintance with this Bible book. In chapters 8-11, the prophet depicts the departure of God’s glory from the Temple, and also the return of God’s glory to the restored Temple (Ez. 40-48).

Gammie further notes that 18:5-9, 10-13, 14-18 is an outline “for a moral theology that may justifiably be called a theology of the ethical requirements of holiness” (p. 50). For instance, 18:5-9:

If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right— if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully—such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God.

Gammie connects Ezekiel chapter 18 with Leviticus 19 as the Bible’s high points of ethical reflection—-but also the Temple passage in chapters 40-48. Here, too, we have a lofty theology of ethics and holiness in the framework of God’s glory (pp. 52-59). Although the Temple vision does not depict the ark or incense or other aspects of the cultus that we find in the Torah, we do have these requirements of holiness:

1 A newly built Temple (40-42)
2. Removal of memorials of kings (43:7-8)
3. Removal of foreigners from the sanctuary (44:6-9)
4. Demotion of the Levites along with an elevation of the Zadokite priests (44:10-27)
5. Social reforms 45:9-12)
6. The people bring sacrifices to offer (45:13-17)
7. The sanctuary is cleansed (45:18-20)
8. The passover is kept (45:21-25)
9. The holiness of the inner rooms are safeguarded (44:19, 46:19)
and the land is apportioned to the prices, prince, and Zadokites, with the Temple in the center (chapter 48). (Paraphrased from Gammie p. 56)


That author goes on to discuss ways this depiction differs with or complements other scriptures about the priesthood and holy places (pp. 56-57), and also similarities with Ezekiel’s conception of holiness with that of the Chronicler (Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah), pp. 58-69.

In An Introduction to the Old Testament, Brueggemann also points out the way the repentance of the people Israel is not a matter of ethics alone, but also (for the priest Ezekiel) a regaining of God’s holiness after the ritual contamination (36:23-28). The theological focus of Ezekiel is the priestly care for the divine presence as well as the honor of the name of the sovereign God. When Jerusalem falls, then (in Ezekiel’s theology) God’s dishonored name has been vindicated (pp. 228-229). Thus the first portion of the book ends at chapter 24, with Jerusalem’s fall, and then with chapter 25 and following, he prophet teaches of God’s hope. Not only the fall of Jerusalem but the defeat of the nations (e.g, chapters 25-28, and the vision of Gog and Magog in chapters 38-39) also serve to illustrate the sovereignty of God (pp. 230-231, 234-235).

Gerhard von Rad reminds us that, during Ezekiel’s two decades of prophecy, there was yet no Deuteronomistic theology that interpreted theologically the reasons for the disaster that has befallen upon Judah. Is God weak? Is God unfaithful and uncaring? Some of the working-out of problems that Gammie points out, as well as some of the extremity that Block discusses, is Ezekiel’s effort—crude and unpoetic as he may sometimes be—-to preach the reasons for Judah’s exile. For instance, the untoward eroticism and terrible violence of the parables of chapters 16 and 23—where God’s people are depicted as a sexually insatiable, faithless wife violently punished by her jealous and wounded husband/God—is unacceptable by our contemporary standards but, in the context of the time, illustrates the intimacy of the bond between God and his people and the wounded quality and dishonor God feels when God’s people have been unfaithful to the covenant.

The unfaithfulness that Ezekiel depicts as "whoring" refers both to cultic apostasy as well as Judah's attempts to gain the help of powerful neighboring nations (pp. 229ff). Marc Zvi Brettler (How to Read the Jewish Bible, Oxford 2007, p. 191), notes that the prophet uses the root זנה (znh), "to whore," thirteen times in chapter 16 and seven times in chapter 23. A good book on Ezekiel's themes, which I've studied but can't find in my library at the moment, is Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh's Wife by Dr. Julie Galambush (Scholars Press, 1992). She discusses more about the marital and covenantal images in the prophet.

A significant aspect of Ezekiel’s moral loftiness is his refutation of the idea of intergenerational guilt. For instance, chapter 18 begins:

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Marc Zvi Brettler paraphrases that proverb, "The parents eat Snickers® and the children get cavities." He interpret's Ezekiel's daring affirmation of individual responsibility as reflecting his ability to listen to the worries of the exiles and to offer the right words to his fellow people (pp. 188-189). 
After all, the Ten Commandments themselves (see Exodus 20:5) presumes intergenerational guilt, and stories like Sodom presume communal guilt; these are ideas we've often seen in the scriptures so far. “Ezekiel is arguing against two beliefs found in a variety of biblical texts—intergenerational punishment, and corporate (communal) responsibility and retribution. That is why he needs to make his point so forcefully” (p. 190). Thus the repetitiveness of chapter 18 and also chapter 14.

Ezekiel's theology of the law provides a potential link to Paul’s theology—-although Paul does not quote Ezekiel in this content. Von Rad writes: "Ezekiel brings a new direction to the old prophetic task of exposing sin. He is, perhaps, more concerned than his predecessors were to demonstrate its total dominion over men. These excursuses on the history are intended to make clear that it is not a matter of separate transgressions, nor simply of the failure of one generation, but of a deep-seated inability to obey, indeed of a resistance to God which made itself manifest on the very day that Israel came into being. What makes Ezekiel’s pictures of Israel’s history so unvarying is that in his eyes the end is no better than the beginning. There is no difference, no moment of suspense—the same state of affairs exists in every age of her history.” Thus God departs Israel (p. 230) but restores Israel for the sake of his name, which includes the nations (p. 236-237). “The final goal of the divine activity is therefore that Jahweh should be recognized and worshipped by those who so far have not known him or who still do not know him properly.” (p. 237).

Also, according to von Rad, although Jeremiah does not unify the traditions of Sinai and of a future Davidic king, Ezekiel does in 37:24, though for Ezekiel the Sinai mitzvot are still uppermost. (p. 236).  When we get to the New Testament texts I'll try to remember to connect this particular prophetic theology to Paul.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Childhood Joy

What reminds you of simple childhood joys? Brand-new pennies?






Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bible in a Year: Lamentations, Baruch

This calendar year (and probably into Lent 2018), I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week I'm reading Lamentations, along with the apocrypha book Baruch.

The Book of Lamentations, traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah, is found in the Jewish Bible and all Christian Old Testaments. In the Jewish tradition, the book (entitled “Eichah,” “How,” the first word), is one of the Five Scrolls and is recited on the fast day of Tisha B’Av, the holiday that remembers the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

In Christian traditions, the book follows the book of Jeremiah. Passages are read during Tenebrae of the Holy Triduum.

Both Jeremiah and Lamentations share a terrible sorrowfulness. Here are just a few verses that cry out concerning the desolation of God's people in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, and God's seeming absence amid the horrifying suffering. In his commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations (1), John Bracke of Eden Seminary points out that the book is open enough to reflect a variety of terrible circumstances, which makes the book sadly timeless. (p. 187).

How lonely sits the city
   that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
   she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
   has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
   with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
   she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
   they have become her enemies (1:1-2).

Arise, cry out in the night,
   at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
   before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
   for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
   at the head of every street.

Look, O Lord, and consider!
   To whom have you done this?
Should women eat their offspring,
   the children they have borne?
Should priest and prophet be killed
   in the sanctuary of the Lord? (2:19-20)

Those who feasted on delicacies
   perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
   cling to ash heaps.

For the chastisement of my people has been greater
   than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
   though no hand was laid on it (4:5-6).

Lamentations has five poems. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 have 22 verses that begin with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, those forming an acrostic. Chapter 3, with its 66 verses, thus have three acrostic poems. Chapter 5 has 22 verses but is not an acrostic. The Harper's Bible Commentary notes that, in the first four poems, the first line is usually longer than the second line. “Such imbalance produces a falling rhythm that is said to ‘limp,’ ‘choke,’ or ‘sob’ in sympathy with the mournful contents.” (p. 646). “The aim of the acrostic-building poet(s) seems to have been to foster a comprehensive catharsis of grief and confession linked to an inculcation of faith and hope, to be accomplished literally by covering the subject ‘from A to Z’” (p. 647).

John Bracke points out Nahum 1:2-8, Proverbs 31:10-31, and Psalms 9-10, 25, 34 37, 11, 112, 119, and 145 have an alphabetical arrangement as well (p. 183). Furthermore, Lamentations also reflects the kind of psalm that scholars call “communal lament,” such as 74, 97, and 137 (p. 185).

The Harper's Bible Commentary continues, “Lamentations, in its final form, exhibits a striking and innovating amalgam of prophetic, Deuteronomistic, and wisdom notions that subordinates and neutralizes Davidic-Zion traditions without rejecting them outright” (pp. 648-649).

Bracke has this helpful summary: “As we read the book of Lamentations, we should not expect the book to provide answers about suffering. instead, the book of Lamentations gives us words with which to address God about suffering… Our culture is optimistic and values certainty and confidence. to speak of suffering is a sign of weakness and pessimism, out of character in ‘can-do’ America… [but] The book of Lamentations invites us to speak honestly before God of the pain that afflicts us as we live in communities. Lamentations is a book to be prayed because in those communities where we live there is suffering of which God needs to know even if it is not immediately evident that God is paying attention or cares. Perhaps, as we pray through Lamentations, we may discover anew God’s reign even when God seems absent” (pp. 188-189).

Note:

John M. Bracke, Jeremiah 30-52 and Lamentations (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), and his Jeremiah 1-29 (same date and publisher).

*****

Book of Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah.

In Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles (though not in the Jewish Bible and the Protestant Old Testament), the Book of Baruch (or 1 Baruch) follows Lamentations. The ascribed author is Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch ben Neriah, but the book was probably written during or after the Maccabean period. The five chapters concern the history of Israel and the crisis of exile.

Chapter 6 of Baruch is called the Letter (or Epistle) of Jeremiah and is addressed to exiles in Babylon. Orthodox Bibles has this letter as a stand-alone book that follows Baruch, while in Roman Catholic Bibles the letter is the last chapter/ appendix of Baruch.

After these, the next book is Ezekiel.




Haydn on Period Instruments

Amid all the distressing news these days---as well as yesterday's 9/11 anniversary---I've been cheering myself by catching up on this set of Haydn’s 107 symphonies, which came out a year or two ago. I planned to write about the set after I’d listened to all 35 CDs. That hasn’t worked out; they’re fun to listen to more than once, after all! So I'm taking my time, and getting further into all the music.

As this article discusses, the set is the first recording of Haydn’s symphonies on period instruments. Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, and Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century, recorded several of the symphonies, but plans for complete recordings faltered. Between the two orchestras, only symphonies 78-81 were not recorded on the older instruments, and the gap was filled by Ottavio Dantone conducting the Accademia Bizantina.

The order of the symphonies reflects research done since Haydn’s symphonies were first numbered. For instance, on this set, 30, 34, and 72 share a disc, because now we know they were written at about the same time in the 1760s.

I wrote about Haydn's symphonies a few years ago. I had ordered the Adam Fischer-conducted, 33-CD set of Haydn's 104 symphonies, which included two string quartets for which woodwind parts were discovered, and a sinfonia concertante. Later on, I downloaded the Antal Dorati-conducted set, which I used to see in record stores that I frequented. A common misconception, which I shared, is that Dorati's was the first complete recording of Haydn's symphonies. But the notes of this new set point out that Ernst Märzendorfer (1921-2009) was actually the first, on a set of LPs sold by the Musical Heritage Society, a mail order club to which I used to belong. At that time, though, I wasn't yet paying attention to Haydn's music.

I still enjoy the Fischer modern-instrument recordings the best. To me, he and the players really bring out the beauty of the adagio and minuet movements. But how wonderful to gain this new perspective on such a rich source of musical beauty.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Landscape: Grandma Moses

Grandma Moses, "Shenandoah Valley (1861 News of the Battle)", 1938. Moses was born on this day in 1860!



Bible in a Year: More on Jeremiah

This calendar year (and probably into Lent 2018), I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

Here are a few more thoughts and notes about Jeremiah.

As I write on one of my other blogs: When I was a young person, in Sunday school in our small town church, I pictured the long biblical text in an unusual way: as if it was a landscape for exploring. My dad was a truck driver who hauled gasoline and fuel oil, and so images of travel and “the open road” come naturally to me. (The Bible contains 66 books, and Dad regularly drove Route 66 in Illinois … how providential!) Perhaps I was also inspired by the well-used maps at my church of Bible lands, maps which seemed as interesting as the folded maps, free at filling stations, in the glove compartment of our family car. I imagined the Bible as a large area, not of Palestine, but of sections of landscape, like states, laid out for more or less eastbound travel—even if you began with the New Testament but then backtracked to the Old, as I’ll do in a moment. (When I read my favorite translation of the Torah with its Hebrew text, I begin to imagine the right-to-left text as westbound.)

At the Bible’s beginning, the “scenery” is interesting from Genesis through about 2/3 of the way through Exodus. A few places become tedious—the genealogies, for instance—but the reading moves along, peaking in cinema-ready excitement with the Red Sea crossing, the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Calf.  The reading slows as you journey through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But you’ve encountered some of the Bible’s high points: the Creation, the Flood, Abraham’s call, Egyptian slavery, the Exodus, and the revelation at Sinai.

You continue on a varied landscape though the historical books: some good parts, some dry. Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel contain violence and intrigue. Beyond, as you pass through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the “travel” becomes tougher again. Do I really need to know all those kings—who sinned and how badly—and lists of names, in order to be saved, to love the Lord?

But in this landscape, too, we find high points: the conquest of the Land, the establishment of the monarchy and kingdom (with David and Solomon as the key figures), the destruction of Jerusalem, the Exile, and the Restoration. Understanding the Bible requires some grasp of these events.

After the historical books, the journey becomes more interesting again. Among the writings, the Psalms alone are worth many revisits; Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, too. Then you embark on journey through the prophets. The prophets contain fascinating material, but without the narrative structure of the historical books, and without a clear chronology, the prophets’ writings can seem scattered and hard to grasp. A person can lose her bearings there.

You reach the New Testament, which—again, in my young imagination—I pictured as a wonderful landscape that gradually narrows. That’s because the New Testament books tend to become shorter and shorter. Little-bitty 2 John, 3 John, and Jude have only one chapter each, compared to Matthew’s 28. It was as if God was focusing your spiritual travels toward the end times and salvation, the subject of the longer, finally book of Revelation.

I think of some of these longer biblical books in "landscape" imagery. Isaiah, with its several oracles about Isaiah, Judah, and the nations, begins really to feel like a "map" of poetry and images, until we get to chapters 40-66, which I imagine in terms of a lovely and sunny, blue sky. (See, for instance, 60:19-21!)

Jeremiah "feels" like a more rugged landscape, with cisterns and broken pots, yokes, cities destroyed or promised to be destroyed, bitter wailing, finally a scroll weighed by a stone and cast into the sea.

In his book Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Telushkin calls Jeremiah "the loneliest man of faith." Like Moses and David, we learn a lot from the Bible about his desolate moments, but also, he "is the only character in the Bible who is denied a family. Early in his career, God decrees that Jeremiah is to live alone: 'the word of the Lord came to me. You are not to marry and not to have sons and daughters in this place' (16:1-2)." This is because of the violence to come (Biblical Literacy, pp. 293-294). Tragically, Jeremiah also had to see his predictions come true (p. 295).

******

Among the well-known passages of this prophet is Jeremiah 20:7-18, a text that I first discovered in div school. Here is the NRSV:

O Lord, you have enticed me,
   and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
   and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long;
   everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
   I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me
   a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, ‘I will not mention him,
   or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
   shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
   and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering:
   ‘Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
   All my close friends
   are watching for me to stumble.
‘Perhaps he can be enticed,
   and we can prevail against him,
   and take our revenge on him.’
But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
   therefore my persecutors will stumble,
   and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
   for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonour
   will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
   you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
   for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord;
   praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
   from the hands of evildoers.

Cursed be the day
   on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
   let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man
   who brought the news to my father, saying,
‘A child is born to you, a son’,
   making him very glad.
Let that man be like the cities
   that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
   and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
   so my mother would have been my grave,
   and her womb for ever great.
Why did I come forth from the womb
   to see toil and sorrow,
   and spend my days in shame?

Like some of the psalms, this passage mixes despair directed at God, with praise at God’s ability to rescue and prevail. Unfortunately, Jeremiah also feels that God has prevailed over him, in gifting him as a prophet and thus giving him over to a life of misery, rejection, and shame.

Verse 7 is particularly strong language directed at God. Years ago I wrote in my margin that the Hebrew word pata (deceive or entice) also means “seduce,” while the word yakol (prevail) has a strong sexual connotation. The sense is that God seduced and then raped Jeremiah.

When we discussed this passage in div school, our interests were in a feminist reading (1)---the language of sexual violence that we find here and elsewhere in some of the prophets, particularly Ezekiel---and also a pastoral reading---what does it mean to be called to ministry but then feel deceived by God?

Look at verses 14-18. To use a crude expression, Jeremiah declares, in effect, “F my life.” He wishes he’d never been born. Loathing of himself and fury at God are two sides of the same experience. And don't forget---these are words of the Bible, God's word for us!

Jeremiah expresses anger and despair both at God and toward his own sense of self-worth. And yet he remains true to his calling. Part of his despair is, indeed, that he is committed to this life of faith and will not deviate from it, even though, in his perception, God has treated him in the worst possible way.

I can't fail to call attention to topics of date-rape and “rape culture.” I found the following blog helpful: the author and some commenters discuss issues of gender, gendered emotional response, and sexual violence that this passage implies: http://theroundearthsimaginedcorners.blogspot.com/2012/06/god-and-images-of-rape-in-jeremiah.html

*****

Some of our memorable New Testament imagery comes from Jeremiah, for instance, 31:31-34.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

"New Testament" is a synonym for "new covenant"--so the very name of the Christian portion of the Bible derives from Jeremiah.  

I discuss this passage in my book Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament (pp. 78-80). There I quote Walter Brueggemann, "The ground of the new covenant is rigorous demand. The covenant requires that Israel undertake complete loyalty to God in a social context where attractive alternatives exist" ("The Book of Exodus," The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 951). 

We also have a lovely passage from 23:5: 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The sorrow of Rachel, evoked in 31:15-17, is used by Matthew in his narrative of the massacre of the innocent (2:13-19). 

Jeremiah's sermon about the Temple, 7:8-15, is cited by Jesus as he (Jesus attacks the money changers at the Temple. As I discuss in my book (p. 117), the reference to "a den of robbers" has less to do with the honesty of the traders, than with Jeremiah's original metaphor: Jeremiah's contemporaries believed God would protect them as long as they worshiped at the Temple, but Jeremiah likened that idea to a group of thieves who thought they were safely in hiding but were not. 

*****

A verse from Jeremiah cut me to the heart when I first learned it, during a life changing divinity school class taught by B. Davie Napier.  As I write this, we are in a national crisis situation concerning the well-being of non-documented immigrants and their children.

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord (Jer. 22:16).

Wow. If we love God but are uncaring toward the needy and begrudge them help, we’re fooling ourselves. We not only fail in loving God, we don’t even know God! King Josiah, though, knew God, according to Jeremiah. This verse dovetails well with Micah 6:6-8, and 1 John 4:20b, as well as Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2:14-17. So why don’t more of us step up and care for the poor, with such a plain scriptural teaching? Even the straightforward verse John 3:16 implies helpfulness to the needy, for if you believe in Christ as John 3:16 instructs, you respond to “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40).

The pleasures of Bible reading often return me to this theme, because if you want to know a set of “characters” that pervades the scripture, it is the people variously and generally called the poor, the widow and orphan, the needy, the oppressed, the alien, and the stranger. With my Topical Bible and other sources, I’ve “collected” a very small selection of the total: Exodus 22:22; Leviticus 19:10, 15; Deuteronomy 10:19, 14:28-29; 15:7-8; Job 29:12; Psalms 14:6, 82:3-4; Proverbs 14:21, 14:31, 17:5; Isaiah 58:6-7; Ezekiel 16:49; Matthew 19:21, 25:35; Luke 4:18, 12:33, Acts 9:36, 10:4; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17-18. My book Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament has a lesson on this subject.

I’ve been inspired by Jewish friends and their concern for tzedakah, “righteousness” or “charity,” which has replaced the biblical sacrifices as a response to God. Many Jews are quick to “give back to the community” and to take the side of the needy (not necessarily the Jewish needy!) in their donations and political convictions.On the other hand I’ve known Christians, including some pastors, who love the Lord to the point of becoming teary-eyed about God’s blessings, and yet those same Christians express a harsh political outlook toward the poor. How many times have I heard Christians speak disdainfully of the poor, as if all poor people were lazy, out to cheat the system. I feel shame when I think of my own hard-heartedness toward the poor: for instance, a time when I became silently impatient in a grocery line as a young couple up ahead paid for their groceries with food stamps.

I believe there are many ways to know God, because we all have different personalities, talents, abilities, cultural backgrounds, and experiences.  The variety of the Bible’s theological perspectives attests to the importance of variety among people’s religious walks.  But this way to God haunts me and always has, from which my conscience can never escape: the trumpet call of Micah 6:8, that rhetorical question of Jeremiah 22:16, the clear words of Matthew 25:40.

(This last section is from another blog of mine, theloveofbiblestudy.com, chapter 1).


Friday, September 1, 2017

The Last Passenger Pigeon

Male and female by Louis Agassiz Fuertes,
from Wikipedia
An interesting, sad article about passenger pigeons, which went from billions to extinction in a
hundred years. The last one died on this day, September 1, in 1914.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/100-years-after-death-martha-last-passenger-pigeon-still-resonates-180952445/


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Trump and Arpaio's Pardon

Another news story, from the site occupydemocrats.com. An Arizona judge has "scheduled a hearing for October 4th where the Trump team must publicly argue why a man who was so racist he was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to end his discriminatory racial profiling policies deserves to walk free." The article has a link to descriptions of Arpaio's various activities.

Climate Change, the GOP, and Harvey

Good piece in Esquire about the hurricane devastation and some of the outcomes of thirty years of politics. The whole article is good, and the last two paragraphs summarize the political and policy issues.

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a57276/harvey-longterm-effects/

And also, a reminder that "disasters don't care about politics." Contribute to relief efforts if you can!

http://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2017/08/29/233914/five-things-non-houstonians-need-to-understand-about-harvey-flooding/

Nashville Statement on Sexuality

Some news items and comments. Here is a site with links to the Nashville Statement, released this week as an evangelical coalition statement on biblical sexuality.

https://cbmw.org/topics/news-and-announcements/cbmw-releases-coalition-statement-on-biblical-sexuality/

Here is the response called the Denver Statement, by author-pastor Nadia Bolz-Webster, which to me is an apt and just response to the different sections of the Nashville Statement. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2017/08/the-denver-statement/

Here is Jim Wallis' response: https://sojo.net/articles/jim-wallis-nashville-statement-damaging-people-and-evangelical-witness

Here is an article about the Nashville document, including the observation that white evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/30/evangelical-leaders-release-nashville-statement-on-sexuality-rejecting-gay-marriage/?utm_term=.7b33373a7135



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bible in a Year: Jeremiah

This calendar year (and probably into Lent 2018), I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week and next week, I'm studying Jeremiah, the second of the three major prophets. Here are two websites that provide a lot of background and detail about this book:
http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8586-jeremiah
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Jeremias_(the_Prophet)

Jeremiah (Yeremiyahu in Hebrew) began his prophetic career in about 626 BCE, the 13th year of Josiah’s reign, across four more kings to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE. So he preached and ministered during the worst crisis time in Judah’s history, and Jeremiah’s famous sorrowfulness and distress reflects his involvement in his people’s fate. He was the son of a priest (kohen) named Hilkiah from a Benjamin village (Jer. 1:1-3). As the Jewish Study Bible points out, "Thus, like Moses, who was of Levitical descent, Jeremiah is a priest and prophet who guided his people for forty years--often in the fact of stiff opposition--but, unlike Moses who led the people from Egypt into the promised land, Jeremiah saw the exile of his people form that same promised land and lived out his own days in Egypt." Jeremiah's assistant, who conveyed his teachings, was Baruch ben Neriah.

*****

 from: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/
article/judah-israel-a-divided-monarchy/
It might be helpful to remember the history of the several kings of Israel and Judah, and how the prophets fit into the history according to an approximate chronology. All the references are to 2 Kings.

Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746). The prophets Amos and Hosea prophesied to the Northern Kingdom in about the 740s and 750s.

Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (783-742), 15:1-7, who did what was right but also did not remove the foreign altars and so God struck him with leprosy. Isaiah dated his prophetic call to the year Uzziah died.

Zechariah of Israel (746-745), 15:8-12

Shallum of Israel (one month in about 745), 15:13-16

Menahem of Israel (745-738), 15:17-22

Pekahiah of Israel (738-737), 15:23-26

Pekah of Israel (737-732), 15:27-31

Jotham of Judah (742-735), 15:32-38

Ahaz of Judah (737-715).

Hoshea of Israel. 17:1-6. The Deuteronomistic historian comments extensively on the sins that led to Israel’s fall (17:7-23), and describes the resettlement of the area. Among the new settlers were the people who became known as Samaritans.

And kings of Judah:

Hezekiah (715-687), 18:1-8-20:1-21.

Manasseh (687-642), 21:1-18, Hezekiah’s son, was very wicked and did much evil. This is the last straw, God’s judgment against Judah was now certain because of Manasseh's idolatry and violence.

Amon of Judah (642-640), 21:19-26, was also evil, but

Josiah (640-609), 22:1-25:30, was a righteous king who prepared the temple, and in doing so recovered the book of the law (probably the text of Deuteronomy 12-26) and with great sorrow sought to renew the covenant and to initiate reforms throughout the kingdom. *The prophets

Zephaniah (about 628-622), Jeremiah (about 626-587), Habakkuk (about 605), and Ezekiel (about 593-573) are from this general period, while 2 Isaiah was exilic: about 540.

Jehoahaz (609), 23:31-33, briefly reigned, but he was taken captive by the Pharaoh. His successor

Eliakim/Jehoiakim (609-598), 23:34-24:6, also did evil in God’s sight, as did Jehoiachin (598-597), 24:7-12.  In his eighth year as king, he was taken prisoner by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who looted Jerusalem and carried away many inhabitants. Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah as king. But Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrible end of Zedekiah and his sons (25:1-7). Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was burned, demolished, and looted. Nebuchadnezzar appointed the ill-fated Gedaliah to be governor of the land of Judah (25:22-26).

*****

The prophet Isaiah began his ministry in 742, and as we saw last week, portions of 1-39 come from the 600s, while 40-66 are from around 540 and later. Jeremiah profited during the period 626-587, and although we don't know when he died, he was exiled in Egypt at the time. Our next book Ezekiel, is from 593-573. In his book Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Telushkin comments that the northern kingdom had no prophetic voices of hope---but the southern kingdom had words of hope from 2 Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. So the tribes of the northern kingdom disappeared into history, while the the tribes Judah, Benjamin, and Levi in the south remained and were recipients of God's promises.

The call of Jeremiah is well known:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’
But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
hen the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’ (1:4-11)

John Bracke (1), recently retired from Eden Seminary where I’m an adjunct, points out three important perspectives about God of special importance within Jeremiah:

1. God is sovereign. “God’s word changes history through judgment---plucking up and pulling down---and through restoration---building and planting” (p. 7). The people who had been rescued from Egypt and given a precious land had broken God’s covenant and strayed from God’s law, and therefore they must go into exile. But God is also faithful and merciful and will restore the land and the temple and will establish a new covenant (pp. 7-8).

2. Along with the anguish of the people of Judah, God “also experiences hurt and disappointment” (p. 8). God is a rejected husband and a rejected parent. Although God punishes his people, God is also in tremendous pain because of their pain and anguish (p. 8).

3. God is ultimately interested in “building and planting” (1:10), although at the end of Jeremiah this is promised rather than fulfilled (p. 9).

If you've ever read or browsed Jeremiah, you know that the book is complex, lacking chronological order and with different genres, styles, voices, and theological perspectives. Writing in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 3, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), Louis Stulman writes, “Despite the enormous influence it has exerted on the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation, Jeremiah is one of the most difficult books in the Bible to read” (p. 220; the whole article is pages 220-235). Even the prose material alone is written in different styles. Some of the material is likely from Jeremiah himself, other material from Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch. The book has also been edited, and reflects a theological outlook in keeping with the "Deuteronomistic history," that is, the troubles of Judah are God's judgment against them for their sins.

*****

A basic outline of the book is:

Chapters 1-10, condemnations toward Judah.
Chapters 11-28: warnings of the destruction of Judah.
Chapters 29-38: the promise of the New Covenant.
Chapters 39-52: events concerning the fall of Jerusalem.

Stulman has also sketched groupings of material, reflecting theological themes within the book. He argues that the book has two sections, 1-25 and 26-52, forming a “two-part prophetic drama,” each with five acts (p. 221).

He calls the first part, “Dismantling Judah’s cherished social and symbolic categories.” This part’s five acts are:

Introduction (1:1-19)
1 The basis for God’s judgment (2;1-6:30)
2 Dismantling the Temple (7:1-10:25)
3 Dismantling the Covenant (11:1-17:27)
4 Dismantling “insider privileges” (18:1-20:18)
5 Dismantling the monarchy (21:1-24:10)
Conclusion, “the world under divine judgment” (25:1-38)

The second part is “Restoration and hope amid the wreckage: a survivor’s manual.” The five parts are:

Introduction, on hope (26:1-24)
1 “Conflicting theologies of hope” (27:1-29:3)
2 “The book of hope” (30:1-33:26)
3 “Moral instruction for the new community” (34;1-35:19)
4 “Traces of hope amid the wreckage” (36:1-45:5)
5 “God’s reign on earth signaling hope for Judean refugees in Babylon (46:1-51:64)
Conclusion: “Jehoiachin’s restoration as embryonic hope” (52:1-34)

One of Shulman’s summary statements is interesting: “Jeremiah is ‘guerilla theater,’ a text of resistance that reimagines symbol systems and reframes and social realities. It reenacts or performs the fall and rise of Judah as well as the defeat of the geopolitical power structures responsible for Judah’s mistreatment. it attempts to convince Jewish refugees in Babylon that economic-military domination is not the final word and that God is an unflinching advocate for those devastated by war and exile. In effect, the book of Jeremiah is a liturgical act that creates a quite particular world, one that stands in stark contrast to ‘other worlds’ where absolute power, autonomy, and economic exploitation reign... [T]he text ennobles those on the margins to protest and dissent, ridicule and revel, and imagine a counter ...world order. The prophetic script empowers broken people with the will to survive and the resolve to act with courage And ultimately Jeremiah functions as a dangerous ‘weapon of hope’ that will not knuckle under to political aggression, military might, or relentless despair” (pp. 234-235).

*****

Among the stylistic forms of Jeremiah, we frequently find personal complains. The Harper's Bible Commentary lists several:  11:18-12:6, 15:10-21, 1714-18, 18:18-23, 20:7-18. We think of the psalms of lamentation and complaint (p. 597) and find similarities in Jeremiah's expressions of sorrow.

Two other forms are prose sermons and third personal narratives about Jeremiah. Among the biographical passages are 19:1-20:6, 26:28-29, 36:37-45, 51:59-64. Among the sermons are 7:1-8:3, 11:1-14, 16:1-13, 17:19-27, 18:1-12 21:1-10, 25:1-14, 35:1-19. (HBC, p. 598) The sermons often reflect that Deuteronomistic theology: Judah’s punishment is linked to their sins.

We also find more symbolic prophetic actions---the special kind of performance art that we find in some of the problems--in Jeremiah. There are a few in Isaiah, like the symbolically named children of chapters 7 and 8 (Shear-jashub, Immanuel, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz), and Isaiah's nudity that warned of Egypt of Assyrian slavery (chapter 20). Here is a site that provides several of Jeremiah's symbolic actions: http://www.bibleteachingnotes.com/clientImages/29183/BTNMiscFiles/jeremiahsymbolicacts.pdf

The Jewish Study Bible concludes: "In the end, the book of Jeremiah is the product of a debate within Jewish circles from the late monarchy and the exilic periods concerning the question of theodicy or the righteousness of God. Although fully aware of the theological problems posed by the destruction of the Temple and the exilic of the Jewish people, the book affirms God's existence and righteousness as well as the future of the restored nation Israel on its land" (p. 920).

Note:

1. John M. Bracke, Jeremiah 1-29 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000); and his book, Jeremiah 30-52 and Lamentations (same date and publisher).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bible in a Year: Isaiah

from http://annchapin.com/
saints_angels_gallery.htm
This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week I’m studying Isaiah. I wrote most of this post a few years ago during an Advent season. I had been listening to Handel's "Messiah" and realized that the piece cites Isaiah most often among the Bible's books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_of_Handel%27s_Messiah). Several Advent lectionary texts are Isaiah passages, too. I forget which of my three seasonal study books for Abingdon Press contained a meditation on one of Isaiah’s servant songs.

One source that I found indicates that Isaiah is the second longest biblical book in terms of chapters (after the Psalms, if consider each psalm a “chapter”), the fourth longest in terms of verses (after Psalms, Genesis, and Jeremiah), and the fifth longest in terms of words (after Psalms, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Genesis). I’m not taking the time to verify this information, LOL. The point is, Isaiah is a long book!

It is also an essential book for both Jews and Christians*, spanning over two hundred years of Israel and Judah's history, from the last days of the Divided Kingdom to the beginning of the Post-Exilic era.

This site provides a basic outline of the book:

Words of judgment (1-39):
Prophecies about Judah and Jerusalem (1-12)
Oracles against the nations (13-23)
World-wide judgment and deliverance (24-27)
Oracles against Samaria, Jerusalem, and Assyria (28-33)
More prophecies of world-wide judgment and deliverance (34-35),
Historical material (36-39)

Words of comfort (40-66):
Prophecies of redemption and restoration (40-48)
Prophecies of God's servant (49-55)
Prophecies of consummation (56-66)

See that site for a more detailed outline, too.

 *****

Isaiah himself lived in the 700s. He was called in the year of the death of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6), or about the year 740 BCE. He lived during the difficult time of Assyria's regional dominance under the monarchies of Tiglath Pileser III, Shalmaneser V (who defeated and deported the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE), Sargon II, and Sennacherib. He also lived during the Syro-Ephraimite War that rocked the region at the end of the century. The Mishna and also Justin Martyr give us the traditions that Isaiah was killed during Manasseh’s reign (which began about 699 BCE), perhaps by being sawed in half. Hebrews 11:37 may or may not be an allusion to his death. If Isaiah died during Manasseh’s reign, he thus survives Senacherib’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE.  


The author of that another online source (bibleencyclopedia.com) states, “For versatility of expression and brilliancy of imagery Isaiah had no superior, not even a rival. His style marks the climax of Hebrew literary article Both his periods and Genius and descriptions are most finished and sublime. “He is a perfect artist in words. Beauty and strength are characteristic of his entire book. Epigrams and metaphors, particularly of flood, storm and sound (1:13; 5:18, 22; 8:08; 10:22; 28:17, 20; 30:28, 30), interrogation and dialogue (6:8; 10:8, 9), antithesis and alliteration (1:18; 3:24; 17:10, 12), hyperbole and parable (2:7; 5:1-7; 28:23-29), even paranomasia, or play upon words (5:7; 7:9), characterize Isaiah's book as the great masterpiece of Hebrew literature. He is also famous for his richness of vocabulary and synonyms.... Jerome likened him to Demosthenes; and a poet: he frequently elaborates his messages in rhythmic or poetic style (12:1-6; 25:1-5; 26:1-12; 38:10-20; 42:1-4; 49:1-9; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12; 60-62; 66:5-24); and in several instances slips into elegiac rhythm, e.g. in 37:22-29 there is a fine taunting poem on Sennacherib, and in 14:4-23 another on the king of Babylon. As Driver observes, ‘Isaiah's poetical genius is superb.’”

The distinguished biblical scholar Brevard S. Childs was my Old Testament prof during the fall semester 1979, just when his book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture appeared (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979). I had him autograph my copy. This week I pulled the book from my shelves to recall his canonical approach to Isaiah.

I also studied my Harper’s Bible Commentary (New York: HarperCollins, 1988). There, the biblical scholar Gerald T. Sheppard notes something well known: that 1-39 and 40-66 are noticeably different sections. During the 8th century when Isaiah prophesied, Assyria and not Babylon was the major threat, but those later chapters of the book (from an unknown prophet) deals with the situation of those who have been in exile following the 6th century Babylonian conquest---exiles for whom “new things” can be announced (40:21, 41:4, 27, 42:9) (Sheppard, p. 543).

In other words, 40-66 are not only stylistically different from 1-39 but also concerns a situation 150 years after the historical Isaiah died. Childs notes that the theory of dual authorship of Isaiah dates to the work of Doederlein and Eichhorn in the later 1700s. By the 1900s, there was wide unanimity in the acceptance of a break between chapters 39 and 40 (Childs, pp. 317-318). In one of my Jewish sources (and how I've misplaced it), medieval Jewish scholars also made note of the "break" between 39 and 40.

Sheppard, however, writes that after many years of scholarly study of the two sections, biblical scholars have more recently been interested in how the sections make a whole (for instance, the way Isaiah 13 and 21 connect to the Babylon judgments later in the book), and the fact that 40-66 does not seem to have ever existed independently of 1-39 (p. 543). Also, chapter 66 return to themes of chapter 1, God’s word to his people and to Jerusalem (Sheppard, p. 544).

Childs writes that Duhm’s 1892 commentary showed that Isaiah 1-39 was itself not a historical or literary unity. For instance, it is divided into sections like 1-12, 13-23, 24-27, and so on, with some writings as late as the Maccabean period (p. 318). Childs summarizes the work of Mowinckel, Scott, and others who detailed the different sections of 1-39 and postulated the origin and layering of traditions, including “an Isaianic core” of material, with nevertheless both pre- and post-exilic material (Childs, p. 319).

So, Isaiah is not simply a two-part book, with 1-39 originating from Isaiah's time and 40-66 originating from the exilic and post-exilic years. The whole book contains writings from different periods and has been skillfully edited.

Duhm was the scholar who isolated the oracles 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12, the “servant songs,” and it was who referred to chapters 55-66 as “Trito-Isaiah,” because the focus of those chapters was the post-exilic community in Jerusalem, with references to sabbath and sacrifice. Childs notes that many scholars have agreed with Duhm, though not whether 55-66 is a unified or edited composition (Childs, pp. 322-323).

Childs' view is that although chapters 40-66 seem to be addressed to the exiles in or returning from Babylon, “the present canonical shape of the book of Isaiah has furnished these chapters with a very different setting. Chapters 40ff. are now understood as a prophetic word of promise offered to Isaiah by the eighth-century prophet, Isaiah of Jerusalem” (Childs, p. 325). Thus, the “the canonical editors of this tradition employed the material in such a way as to eliminate almost entirely those concrete features and to subordinate the original message to a new role within the canon” (Childs, p. 325).

For instance, chapters 40-66 have no special attribution to another prophet, nor historical situations (other than references in Cyrus in 44:28-45:1) compared to the specific circumstances to which Amos addressed his message. Even the famous opening of chapter 40 can be read, within this new context, as a general promise and not specifically to the returning exiles (Childs, p. 325). Consequently, the promises of forgiveness and redemption have a new theological context for Israel following the oracles of judgment that we find in the earlier chapters (Childs, p. 327, 330). The “former things” of Second Isaiah now refer to the earlier prophecies of judgment in First Isaiah, thus confirming the truth of the latter (p. 329-330: for instance, notes Childs, we can connect 1:7ff and 62:4, 11:6, 9 with 65:25, 13:17 with 41:25, and so on. The plan announced in 28:24ff becomes clear in Second Isaiah).

Further, Childs notes that the editing of Isaiah 1-39 provides theologian meanings through the skillful connection of oracles. For instance, the oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23), which date from different time periods, are interpreted by the oracles of a redeemed community in 24-27, where the nations are said to be able to worship together at Jerusalem. Further, the oracles of 34-35 portray a future redemption from the judgments proclaimed earlier----and the idiom of 34-35 connects forward to that of Second Isaiah (Childs, p. 332).

Sheppard shows how the work of 2-39 has been edited so that promise oracles frame judgment oracles, like the promise oracles 2:2-24 and 4:2-6. The parable of chapter 5 precedes a section of oracles related to the Syro-Ephraimite war (7:1-9), but these oracles have been fitted and edited within a longer set of oracles (6:1-9:7). Following these we have a new set of “promise oracles to Judah and judgments against  Assyria” in 10:5-11:16, and then a transitional “song” in Isaiah 12 which includes a motif of “comfort” that, of course, we see again in Isaiah 40. That song is a transition into the oracles of judgment against the nations in chapters 13-23.  In turn, those oracles are followed by “a group of promissory eschatological oracles” in chapters 24-27, which “take up a number of themes and motifs from the first part of the book and project them into a vision of future restoration,” i.e., connecting to 40-66. Isaiah 28-32 in turn contain more judgment oracles against Zion and Judah, and then more promise oracles in 33-35. Chapters 34 and 35 in particular anticipate material in 40-66 (Sheppard, p. 545). In turn, the narrative material of 36-39 refers to the Assyria siege of Jerusalem, in 701 BCE several years after the earlier war. This historical material connects with the narrative of 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 32, and here, the material appears “remarkably suitable to the larger purpose of the book of Isaiah, with its concern for the restoration of Jerusalem. They explore the way in which human responses move God to leave a blessing when one might expect only a curse” (Sheppard, p. 569).

The “suffering servant” songs of Second Isaiah raise other exegetical issues, because (Childs argues) the figure does not seem to be connected (by the canonical editors) to the royal figure of 9:1ff and 11:1ff, nor to any particular historical individual. He argues that the text is even silent on whether the figure represents Israel as a whole; the canonical editors have allowed the questions and tensions to remain and perhaps “to receive its meaning from the future” (Childs, pp. 335-336). My rabbi friends here in town told me that, in Jewish interpretation, the servant songs do refer to the Jewish people and their witness.

Interestingly to me, the great messianic text Isaiah 7:14 falls within the oracles that concern the unrest in Judah in 735-733 BC and the Syro-Ephraimite War. “Occasionally, ordinary public activities of prophets could carry extraordinary significance... Just as Hosea’s marriage constituted a symbolic act of prophecy, so Isaiah’s children by their very names, carried a message throughout their lives” (Sheppard, p. 555). The child Emmanuel, about whom no other historical information is given, is the sign Isaiah gives when King Ahaz says he does not want a sign at all. Within that section, the Northern Kingdom will fall and later disaster will also eventually happen to the Southern Kingdom, but the name of the child, “God with us,” provides ongoing hope (Sheppard, p. 555).

Sheppard writes about how this messianic texts also tie together the times of Isaiah with the post-exilic faithful. “The unusual name ... now harbors in it prophetic implications for the destruction of Judah as well as Syria and Ephraim (8:6-8) and, finally, for the nations in the future that will so threaten Judah (8:9-10). The ‘child sign’ seems to continue in 9:1-7, where the birth of a child (9:6) portends a comparable claim of God’s presence with Israel (9:4) in the period after the Exile, when ‘the people walked in darkness’ (9:2). Even if the original tradition of 9:1-7 was once an independent, nonmessianic ‘royal psalm,’ its present context in the book invites a messianic interpretation. So too Isa. 7:14 has similarly engendered messianic expectations among both Jews and Christians, expectations based on the warrants of the text’s ‘scriptural’ context in 7:1-9:7” (Sheppard, p. 556).

 *****

* In my earlier post about the Sidra and Haftarah readings, Isaiah is quoted 19 times among the Haftarot, 1 and 2 Kings 16 times, Jeremiah 9 times, Ezekiel 10 times. It has been a very central book for Judaism! (Jewish Study Bible, p. 780).

So, too, for Christianity. This site gives 20 times that the book is quoted in the New Testament. The passages that we associate with the Advent season (chapters 7, 9, and 11), and especially the Suffering Servant song of 52:13-53:12 are crucially important for the New Testament writers in preaching Jesus. It is hard to imagine Jesus' own self-understanding AND apostolic preaching about Jesus without the Suffering Servant song.

*****

Here is a meditation about an Isaiah prophecy of international peace. http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/2016/08/bible-road-trips-highway-of.html


Monday, August 21, 2017

Childhood Crystal Ball

This summer, we've been reorganizing some rooms in our house. This glass ball has been on a shelf among other antiques and keepsakes in our finished basement. It's not a light, it's just a glass sphere that screws into a black base. As I brought it upstairs to place on a new set of bookshelves, Beth asked me again what it is.

I said, "You remember when I told you about a place in Brownstown [my mother's hometown in Illinois] that sold appliances and also antiques. The store was run by Floyd and Lucille Bingaman. My folks liked to shop there when I was a kid, and we bought all kinds of antiques there, and I think my parents'  washer and drier, too.

"One day, during a weekend visit to the store, I saw this and thought it would be a good 'crystal ball.' So my folks bought it, and I brought it home and used it for pretend-games of telling fortunes and foreseeing the future. After I left home, Mom and Dad kept it on their own bookshelves. Although I have no idea what original purpose it had, it's a childhood keepsake that I hate to part with."

Beth said, "You should write this up as a blog post."

"Good idea," I said....


Total Eclipse

"I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong....I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake." (Annie Dillard, "Total Eclipse".)


From: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-101

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ghost Sign: Shaw Neighborhood, St. Louis


Landscape: William Giles Munson

William Giles Munson, "View of the New Haven Green in 1800" (c. 1830). New Haven Colony Historical Society. From: https://connecticuthistory.org/a-puritan-landscape-new-haven-town-green/ Copied under fair use principles.




Landscape: Richard Rummell

Richard Rummell, "Yale University, 1906." From:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rummell,_Richard_Yale_University.jpg


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bible in a Year: The Prophets and the New Testament

Childhood Bibles: mine, my wife Beth's,
and her deceased first husband Jim's. 
This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

One more post about how the prophets can linked to other Bible passages. Prophetic scriptures became crucial for understanding who Jesus is and how his coming fits within and fulfills God’s plans of salvation. A Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of the New Testament. Here are just a few.

John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)

Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.

Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)

Jesus the shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, John 10:7-11)

Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Matt. 21:4-5)

Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)

Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)

The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)

The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)

“The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)

The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)

The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)

Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(8)

The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, Ez. 38-39, much of the book of Zechariah).

The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). In New Testament theology, a passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).

The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy.  You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, bringing them into the circle of blessing.

Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).

Here is a list of many passages from the prophets, psalms, and Torah, used in the New Testament to demonstrate the necessity of Jesus' suffering and death: http://changingbibles.blogspot.com/2016/03/maundy-thursday-and-good-friday.html

*****

Here are some notes that I took a few years ago:

As we begin on the prophets, it's worth realizing that New Testament eschatology relies very strongly upon the Old Testament, especially the prophets. The book of Revelation cites the Old Testament more than any other New Testament book and is filled with images from the prophets.

I found an interesting article, “The Old Testament and the Book of Revelation” at the StudyJesus.com site. I liked the article because it gave straightforward biblical references without the speculations and polemics that one finds in some analyses of Revelation. Perusing that article as well as my notes in my old RSV and the references in my NRSV, I developed a very incomplete list of references to prophetic passages that one finds in Revelation. That article gives many more references and other research about John's compelling visions and style of writing.  

The prophetic idea of The Day of the Lord is found in Isaiah 2:12, Joel 2:31-32, Amos 5:18-20, Daniel 12:12, and becomes part of New Testament eschatology in Matthew 24:29-31, Acts 2:20, 2 Peter 3:8-10, Rev. 6:12-17.

The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7.

The image of “the kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 61:6 connects to Rev. 1:6.

Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures and four wheels in chapter 1, and also Isaiah 6:1-4, connect with Revelation chapter 4, wherein the living creatures give God honor and glory.

The dwelling of God in the new heaven and earth in Isaiah 65:17ff connects to Rev 21:1-2. Also, Michael the archangel (Dan. 12:1) connects to Rev. 12:7-12.

The condemnation of Deuteronomy 29:19-20, with the image of being blotted out of the book of life, connects to Rev. 21:19. In fact, that article indicates: “Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, 21:27 are based on Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1,” and also Ps. 56:8 and Malachi 3:16. All these have to do with the them of God writing a book containing the names of the faithful.

The differently colored horses of Zechariah 1:7-17 and 6:1-8 connect to Revelation 6:1-8.

The eating of the scroll in Ezekiel 2:8-3:33 and Jeremiah 15:16 connect to Rev. 10:8-11.

Much of Joel 1-2, with its descriptions of plagues, droughts, and the coming day of the Lord, connects to the various events in Revelation: e.g., the locusts in Rev. 9.

Some of Ezekiel’s images of the restored temple in chapters 40-48, as well as Zechariah chapter 4, connect to Rev. 11:1-6 et al. Also, the restored Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48:30-35 connect to Rev. 21:12-14.

Genesis 49 lists the twelve tribes of Israel, in the context of Jacob’s death: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and thus they became heads of tribes. Rev. 7:1-8 describes how angels sealed the number of God’s servants out of “every tribe of the people of Israel,” and then lists the twelve tribes. Instead of the tribe of Dan we have the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Joseph rather than that of Ephraim is mentioned.

The cities of refuge are described in Numbers 35:9-34. They were places where a person who had accidentally killed someone could flee and when the high priest died they could return home without fear of being killed out of revenge. The cities were Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth Shechem, Bezer, and Hebron. Although Rev. 12:6 doesn’t mention “cities of refuge” per se, the concept of a safe place prepared by God is there: for instance, the woman with child (representing God’s people) flees to a safe place in the wilderness where she will be nourished for 1260 days.

Daniel has a vision of four beasts in Dan. 7:1-8, which connects to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea. As that article indicates, the fourth beast represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the terrible Greek ruler of the Maccabean period.

Ezekiel 38-39 describes the prince Gog of the land of Magog. In Rev. 20:7-10, Gog and Magog become nations who are enemies of God’s people.

The famous story of Balaam and his donkey (or Balaam's ass, as we Sunday school kids laughed about) is found in Numbers 25:1-9, as well as 31:16. This story is echoed in Rev. 2: 14 where God scolds the church at Pergamum.

Rev. 14:14-20 tells of the angel reaping a grape harvest with a sickle and putting the harvest into the winepress of God’s wrath, producing copious blood. Of course, this is the reference for a line in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as the title of the novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The image comes from Joel 3:13 and Isaiah 63:1-6.

As that article indicates, Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, refer to the blessings of God upon the exiles who return from captivity in Babylon. These promises connect to a passage near the conclusion of Revelations, 21:1.

With that reference, we return once again to the subject of the Exile. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, the Exile, its connection to the land, and the post exilic hope of future redemption are events and themes that permeate the entire Bible. In this case, the book of Revelation brings together stands of biblical history and theology to show the final consummation of centuries of divine promises.


Landscape: Carl Vilhelm Holsøe

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (1863-1935), "A Strolling in the Orchard". From Twitter, "@AHistoryofPaint . Copied under fair use principles.
 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Trump is a Consequence"

Here is an excellent article from Billmoyers.com, "Trump is Not Cause, But Consequence: The Post-Cold War Consensus Collapses," by Andrew Bacevich. "If Americans have an ounce of sense, the Trump presidency will cure them once and for all of the illusion that from the White House comes redemption. By now we ought to have had enough of de facto monarchy. By extension, Americans should come to see as intolerable the meanness, corruption and partisan dysfunction so much in evidence at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.....So it’s time to take another stab at an approach to governance worthy of a democratic republic." He offers several ideas.

http://billmoyers.com/story/trump-consequence-trump-era/


An Excellent bell hooks Quotation

A few days before all the racism and hatred became expressed in Charlottesville this weekend, I'd found this quotation while doing a research project. “White folk who mask their denial of white supremacy by mouthing slogans like ‘heritage not hate’ .. fail to see that their refusal to acknowledge what this ‘heritage’ means for black folks is itself an expression of white racist power and privilege… The history of the confederacy will always evoke the memory of white oppression of black folks with rebel flags, guns, fire, and the hanging noose—-all symbols of hate” (bell hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place, Routledge, 2009, pages 10-11).


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bible in a Year: Connecting the Torah and the Prophets

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

When I studied and posted about the Torah earlier this year, I learned that the Torah is read in a yearly cycle in synagogue worship (the weekly portion or parshah), accompanied by a related reading from the Prophets (the haftarah). This week I went back to the lists of those readings to learn their meaningful connections, perhaps unexplored by most Christians. The following is gleaned from W. Gunther Plaut, The Haftarah Commentary (Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1996): first the name of the parshah, then the Torah portion, then the haftarah. I focused on the Ashkenazic readings; in a few cases, Sephardic congregations have different haftarot.

Bereishit
Genesis 1:1-6:8: the creation story
Isaiah 42:5-43:11: the creation of Israel is linked to creation of the universe

Noach
Genesis 6:9-11:32: the punishments and redemption during the time of Noah
Isaiah 54:1-55:5: the redemption from punishment and exile is at hand

Lekh Lekha
Genesis 12:1-17:27: stories of Abraham
Isaiah 40:27-41:16: God remembers and cares for Israel, children of Abraham

Vayeira
Genesis 18:1-22:24: God promises Abraham and Sarah a song
II Kings 4:1-4:37: Elijah’s miraculous help for the Shunammite woman

Chayei Sarah
Genesis 23:1-25:18: Abraham looks for a wife for Isaac
I Kings1:1-1:31: David’’s need for a suitable successor

Toldot
Genesis 25:19-28:9: the struggles of Jacob and Esau
Malachi 1:1-2:7: a reiteration of the primacy of Jacob over Esau

Vayeitzei
Genesis 28:10-32:3: Jacob’s sojourn in Aram
Hosea 12:13-14:10: Hosea’s use of that story

Vayishlach
Genesis 32:4-36:43: Jacob and the angel
Hosea 11:7-12:12: Hosea’s use of that story as a metaphor for his home and for the nation

Vayyeshev
Genesis 37:1-40:23: Joseph is sold into slavery
Amos 2:6-3:8: Amos’ Israelite contemporaries would sell out an innocent person

Miqeitz
Genesis 41:1-44:17: Pharaoh’s dream
I Kings 3:15-4:1: Solomon’s dream

Vayigash
Genesis 44:18-47:27: reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers
Ezekiel 37:15-37:28: the reunited stick

Vayechi
Genesis 47:28-50:26: Jacob gives his last words to his sons
I Kings 2:1-12: David gives his last words to Solomon

Shemot
Exodus 1:1-6:1: Israel’s enslavement in Egypt
Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-29:23: Israel’s sins and troubles

Va'eira
Exodus 6:2-9:35: the plagues of Egypt
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21: the coming humiliation of Egypt, which had forsaken Israel

Bo
Exodus 10:1-13:16: Pharaoh vs. God
Jeremiah 46:13-46:28: Pharaoh Necho, who killed King Josiah, will be defeated

Beshalach (Shabbat Shirah)
Exodus 13:17-17:16: Defeat of the enemy Egypt and the people’s song
Judges 4:4-5:31: Deborah’s song of the defeat of Canaanite enemies

Yitro
Exodus 18:1-20:23: The Sinai revelation
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-9:6: the revelation of God to Isaiah

Mishpatim
Exodus 21:1-24:18: release of the Hebrew slaves
Jeremiah 34:8-34:22; 33:25-33:26: Jeremiah’s response when Judah rulers would not free slaves

Terumah
Exodus 25:1-27:19: construction of the Tabernacle
I Kings 5:26-6:13: construction of the Temple

Tetzaveh
Exodus 27:20-30:10: the Tabernacle altar
Ezekiel 43:10-43:27: the future Temple sanctuary

Ki Tisa
Exodus 30:11-34:35: the Golden Calf
I Kings 18:1-18:39: the priests of Baal

Vayaqhel
Exodus 35:1-38:20: building a sanctuary
I Kings 7:40-7:50: building a sanctuary

Pequdei
Exodus 38:21-40:38: the craftsman Bezalel who worked on the Tabernacle
I Kings 7:51-8:21: the craftsman Hiram who worked on the Temple

Vayiqra
Leviticus 1:1-5:26: sacrifices
Isaiah 43:21-44:23: the proper sacrifices

Tav
Leviticus 6:1-8:36: sacrifices
Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-9:23: sacrifice alone cannot please God, who also demands righteous deeds

Shemini
Leviticus 9:1-11:47: deaths of Aaron’s sons when they approach the Holy Fire improperly
II Samuel 6:1-7:17: the death of Uzzah who touches the holy Ark improperly

Tazria
Leviticus 12:1-13:59: skin diseases
II Kings 4:42-5:19: the story of Elisha and Naaman

Metro
Leviticus 14:1-15:33: skin diseases
II Kings 7:3-7:20: the story of the four lepers

Acharei Mot
Leviticus 16:1-18:30: forbidden sexual relations
Ezekiel 22:1-22:19: denouncing sexual licentiousness

Qedoshim
Leviticus 19:1-20:27: ethical requirements, with warnings
Amos 9:7-9:15: Amos’ warnings to the kingdom

Emor
Leviticus 21:1-24:23: priestly duties
Ezekiel 44:15-44:31: priests of the future Temple

Behar
Leviticus 25:1-26:2: family titles to land
Jeremiah 32:6-32:27: Jersmiah buys a parcel of land

Bechuqotai
Leviticus 26:3-27:34: blessings and curses
Jeremiah 16:19-17:14: Jeremisah’s assurance of blessings

Bamidbar
Numbers 1:1-4:20: census in the wilderness
Hosea 2:1-2:22: the people will be as numerous as sands of the sea

Nasso
Numbers 4:21-7:89: Nazarites
Judges 13:2-13:25: Nazarites

Beha'alotkha
Numbers 8:1-12:16: the Tabernacle candlestick
Zechariah 2:14-4:7: vision of the candelabrum of the Temple

Shelach
Numbers 13:1-15:41; the spies
Joshua 2:1-2:24: the spies

Qorach
Numbers 16:1-18:32: Korah’s attempt to replace Moses
I Samuel 11:14-12:22: the people’s seeming attempt to replace God with a human king

Chuqat
Numbers 19:1-22:1: Moses’ request to the Amorite king
Judges 11:1-11:33: Jephthah’s negotiations with the Amorites

Balaq
Numbers 22:2-25:9: King Balak (Balaq) wants Balaam to curse Israel
Micah 5:6-6:8: Micah remembers this incident.

Pinchas
Numbers 25:10-30:1: Phineas (Pinchas) and his reward
I Kings 18:46-19:21: the heroism of Elijah

Mattot
Numbers 30:2-32:42: God’s punishment
Jeremiah 1:1-2:3: Jeremiah’s call to preach warnings

Masei
Numbers 33:1-36:13: punishments
Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4: the prophet’s warnings about idolatry

Devarim
Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22: Moses
Isaiah 1:1-1:27: punishments

The next seven haftarah are haftarah of consolation (Shabbat Nachamu) and all come from Second Isaiah. They are all messages of hope for God’s people Israel. The first is read on the Shabbat after Tisha b'Av, which is the fast that commemorates the Temple's destruction in 587 BCE. The others are read on successive Sabbaths until the seventh, which is read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. Thus, as Moses urges faithfulness to the Lord and obedience to his Torah, the Isaiah passages express God's promises to liberate and provide for Israel.

Va'etchanan
Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-40:26

Eiqev
Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Isaiah 49:14-51:3

Re'eh
Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Isaiah 54:11-55:5

Shoftim
Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Isaiah 51:12-52:12

Ki Teitzei
Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Isaiah 54:1-54:10

Ki Tavo
Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
Isaiah 60:1-60:22

Nitzavim
Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
Isaiah 61:10-63:9

This haftarah is usually read on the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Vayeilekh
Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30
Isaiah 55:6-56:8: seek the Lord when God is near

Ha'azinu
Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52: Moses’ farwell song
II Samuel 22:1-22:51: David’s song

Vezot Haberakhah (read on Simchat Torah, when the year’s Torah readings are concluded, and the new year of readings begins)
Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12: death of Moses
Joshua 1:1-1:18: the beginning of Joshua’s leadership

The Judaism 101 site also gives the special Parshiyot and Haftarot for Jewish holidays:
http://www.jewfaq.org/readings.htm

The Judaism 101 author provides this information: “Each week in synagogue, we read (or, more accurately, chant, because it is sung) a passage from the Torah. This passage is referred to as a parshah. The first parshah, for example, is Parshat Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah. There are 54 parshahs, one for each week of a leap year, so that in the course of a year, we read the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) in our services. During non-leap years, there are 50 weeks, so some of the shorter portions are doubled up. We read the last portion of the Torah right before a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). On Simchat Torah, we read the last portion of the Torah, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.

“In the synagogue service, the weekly parshah is followed by a passage from the prophets, which is referred to as a haftarah. ... The word comes from the Hebrew root Fei-Teit-Reish and means 'Concluding Portion'. Usually, haftarah portion is no longer than one chapter, and has some relation to the Torah portion of the week.

“The Torah and haftarah readings are performed with great ceremony: the Torah is paraded around the room before it is brought to rest on the bimah (podium). The reading is divided up into portions, and various members of the congregation have the honor of reciting a blessing over a portion of the reading. This honor is referred to as an aliyah (literally, ascension)... ”

Working on this post, I discovered that there are yearly and triennial cycles of readings. A rabbi friend explained that the Masoretes (the 6th-10th century CE scholars who helped established the definitive text of the Hebrew Bible) set up the cycle of yearly readings, and other scholars of the Land of Israel established a three-year cycle. The Wikipedia site reads:

"The Triennial cycle of Torah reading may refer either a) to the historical practice in ancient Israel by which the entire Torah was read in serial fashion over a three-year period, or b) to the practice adopted by many Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal congregations starting in the 19th and 20th Century, in which the traditional weekly Torah portions were divided into thirds, and in which one third of each weekly 'parashah' of the annual system is read during the appropriate week of the calendar.

"There are 54 parashot in the annual cycle, and 141, 154, or 167 parashot in the triennial cycle as practiced in ancient Israel, as evidenced by scriptural references and fragments of recovered text. By the Middle Ages, the annual reading cycle was predominant, although the triennial cycle was still extant at the time, as noted by Jewish figures of the period, such as Benjamin of Tudela and Maimonides. Dating from Maimonides' codification of the parashot in his work Mishneh Torah in the 12th Century CE through the 19th Century, the majority of Jewish communities adhered to the annual cycle.

"In the 19th and 20th Centuries, many synagogues in the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal Jewish movements adopted a triennial system in order to shorten the weekly services and allow additional time for sermons, study, or discussion."

I wonder if we Christians might appreciate the Torah more if we not only delved into the passages themselves but also saw them in relation to Old Testament stories and teachings with which we may be more familiar. It has certainly improved and blessed my knowledge of the books of Scripture that Jews hold especially dear.