Thanks to everyone for pitching in on the discussion of Ong and Frankfort! And special thanks to those who described them as challenging. If you’re like Ed or me, you’ll be surprised when you return to Frankfort to find that it’s not only much more understandable but actually brilliant stuff. It’s still the classic discussion of mythopoeic thought after 70 years, so he must have been doing something right.
I realize I forgot to mention my favorite MITism: What kind of unit measure is a milli-Helen? (answer below)
I also realized that I’ve failed to point out that when we ask the question “What is evil?” we have already committed a retrojection. That statement of the question assumes that evil is a category which of course we find natural as a result of our familiarity with the cosmic dualism which is fundamental to Christianity and therefore western civilization. But, as we saw, ancient man did not use such categories: he wouldn’t understand the question. His version would have been: “What causes things to be angry with me?”
Some suggestions for taking advantage of the extra week: read the Book of Job in the JSB; read these excerpts from Ehrman’s Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet (part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4); read Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God. The book on Q which I mentioned is Q, The Earliest Gospel by John Kloppenborg (on Amazon).
[Answer: enough beauty to launch a single ship]
Our first two weeks were oriented around an introduction to Modern Bible Scholarship. I know it was a whirlwind but that’s more or less the nature of the beast. Thanks for keeping up! We won’t return to our discussion of the Gospel of Mark; if you’d like to know which points I would have raised, just flip through the slides we didn’t get to.
We now turn to the narrative of the course. To be certain that everyone understands the outline of that narrative, we’ll look at the Ideas (Basic) Timeline. Please be sure to read the text which appears below the timeline as you move your cursor over each of the horizontal bars. (If you’re not using Chrome as your browser, do yourself a favor and install it now!)
We then turn to Ong and Frankfort, which I consider challenging indeed! Rather than continue with the presentation/discussion style we’ve had during the first two weeks, I’d like to try an alternative — which will work only with your full participation. You, the study group members, will set the agenda for the discussion at the outset. I’ll ask for suggestions for issues and topics to be discussed and we’ll formulate a list. Then we’ll discuss the items on the list.
If you possibly can, please read Book One of the Iliad so we can refer to it during our discussion. I can anticipate that we won’t have time to make it the focus of our discussion until our fourth week but it’s assigned because it provides more accessible examples for the assertions of Frankfort which he illustrates with less familiar Babylonian and Egyptian examples.
To those who could have heard better if I’d used the microphone, I apologize — if I forget in the future, please interrupt to remind me.
I must admit to some discouragement that apparently a number of you read only the first chapter of Mark because the link pointed to it and one needed to advance to the next chapter using the navigation of that website. You’ll be rewarded if you read the entire gospel in a single sitting as recommended.
I hope our review of the Geller essay persuaded you that it was worthwhile reading even if (!) it was stuffed to the gills with information which required some pondering to absorb.
I’ve heard from one member who described our discussion as “arid.” I’m not sure what was meant but if this is the impression of others, I certainly want to address it. Please, comment on this post to let the group know how you think the class meetings could be improved (and to respond to any earlier comments). Of course, you can also comment to make observations about the reading, subjects covered in class discussion, or simply to ask a question. I hope this can be a very interactive study group between meetings, so please go to it! [To comment, click on the title to the post and scroll down on the resulting page. Hey, you know that already!]
The class slides are here.
We still have some material to cover from last week: Geller’s terrific essay on “The Religion of the Bible.” We won’t dally but he has so many observations which correct common misconceptions that it would be foolish to forgo the learning.
In a similar vein, I want to explain the Six Retroactions, each of which will prevent you from understanding early Judaism.
Then we’re on the the New Testament. I hope you’ve already read the Gospel of Mark straight through as you would any narrative. If not, do that asking yourself what the author wants you to think of his protagonist. If so, read chapters 1 to 10 slowly looking for those ideas that need explanation; read the annotations if your edition of the NRSV has good ones. (Recall that I recommend The Jewish Annotated New Testament from Oxford.) We’ll save the passion narrative for later.
Finally, we’ll review carefully the Basic Ideas Timeline because it outlines the narrative of our course.
Thanks to all the study group members who made our first meeting so lively and, I think, very successful. I imagine that you can now appreciate that we have a lot to cover each week and that we need to keep on track — which is the reason I put in the time to create the slides. This means, in particular, that SGMs will be expected at all times to respond to the question on the table.
In reviewing our discussion, I realize that I failed to follow up on an important point. The group was unanimous in considering the death of 100,000 people from a tsunami NOT to be an example of evil because it was in a natural disaster. I failed to point out what we’ll consider in detail in Week 3: ancient man had no concept of natural disaster because everything that occurred was to him willed by somebody or something. So, at least when considering our ancient texts, we have to eliminate that category entirely.
Each week I’ll post the slides used in class. Today’s slides are at this link. One navigates through them according to the arrows in the lower right by using the arrow keys. You’ll discover that you can go horizontally and also vertically (in some cases). The vertical slides extend the discussion of the initial slide. Try it out and you’ll get the hang of it. Of course, we didn’t get to the Geller essay today and will take it up first thing next week; if you want to see the slides for it, they’re part of this deck.
You may enjoy looking at the video I spoke about intended to explain to prospective study group members our focus on original meaning in the bible. It’s at this link.
As always, I encourage you to comment on this post (click on the headline and scroll down) if there’s anything you wish you’d said in class or if you have a question that wasn’t answered. And, of course, feel free to reply to one another’s comments.
Every Thursday before our Monday class I’ll be posting a preview. I’ll also post a wrap-up on Monday evening after each class. This will give you two (count ’em, two) chances to comment on the material for each class.
I want to thank those who’ve said nice things about the course and encourage those who’ve discovered that the course requires more effort than the typical HILR course. If you’re willing to say something potentially useful about the experience of preparing for our first meeting, please add a comment to this post. (Click on the headline of this post and scroll to the bottom of the resulting page.) One reason the tail end of the syllabus is not yet final is to allow for adjustments which take into account your early experiences. So, the more feedback, the better.
We’ll address the topics in the first assignment in the order presented. The answers to the questions posed will come from study group members so be prepared to contribute.
You’ll find that the major issue for the historical period we cover is that of evil, which I define as the bad things that happen. We’ll see the absolute importance of an emotionally satisfying explanation for the occurrence of such things. So we’ll spend more time than you might expect on Hayes’s description of evil in Genesis 1-3 and, I hope, go far beyond it.
Our very ambitious goal for the first week is to expose the group to the major conclusions of modern bible scholarship on the Hebrew Bible. For this, the essay on “The Religion of the Bible” is key so please give it due attention.
I’m looking forward to meeting all of you on Monday!
(Addendum Friday, 1pm) There are several references in “The Religion of the Bible” which you might be curious enough about to want to follow up on:
- the name of God — Deuteronomy 12:11
- the scapegoat — Leviticus 18
- the binding of Isaac — Genesis 22:1-19
- the Davidic covenant — 2 Samuel 7:1-16
- Saul’s use of necromancy — 1 Samuel 28
- 2nd Isaiah’s monotheistic declaration — Isaiah 45:5-6
I hope you’ll take a look around. If you can manage it, I recommend you immediately do a first reading of the main item for Week 3, Frankfort, et. al., Before Philosophy, chapter 1. The prose is a little dated but the argument is quite accessible; it took me an hour and a half recently to read it. The other item which would repay immediate reading is the Gospel of Mark; it’s short so it won’t burden you if you just read it as you would any other narrative. (Then, of course, read them a second time in preparation for class!)
We’re using this WordPress blog as a course website so that you can interact with me and one another frequently outside of class. In order to make that second-nature, please try to create a comment to this post (a “post” is a headline and some text which are added to the blog as a unit). “Hello everybody” will do but you can probably say something of interest to others about the course. The home page is just a list of posts in reverse chronological order. In order to deal with a single post, click on its headline and you will be brought to a page displaying only that post and all its comments. At the bottom, you can add your own new comment! Until I figure out how to disable it, your comment must be approved by me before it will appear (sorry you have to wait!).