Friday, August 22, 2014

The Choice is Yours: Life or Death?

Today, I have been working on a very important section of the Torah. It is found in the final book, Devarim (Deuteronomy). It will provide the answer to the questions that Ezra and his fellow scribes worked very hard to answer as they recorded the words of the first scroll of the Torah. The questions are:

(1) Why did our United Kingdom divide into two separate and warring kingdoms – Israel & Judah?

(2) Why did foreign nations conquer Israel & Judah?

(3) What can we do to reunite and preserve the new kingdom?

The answers are found in the following words of the man who is viewed as the greatest priest and prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures – Moses. He was raised as the son of an Egyptian pharaoh and lived as a member of the royal family for forty-years, lived with the family of a Midianite priest for another forty-years, and was called by Yahweh to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity into their new homeland – a journey that took another forty-years. He is called Moshe Rabbenu in Hebrew (מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ, lit. "Moses our Teacher/Rabbi") -- the most important prophet in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. Moses is also an important prophet in Christianity, Islam, and a number of other faiths.[i] Pay close attention to his prophecy.

For this commandment which I command you today is not concealed from you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up for us into heaven and bring it to us, and make us hear it, that we may do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over for us unto the other side of the sea, and bring it to us, and make us hear it, that we may do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.[ii]

Moses, like the man in the Garden, is given a commandment by Yahweh. But unlike with the man, this commandment isn’t a mystery that isn’t understood – it is in the mouth and heart of Moses. You will see two abbreviations added to the text: (s) indicates the word is “singular” and (pl.) indicates it is “plural.”

See, I have set before you this day (the) life (pl. literally lives) and (the) TOV, and (the) death (s.) and (the) RA; I command you this day to love Yahweh your Creator,[iii] to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances, that you shall live and multiply; and Yahweh your Creator shall bless you in the land which you go in to possess it.[iv] 

The time has come for Yahweh to fulfill His promise to Abraham that his descendants would establish their kingdom in the land of Canaan.[v] After wandering in the desert for forty years they are about to settle in their new homeland. Remember Cain “the wanderer” and the events that followed when he settled in his new homeland. He married a foreign woman with other gods and his Enoch learned about them instead of Yahweh and passed that on to his descendants.  All descendants of Seth, except one, followed those same gods instead of Yahweh.

The Hebrew word translated “life” above is a plural, which should literally be translated “lives.” It reminds the ancient audience of the plural “bloods” used in the murder of Abel by Cain. “Bloods” indicated that Cain not only murdered Abel, but his descendants too because they would never be born. Here the Israelites would understand that their actions will also affect the lives of their future descendants, too. Therefore, they must choose one of two paths that will guide their lives and determine the future of their descendants:

(1) the path of life by doing acts of TOV
(2) the path of death by doing acts of RA

Just to makes sure everyone remembers, below are the definitions of TOV and RA in this context:

TOV (good) describes acts that protect life, preserve life, make life more functional, and/or increase the quality of life.

RA (evil) describes acts that destroy life, threaten life, make life less functional, and/or decrease the quality of life.

Yahweh’s commandments, statutes, and ordinances are instructions for how the Israelites can do TOV in their new homeland.

I command you this day to love Yahweh your Creator, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances.

This is written in the form of a parallelism and understanding how to work with parallelisms is the key to unlocking its ancient meaning. The first step is to identify the three parts of this parallelism:

I command you this day
to love Yahweh your Creator
(I command you this day)
to walk in His ways
(I command you this day)
to keep His commandments, statutes, and ordinances

The makes it easier to see the terms used in parallel to each other:


Now we let the ancient author define the meanings of the parallel terms by converting the first part of the parallelism into a question and finding its answer in the second part.

Question: What does “love” Yahweh mean?
Answer: It means walking in His ways.

Question: What does “walking in His ways” mean?
Answer: It means keeping His commandments, statutes, and ordinances.

Question: How does one Yahweh the Creator?
Answer: By keeping His commandments, statutes, and ordinances.

If the Israelites “love” Yahweh, they will be blessed, live and multiply in their new homeland. As you read the section below, notice the references to Moses with the singular “you” (s.), and the Israelites with the plural “you” (pl.).

But if your (s.) heart turns away, and you (s.) will not hear, and shall be drawn away, and bow down to other gods, and serve them; I declare unto you (pl.) this day, that you (pl.) shall surely perish; you (pl.) shall not prolong your (pl.) days upon the land, that you (pl.) cross over the Jordan to go in and possess it.[vi] 

What will the consequences be if the Israelites do not love Yahweh by keeping His commandments, statutes and ordinances?

They will perish and lose possession of their new homeland.

This is an obvious reminder of what happened to the man in the Garden and Cain – they were both driven from the lands in which they lived.

I call the Heaven and the Earth to witnesses against you this day, that I have set before you the life (pl.) and the death (s.), the blessing (s.) and the curse (s.); therefore choose life (pl.), that both you and your descendants may live; to love Yahweh your Creator, to hear (obey) His voice, and to cleave to Him, for He is your life (pl.) and the length of your days; that you may dwell in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers -- to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob -- to give them.[vii]

Notice that Yahweh calls “the Heaven and the Earth,” not “the Earth and the Heaven,” as the witnesses, a reminder of the first account of the ancient wisdom, not the second. They are the two witnesses that were created at the beginning and will endure forever. They are witnesses to Yahweh’s declaration:

Choose life by doing acts of TOV,
have long lives and dwell in the land He has given you.


Choose death by doing acts of RA,
have short lives and be driven from the land He has given you.

Notice the phrase “and cleave to Him.” It recalls phrase in the second account when the woman was created – and shall cleave to her. The question raised by its appearance here is – Will Israel cleave to Yahweh and not be like the man?

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[ii] Deuteronomy 30:11-14
[iii] We translated the Hebrew word ELOHIYM “Creator” instead of the traditional translation “God.”
[iv] Deuteronomy 30:15-16
[v] Genesis 15:18-21
[vi] Deuteronomy 30:17-18
[vii] Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Love Your Neighbor: Only Israelites or Everyone?

It’s one of the most famous lines in the Bible:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18).

Impressive. Fascinating. Inspiring. Capable of a thousand interpretations and raising 10,000 questions. A remarkable proposition coming out of ancient Judah, which was embedded in the Near Eastern world of wars, slavery, class and ethnic divisions and discriminations of all kinds.

One interpretation of this verse that has been making the rounds for years turns this grand idea on its head: The claim is that the verse means to love only one’s fellow Israelites as oneself. Instead of being inclusive, it’s actually exclusive. Is there anything to this claim?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Last Generation Before the Great Flood

I was working on a project today that included a section from Genesis 6. I thought you might find it an interesting Bible study. In order to understand it in its context you must know the following definitions:

(1) TOV -- The Creator created TOV (good) by doing acts that were beautiful and pleasant to His eyes because they protected life, preserved life, made life more functional, and/or increased the quality of life.

(2) RA -- Man created RA (evil) by doing acts that were not beautiful and pleasant to the Creator’s eyes because they destroyed life, threatened life, made life less functional, and/or decreased the quality of life.

(3) SHALOMtotality, completeness, and wholeness.

Now let’s look at the text from Genesis 6:

Yahweh saw how great the RA (evil) of mankind had become on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of the heart of mankind was only RA (evil) all of the day. Yahweh regretted that he had made mankind on the earth. He was grieved and or outraged to His heart. Yahweh said, “I will wipe mankind whom I have created from the face of the earth — from man to beast , to creeping thing, and to the winged creatures of the skies — for I regret that I have made them.”[i]

As the descendants of Seth’s line intermarried with the other groups, his descendants became like them – except for Noah. Acts of RA (evil) increased until they reached the point that Yahweh regretted making mankind. Pay close attention to how the text describes Yahweh – He was grieved and outraged. The legends of Cain and Lamech led to an entire generation who valued doing evil, violence and death more than they valued doing TOV, SHALOM and life. Yahweh was ready to destroy them all until He saw one man -- Noah.

But Noah found favor in the eyes of Yahweh.[ii]

Look at the world in which Noah lived.

Now the earth was corrupt in the Creator’s sight and was full of HAMAS. The Creator saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. The Creator said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with HAMAS because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.[iii]

HAMAS is defined as violence, wrong, and being a false witness. It is used to describe “knocking off” part of a plant and “stripping its fruit.”[iv] This sounds a lot like the world we live in today, doesn’t it?

What is the solution to changing a world like that? It is found in the words Yahweh spoke to Cain before he killed his brother Abel:

(Yahweh said) “Surely, if you do TOV, you shall be upstanding, if you do not do TOV, sin will be a like a crouching animal at your door; its desire shall be for you, but you will be able to master it.”[v]

The story of Cain and Abel emphatically established a foundational moral principle:

Man is indeed his brother’s keeper and every homicide is at the same time fratricide –an act of killing one’s brother.

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[i] Genesis 6:5-7
[ii] Genesis 6:8
[iii] Genesis 6:11-13
[iv] A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by William L. Holladay; p. 109a.
[v] Genesis 4:6-7

Friday, August 8, 2014

Meanings of “true” & “fact”

True” comes from the same etymological root as “trust” and “trustworthy,” and all these from the Indo-European root “deru” for “tree,” suggesting uprightness and reliability generally.

Aristotle articulated this conception when he said that -- to speak the truth is to say of what is that it is, and to say of what is not that it is not.

The word “fact” is derived from the Latin “factum,” which is the neuter past participle of the verb “facere,” meaning “to do” or “to make.”

Hence, to mix three languages, one can say that the factum is the thing done, or the fait accompli. The word “fact” in English has come to mean (fairly recently, by the way) that in virtue of which true statements are true. When it comes to specifying their essence, facts can only be stated and not named.

Source: TheConstruction of Social Reality by John R. Searle

Question about Noah’s Wife

[Question: In light of the Noah movie that just came out, a couple of questions has been asked me that I don't have a satisfactory answer for.  In earlier studies, it was suggested that Tulbal-cain's sister, Na'amah was Noah's wife.  I find that their father was La'mech and their Mother was Zil'lah. Noah's father was also La'mech.  Gen. 6:4-29.  Do you think that it was the same La'mech and that Noah married his 1/2 sister?  I can't scripturally tie Noah and Na'amah together as husband and wife. I would appreciate your opinion.]

The Noah movie has focused a lot of interest on the biblical account & caused some good questions to be raised. Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor & I were just discussing the Noah account yesterday. 

A key factor in dealing with ancient writings is to remember that less than 10% of the population was literate and very few of those who were literate could afford to own a scroll. Scrolls were found in temples, where they were read and discussed by scribes who were the most educated class of society. Scribes wrote for scribes, not the public.

Scribes used a number of linguistic devices to highlight points they wanted to make. For example, if you're reading any section of the Hebrew Bible and notice a word that comes up a lot, count the number of times. The sevenfold or the tenfold repetition of a word is called a “leitwort” -- a recurring word that becomes thematic. By paying close attention to these words we find a meaning of the text revealed or clarified or made more emphatic. This is probably the strongest of all techniques for making a meaning available without articulating it explicitly.

In the genealogies of Adam’s surviving sons – Cain & Seth – there are two men named “Enoch” and two named “Lamech.” The only thing Cain’s Enoch is credited with is being a link in a chain between the first murderer Cain and the second murderer Lamech. Seth’s Enoch is credited with being the first man to “walk with God” and the second man to “walk with God.” Cain’s descendants were men who valued RA (evil) and Seth’s descendants were men who valued TOV (good).

Embedded in the contextual environment that began in the Garden in Eden and ended with the Great Flood is the account of “Fallen Ones.” The message of this account was destroyed by translators that translated the Hebrew word NEPhILIM as “giants” instead of “fallen ones.” This is a key component of the account that revealed the primary thing that led to the state of affairs that resulted in Yahweh destroying all of the rest of humanity and save Noah.

The account of the NEPhILIM is about three tribes – Cain’s descendants, Cain’s wife’s descendants and Seth’s descendants.  The act that began the process that would lead to the end of the final generation that would drown in the Flood was the intermarriage of the males of Seth’s tribe with the females of the other two tribes who were very good looking. (This is a repeat of the lesson in the Garden where Eve saw how the forbidden fruit was a delight to her eyes.) From this point until the end, HAMAS increases (Hebrew word HAMAS means “causeless violence and outrage” [obviously applies to a current situation too]).

When the account gets to the last generation the focus is on two members of the tribes of Cain and Seth – Naamah & Noah. The message is that Noah didn’t intermarry with the other tribe. His eyes were focused on Yahweh and His commandments and he walked with Yahweh.

Another key point that was made in the Garden story -- which has been lost because of mistranslations and religious traditions – is that when Adam ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of TOV (good) and RA (evil), according to Yahweh, Adam became like it and would produce fruit like that tree. He did – Seth (TOV) & Cain (RA).

In declaring the punishment of Eve, Yahweh said that her offspring would crush the head of the serpent’s offspring, another play on the theme of the serpent’s offspring being (RA) and her offspring (TOV). Noah did it.

Noah’s wife is mentioned five times in the flood story (Gen. 6:18, 7:7, 7:13, 8:16, 8:18), but her name is never revealed.

Some of the rabbis used the midrash to link Naamah to being the wife of Noah through to solve a “structural flaw in Genesis” as well as a “theological problem” – see .

Jeffrey and I used our linguistic method to draw the conclusions above. Well, these are the thoughts off the top of my head. Hope they help.