20 Oct 2013

The Structure of the Bible 4: The Covenant with Abraham

In Genesis12 and following Abraham lives in Ur of the Chaldees, a place known for moon worshippers.  He is approached by El Shaddai to create a new covenant.

  • The epiphany of God as El Shaddai (Gen 17), meaning 'The Nourisher, Benefactor”, the succourer as a mother to a baby. This is not a menacing God but one who will support and give life and meaning.
  • El Shaddai establishes a new covenant with Abraham and his descendence, making good the promise that Israel will be the promised people (Gen 17). Circumcision is to be the outward sign of the covenant. Abraham is the first in the line of prophets (Gen 20/7).
  • The promise made is redemption through the seed of Abraham.
  • However the prople of Israel apostasise and lose faith in the one God (Josh 24).
  • The curse is the destuction of Sodom & Gomorra (Gen 19).
  • Promise of the land of Canaan

9 Oct 2013

The Structure of the Bible 3: The Covenant with Noah

The background to the flood episode in Genesis 6-11 is the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, written in the Akkadian language of Babylonia and Assyria, particularly Tablet 11, kept in the British Museum.
These findings are in keeping with the writing down of the Bible story while the Israelites were still in exile in Babylonia. The Babylonian epic is assumed and transformed into the Israelite myth through the theology of the covenant and God's special relationship with his people. The narrative follows the covenant structure adding another layer to the interpretation of Israel's history in the light of the covenant.

  • Epiphany: God now appears as Creator and also Judge.
  • The promise of a new covenant is offered where their will be no more universal destruction, the reversal of creation.
  • However, the Israelites default on their part of the covenant and build religious shrines, ziggurats, copying their Mesopotamian neighbours. Their is also the case of Sodom & Gomorra.
  • The curse is a confusion of languages and the dispersion of the 12 tribes, something witnessed by the Israelites in their divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions.
  • The story immediately follows up with that of Abraham, the promise that Israel will be the chosen people. (Gen 12)

4 Oct 2013

The Structure of the Bible 2: The Adamic Covenant

During their exile in Babylonia the Israelites began to put together the book about their beliefs. They started the Bible with a story about the beginnings of their relationship with God. However, they found that they were faced with two competing narratives:
  • one from the Northern kingdom, Israel, which had succumbed to the Assyrians in 734 BC and in turn had been absorbed by the Babylonians
  • another from the Southern Kingdom, Judah, which was taken over by the Babylonians in 587 BC
The peoples of both kingdoms had been reunited in their babylonian exile but they had two differing versions about the beginning of their relationship with their God.

The northern kingdom (Israel) proposed the poetic first narrative (Gen 1 – 2/3) called P, for priestly because it was probably the work of priests.

The southern kingdom already had a J versión (Gen 2/4-25), so-called because they gave the name YHWH, the modern-day Jehovah, to their God. This is a less poetic and indeed older versión probably written before the babylonian exile. It was modeled on an existing Arkaddian narrative: The Epic of Gilgamesh.
The editors of the book decided to include both versions about the first covenant God made with his people since the salient fact was not the truth of the narratives but the affirmation of the belief that God had established a relationship with Israel. Thus they knew who they were: the people of God.

The narrative structure of the Adamic Covenant follows a similar scheme to the other covenants found in the Bible:

  • An Epiphany: God appears as the creator of the relationship (the Covenant maker).
  • The Covenant: the relationship with Yahweh gives creation meaning.
  • Rejection: sin is the breaking of the covenant, the rejection of the relationship offered by God (in this case the disobedience of Adam & Eve, the sins of Cain, Lamech(polygamy) and Seth.)
  • The Curse : Expulsion from Eden, work & death. The flood, a de-creation, chaos and meaninglessness.
  • The Promise: of covenant renewal, redemption. The seed of the woman will destroy the serpent. (Good will conquer evil.)

28 Sept 2013

The Structure of the Bible 1: The Background

The year 587 BC was a turning point for the peoples who wrote the bible. The Babylonia Empire invaded their land and Jerusalem fell. Worse, they were taken as captives to Babylonia and treated as slaves.

Until this point the 12 tribes of Israel had had a powerful sense of identity thanks to their oral and written traditions in which they had seen themselves as God’s people. Now, however, they had all ended up as slaves, not as the chosen race. It is easy to imagine that dismay and disbelief set in through this fall from grace. In order to retain their own identity in the midst of slavery they had to reaffirm it. The exiles did this by setting down their beliefs in a book: the Bible.

The core belief of the Israelites was that they had a special relationship with God. It is this link which structures the book they wrote to preserve their identity. The main theme of the book then, became the covenants, or testaments, between themselves and their God. This is what we know as the Old Testament and its purpose was to revise their own history and reaffirm Israel as the people of God.

The first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, were probably written down during the Babylonian exile; others were added after Cyrus, the Persian, released the Israelites from their Babylonian exile in 538 BC.

Recognising this covenantal structure of the Bible allows us to divide the whole book into seven different Covenants: The Adamic covenant; Noah’s covenant; the covenant with Abraham; the covenant with Moses; David’s covenant; the Restoration covenant and finally, in the New Testament, that of Christ.