Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Supreme Court and Conservative Support for McCain

Another thought on Heller: The decision was based on a 5-4 vote. A switch of one vote, and the decision would have been the opposite of the one handed down. The decision is the poster child for why political conservatives should enthusiastically support John McCain for president.

Supreme Court's Second Amendment Opinion

DC v. Heller is a pretty big case. I have time only for a couple of comments before going to a talk:

[1] The Court imposed some form of heighted scrutiny (presumably, quasi-strict scrutiny or higher). I half anticipated that the Court would declare that the right existed, but would impose only a minimal standard of review (the rationality standard).

[2] Scalia's opinion for the Court speaks about the amendment protecting only weapons in "common use at the time." I haven't had time to read that entire section -- he doesn't mean flintlocks, since the Court struck down the D.C.'s hand-gun ban.

[3] The second-amendment revival actually got started again in the mid-80s as a few liberal law professors began publishing articles that argued that the second amendment was an individual right. I think that gave the cover of respectability to the position that ultimately led to this decision.

I might post more later.

You can read the Court's opinion (along with the dissenting opinions) here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Was Samuel Really a Nazirite?

Hannah vows that "a razor shall never come on [Samuel's] head" (1 Sam 1.11). Commentators typically take that to mean that, like Samson, Samuel would be a Nazirite from birth.

But I'm not so sure about that.

First, the only thing that the text says about Samuel is that a razor will never come on his head. But a Nazirite had two additional requirements -- abstinence from wine, beer, grape juice, grapes and raisins (Nm 6.4) and no immediate proximity to dead people (Nm 6.6ff).

Neither of these additional requirements are mentioned with respect to Samuel. Further, in Samson's case, God directly told Samson's mother that Samson would be a Nazirite from birth (Judges 13.4-5). Only the hair is mentioned in Samuel's case.

So there were three requirements for a Nazirite: no cutting of the hair, no grape or grape by-product, no proximity to dead people. Only the first is mentioned with respect to Samuel.

The second and third requirements seem obvious: priests were not allowed to have alcohol on their breath in God's presence (Lev 10.9) and they were not allowed to defile themselves on account of a dead person (Lev 21.1, 11) (although non-priests were also excluded from God's assembly if they came in contact with a dead person, Nm 19).

But what about the hair? And why is it offered to God? Perhaps it, too, is a priestly thing. After all, it seems possible that the high priest's turban (Lev 8.9) is supposed to suggest the flowing white hair of the ascended Jesus (Dan 7.9, Rev 1.14).

But that, also, doesn't seem quite right. The text in Numbers 6 dealing with Nazirites doesn't merely mention hair, it specifically mentions not cutting hair -- specifically, that "no razor" will come on the Nazirite's head. And the general rule seems to be that long hair dishonors a man (1 Co 11.14). (Although, interestingly, women, too, could become Nazirites, Nm 6.2, which would entail a woman dishonoring her head, 1 Co 11.15, at least temporarily, by cutting her hair at the completion of the vow.)

I wonder whether we can take a different approach, focusing on the razor rather than on the hair.

Specifically, I wonder whether whether we can think of the un-cut head of hair as somehow reflecting God's sabbath rest, or something like that.

First, God prohibited Israelites from shaving the corners of their head or beards (Lev 19.27). But God also prohibited reaping (or "shaving") the corners of the fields (Lev 19.9, 23.22). Perhaps also pertinent is that Israelites were to have untrimmed corners to their clothes (Nm 15.38, Dt 22.12).

In Sabbath years, however, fields were to be entirely uncut. The poor were allowed to gather whatever grew (Ex 23.10-11). So the whole field was to be a gleaning for the poor.

So I wonder: Ordinarily, the corners of the hair were to be left uncut. But, for a Nazirite, the whole head was to be left uncut. Perhaps like the fields. Ordinarily, only the corners of the fields were to be left uncut for gleanings. But during Sabbath years, the whole field was to be left uncut and available for gleaning.

So the person with uncut hair represented the person at God's entire disposal -- just like the uncut field did not serve its human owner's purposes, but was entirely at the disposal of others. While this set of individuals includes Nazirites, it would not be limited to Nazirites.

Finally, I wonder whether Ex 20.25 fits in here as well, "If you make an altar of stone for me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for it you wield your tool on it, you will profane it." Christians are "living stones" in God's temple (1 Peter 2.5). I wonder if the OT person with uncut hair illustrated the unprofaned, living stone, who qualifies to be built into God's true temple.

A lot of speculation, to be sure. I do rather doubt that Samuel was, in fact, a Nazirite. The rest of the stuff about hair, well, I'm just musing out loud.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jesus as Israel, and the Subjective Genitive in 1 Peter 1.2

In relevant part, 1 Peter 1.1-2 reads, "To those . . . who are chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood."

While rejecting the option because she hears an OT echo (from the sprinkling of blood and vow of obedience in Ex 24.6-8 - more on that below), in an endnote in her recent commentary on 1 Peter, Karen Jobes notes that some commentators have translated the last clause, "that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood," as a subjective genitive.

If construed that way, the last clause would basically read something like this (and please keep in mind that I'm completely spit-balling it here): "on account of the obedience of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of blood."

So the whole passage would read something like this:

To those . . . who are chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, on account of the obedience of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of his blood."

One reason I like this is that it maintains what appears to be a developing trinitarian parallel, focusing, in turn, on the action of the Father, Spirit, and then the Son.

We are chosen:

[1] by the foreknowledge of God the Father,
[2] by the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
[3] by the obedience and sprinkled blood of Jesus Christ.

Turning [3] into "our obedience" leaves the trinitarian development incomplete, by turning from the work of the Father and the Spirit, then inserting human obedience.

Most translations have Peter talking about human obedience and the sprinkled blood of Christ. But Karen Jobes points out that that doesn't really work, linguistically. The "obedience" and the "sprinkled blood" have the same referents. So we can't really shift from "human obedience" to "Jesus' blood" in translating the last clause.

Karen Jobes makes the two parts of the clause consistent by having the "obedience" and the "sprinkled blood" both refer to what has happened to us as humans in Jesus Christ -- that is, we are chosen by the Father and sanctified by the Spirit in order to obey and to be sprinkled with Jesus' blood.

As I mentioned above, her reason for preferring this is that she thinks Peter is alluding to the covenant ceremony in Ex 24.6-8, where "obedience" and "sprinkled blood" is also mentioned.

I don't disagree. But instead of having us humans standing in and replicating a covenant that humans have proven we cannot keep (Acts 15.10), I would have Jesus standing there as the true Israel (Mt 2.15), fulfilling the vow of obedience for us, but also the one whose blood is sprinkled.

The big point is that I don't see that we have the option of merely replicating the covenant ceremony in Exodus. Israel failed once to perform the words of the covenant, and humanity will fail again if all that happens is that different people stand in for Israel and enter the covenant in the same way.

But what we must fail to do, Jesus, the new humanity, succeeds in doing. So humanity's action is Jesus' action. Then we, the old humanity, become new, by being united with Jesus, the new Adam, in baptism. So the obedience and the sprinkled blood are Jesus'. These then are given to us through Christ in baptism.

Reading 1 Peter 1.2 that way (assuming it works linguistically), preserves what I take to be the trinitarian development in the verse -- and on Jesus' obedient life -- as well as the OT allusion.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rival seeds in 1 Samuel

I wonder whether there's a double pattern going on in 1 Samuel.

On the one hand, we have Samuel, the child of promise. He comes at a time when Israel is in eclipse; he comes to a (heretofore) barren mother, just as the patriarchs came (as well as Samson, and Jesus, after a fashion, as well). God's action, not man's, will bring his salvation. And things turn around, temporarily at least, as a result of Samuel's work.

But, ultimately, the natural children inherit office from the father, and decline begins again: Eli's sons, Samuel's sons, and David's sons (ultimately).

We learn that the kingdom cannot sustain itself without God's continuing intervention. We need a messiah to solve Adam's problem, but every naturally-generated messiah labors under Adam's problem, and so cannot ultimately rescue us.

So 1 Samuel teaches us to hope in God's promised messiah, but also teaches us that a worldly succession from father to son will not save us.

The only apparent solution to 1 Samuel's problem is a seemingly absurd one: We need someone who will not die (so we are not left to the failings of his earthly successors), and who also is immune to sin (so that he himself does not fail over time as well). How will God provide us with that sort of messiah?

So 1 Samuel teaches us to hope, yet also to look anxiously to God to solve the predicament of natural succession that 1 Samuel also identifies.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Indiana Jones (No Spoilers)

The whole of this movie is less than the sum of its parts. I of course don't hold movies of this sort to exacting standards, but even by the loosest of summer-action film standards, the storyline of
"Chrystal Skull" suffers from borderline incoherence. I'll occasionally watch the other "Indiana Jones" films. I have zero desire to watch any part of this movie again. For all the non-stop action in this movie, it was a real bore.