Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tree Gallows

Haman, undone by Mordecai's refusal to pay him homage, follows the counsel of his friends and wife to build gallows for the Jew. The word in Hebrew for gallows is "tree"; Haman builds a tree to hang Mordecai on. Of course the story reverses the plot, exalting Mordecai to Haman's position and Haman gets hung on the tree he built for Mordecai.

Christ was crucified on a tree according to Peter, and for all we know, it may have even resembled the sort of gallows Haman had built. And all of this is part of the rich symbolic menagerie that surrounds our celebration of Christmas. A tree in one's living room conjures all of the biblical lore, millenia of providence and faith. From the garden trees in Eden to the trees that were built into arks and temples, from the gallows of Haman to the staff of Moses and the rods of Aaron and Jesse, we invoke the same Spirit into our homes as we celebrate the birth of the King of all the earth. The same Spirit that parted the roaring waves of a sea with a length of ordinary wood in the hand of a man, engrafts us into the tree that is Christ. And we form the tree of life that is for the healing of the nations, whose leaves do not whither, that produces its fruit in season.

So deck the halls with bows of holly; string a million lights around that gallow-tree and put a star on top to guide the wisemen from the east. Christ is born in Bethlehem; Christ is born to die. Christ is our ark, our rod, our gallows. Christ is Mordecai on Haman's tree.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Another connection to the 'qadesh' of the previous post is in 1 Samuel 2 where the sons of Eli are laying with the women who come to the tabernacle to (presumably) worship. The sons of Eli are called 'sons of Belial' which is exactly what the men of Gibeah are called in Judges 19. 'Scoundrels' is probably a good translation but there seems to be a fairly recurrent theme of sexual perversion and in this case some sort of ritual prostitution.


Visitors in an Evil City

There are a number of archtypal narrative "sets" throughout Scripture. The woman at the well and a man looking for a bride and the pharaoh/exodus motif are probably some of the most prominent. Perhaps Judges 19 and Genesis 19 are pieces of another narrative set which culminates in the birth of Christ. Both of these stories have foreigners visiting an evil city. They are taken in to be protected from the wickedness of the city. Sodomites come out demanding that they be given the guests for sport. Substitutes are offered, daughters or beloved concubines, and in the end someone close to the family dies and judgment falls on the city.

In the birth of Christ, Mary and Joseph are of course the travelers, ending up in Bethlehem as a result of a census. While there is no room in the inn, there is wickedness in the city in the person of Herod who is willing to go to great lengths to secure his reign, even butchering a number of baby boys. Men do hear about the visitors and seek them out, but they are not sodomites, they're gentile wisemen and shepherds. And they bring gifts and worship the baby. The baby boys of Bethlehem are the substitutes; they are Israel, the beloved daughter and concubine of God. The Christ child is spared only to rise up and bring judgment on Israel for her wickedness, eventually destroying the wicked city which has become even more depraved than Sodom and Gomorrah.

Just as a side note: while the word does not show up in either Judges 19 or Genesis 19, the Hebrew word for "sodomite" is 'qadesh' which literally means 'holy one'. Sodomy was ritually practiced in many ancient religions; thus to visit a harlot ('qadeshah') or a male temple prostitute ('qadesh') was not only a sexual perversion it was also an idolotrous act, an act of false worship. Which is an interesting back drop to the fact that Herod, hearing about the birth of King Jesus, tells the wisemen to tell him where the baby is so that he can go worship him also. This Herod while perhaps not a literal sodomite, wants to offer a pagan kind of worship; he wants to "un-man" the Son of Man.


A City Without Walls

Zechariah 2 is a glorious advent reading, promising the coming of Yahweh to His people. It's hard to miss the international flavor of the prophecy. It's not merely that Yahweh is returning to renew His people, but the renewal is going to turn Israel inside out. Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls because it will be bursting at the seems with people and animals. Many nations will be joined to Yahweh in that day. And He will dwell in their midst, and that's how you'll know that Yahweh of Armies sent Zecheriah to Israel. This new Jerusalem has burst wide open spilling out into every nation, making the ends of the earth the plunder of our King and spoil for his servants.


Friday, December 09, 2005

John Calvin

Marilynne Robinson points out in her introduction to The Death of Adam that John Calvin is regularly condemned, harangued and set forth as 'religion gone wrong' in many a university classrom, and yet it is simultaneously the unwritten assumption that it is highly suspect to actually read his writing. He is often labeled as tyrannical, seeking to build some narrow minded theocratic empire in Geneva. He is accused of sectarianism and has been made the poster boy of Salem-Witch-Trial-Puritanism, burning the heretic Servetus at the stake an all that. But Robinson makes several helpful points particularly on the bit about Servetus: "One man is one man too many, of course, but the standards of the time, and considering Calvin's embattled situation, the fact that he has only Servetus to answer for is evidence of astonishing restraint... Geneva in the time of Calvin had in fact reformed its laws so that religious infractions could not receive a penalty harsher than banishment. Servetus came there perhaps for this reason, having escaped imprisonment by the Inquisition in Vienna... Then the Genevans brok their own law by trying and burning him. Disheartening as that fact is, it nevertheless indicates that Calvinist Geneva was eschewing a practice which was, and for centuries had been, commonplace all over Europe--as Geneva was well aware since their coreligionists elsewhere were chief among those being burned."



I need to read more of Stanely Hauerwas, but he commonly refers to himself as a "pacifist". At least one sermon of his indicates that he would apply this even as far as the repudiation of self-defence or defence of a loved one. Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount and other passages which deny the supremacy of the family (e.g. the necessity of hating one's father, mother, etc. in order to inherit the Kingdom) Hauerwas takes (it appears) in an absolute, unilateral sense, apparently insisting that Christ's words override the Old Testament allowence of self defence (Ex. 22:2). However I don't know what he would say about capital punishment, just war theory, etc.

Jim Jordan points out in "Pacifism and the Old Testament" (Occasional Paper 6) that a just war is merely an extension of the doctrine of Hell. He says, "The Christian doctrine of war is surely an offense, but is only an extension of the doctrine of eternal judgment, which is also an offense... Christ is the Prince of Peace, true enough; but not for all men, only for His own sheep." Of course this doesn't really answer Hauerwas directly, but perhaps it's a start.