Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming to Terms with the Tetragrammaton

But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they as me, 'What is his name?" what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, "I am who I am" He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you'"
Exodus 3:13-14, NRSV

It has been quite the adventure reading my way through the Old Testament (OT) and reading the book of Exodus has changed that. Simultaneously reading Fretheim and R. Alan Cole has added quite a bit to that adventure in terms of presuppositions they both bring to the table, but more often than not when Freithem and Cole disagree I usually end up siding with Fretheim. Quite a while ago, I passed God's self-disclosure to Moses in the bush and in my other readings I had come to the discussion quite early on also, regarding God's revelation to Moses, chiefly concerning the naming of God.

What is in a name?
Moses asks the question, "Who should I say said these things?" Without going into much detail, this question seems to show that either the ancient people will be familiar with the name that God will give him or that they will eventually become familiar with this name.

As Fretheim notes, "The most common translation is given in the NRSV, 'I am who I am.' Other translations include: 'I will be what (who) I will be'; 'I will cause to be what I will cause to be'; 'I will be who I am / I am who I will be.'" (p. 63). Fretheim prefers the last of all of these saying, "The force is not simply that God is or that God is present but that God will be faithfully God for them." The argues that Israel will know God by his actions and presently with the liberation of the people from Egypt.

What can also be drawn from this divine name is that is not the all-inclusive name of God. Names in general do not give the totality of anything or anyone and so is the divine name of God. God is known or can also be known outside of this name, specifically in his actions (if we follow Fretheim's argumentation). Furthermore, as Fretheim argues, the act of giving a name makes God apart of a particular historic community. As part of this community in which this name will always be the name of the God who participates therein, this distinctive character of God (self-revealing and involved historically) will always typify the relationship between the named.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thoughts on "Genesis"

Yesterday marked the official end of my reading of Brueggemann's commentary and the listening of lectures aforementioned. I have to admit that I did not read as I said I would and thus instead of taking one month to finish the book Genesis it instead took me three months to finish! However, I am not disappointed as I have learned much.

Firstly, I am glad I opted for a theological commentary over an exegetical for my first take at reading Genesis seriously. I cannot begin to imagine reading footnote after footnote about this particular word and this particular source and the dating the of the book of Genesis. Secondly, I am glad I did not choose a author who would try to convince of an early dating for Genesis or the historical-scientific proofs for a six day creation. I honestly didn't know where Brueggemann stood on such issues, but I was prepared to disagree with him.

It may seem obvious to those who studied Genesis in detail or who had more than a cursory reading when trying desperately to finish reading the Bible in a year, but to those of us finally coming into our studies, the names of each of these books is so important to how one studies them. As Brueggemann points out, Genesis is about the genesis of a world and a family. It is about giving a history for a people in exile. That being said, Brueggemann does get into some historical-critical discussions, but these are never the focus of his writing. He'll often mention sources that we are familiar with like J, E and P but this is usually in passing as if the reader already assumes such sources.

Genesis, according to Brueggemann, can be taken into two halves: the cosmological genesis and the anthropological genesis. The latter genesis can then be broken into four sections: the Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph cycles. Chief among them is the promise of Abraham which pervades the three remaining cycles is the also that which propels the other cycles into the book of Exodus. Brueggemann argues that we must follow the title Genesis even along to the end which is really not an ending, but really is a beginning that takes us to the Exodus story.

It was interesting to read a theological-homiletical commentary while listening to lectures given from a literary perspective. I have to admit that some of the comments made by Gary Rendsberg seem a bit far-fetched as times, but reading some of the comments that Brueggemann will make that either confirm or hint towards those comments made it easier to hear those things.

Brueggemann's writing style is clearly homiletical as he often gives cross-reference to the gospels or Paul, and often makes connection between the ancient communities of Genesis and how these should or shouldn't shape the Christian communities of the present. Certainly this is not a commentary that should be used on its own for research or scholarly purposes, but it is certainly a beginning place for theological interpretation of Scripture.