Saturday, September 26, 2009

well, well, well

What I'm about to write is not a startling new insight in the world of biblical studies. Scholars have long noticed it. But I'm not sure the average Bible reader appreciates how radical and suggestive Jesus is being in John 4. We call the story, "The Woman at the Well", but does it jog our memory? This is not the first biblical story where a man meets a woman at a well. It's not the second either. And both Jesus and John leave us plenty of clues to alert us to the fact that they have these earlier episodes in mind.

Genesis 24 - A man (Abraham's servant) on a long journey outside the promised land stops to rest at a well. A woman (Rebekah) comes to draw water. He asks her for a drink. Her offer is the grounds for a marriage proposal to his master (Isaac).

Exodus 2 - A man (Moses) on a long journey far from home sits down by a well. He helps some girls by watering their flocks. His kindness spawns a marriage proposal (Zipporah).

John 4 - Jesus, tired from a long journey, sits down by a well. A woman comes and he asks for a drink. She is shocked. (And we should be, too!) He offers her living water. Is this a marriage proposal? She may suspect it, because she denies having a husband.

Craig Keener (whose commentary is quite good once you make it past the 400-page introduction!) notes the possibility that we are to see a parallel here: “The Son had pursued this woman for the Father, perhaps as Abraham’s servant pursued Rebekah for his master”, implying that she is His bride (619). The story has already included direct references to Jacob, one of the patriarchs. It is his well where the incident takes place. Keener suggests, "The allusion to the finding of matriarchs for Israel may invite the reader to contemplate the ultimate identity of this Samaritan woman whom God is seeking, not on the basis of her past but on the basis of God’s calling: she will become foundational to a new community of faith and obedience.” (586)

This should shock us as readers. The Samaritan woman is a poor parallel to virgin Rebekah. She's been through 5 marriages already and is trying out a 6th. But Jesus offers her living water. And in doing so He makes a loud statement to His disciples that His kingdom will be built by sinners and outcasts -- those who have come to grips with their desperate need for His life-giving presence, not by the religious elite -- those who think they have it all. Well, well, well ...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

family meeting

We're trying something new at our house. And ... WOW ... is it working!

Every Sunday evening we gather in the living room for a "Family Meeting". First we check last week's list of what each of the girls was working on (e.g. 'obeying right away', 'not spitting', 'putting toothpaste away after brushing', etc). Danny asks the girls how they did and we cross off anything that is no longer an issue. We talk about strategies for improvement. We each share something positive we noticed about each other. Then we spend time asking each of the girls if there has been anything on their mind that they want to talk about. We have been totally amazed at what comes out of their mouths! We've witnessed a literal outpouring of confession, blessings, heartfelt concerns, and general family bonding.

At our first meeting (about a month ago), Eliana asked if we could please set aside a few minutes each week for Mom to share about what she's learning at school. What fun! Every week she's the first to remind me to share. It's a wonderful test of how well I've understood what I'm reading and studying to have to explain it to an 8-year-old! I'm forced to make my comments concise, simple, and interesting ... or risk being axxed from our weekly agenda.

I'll take the challenge - any intersection between my two worlds is most welcome!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

bosom buddies

I laid down on Emma's bed this afternoon, and she snuggled up to me, putting her head on my chest. Such a sweet moment of quiet together!

I had just been working through John 1:1-18, and wrestling with the tricky grammar in verse 18. My own translation is this: "No one has seen God at any time. The uniquely beloved God, the one who is nearest to the Father's heart, He made Him known."

I elected not to use the word "bosom" (NAS) since it has become quite obscure. But seeing that word triggered my memory of another unusual verse in John. During the last supper Jesus is preparing his disiples for what is to come. They are all reclining at the table together (in Jesus' day, tables were low to the ground, surrounded by cushions for reclining), but one disciple, the "one whom Jesus loved", is said to be "reclining on Jesus' bosom" (John 13:23 NAS). This has always struck me as so strange! Evidently men's need for 'personal space' was less, and there's no indication that we're to read anything queer going on. But why does John tell us that he and Jesus were, in effect, snuggling?

The "bosom" idea throughout Scripture seems to indicate intimacy (though not in a sexual sense), something or someone held very dear. It can describe the embrace of a husband and wife, or holding a child on a parent's lap. Here it appears to describe a unique friendship.

So why are John and Jesus said to be bosom buddies? I think John was being very deliberate.

Jesus, he argues in chapter 1, is the one most intimate with the Father, and therefore the best person to "explain" Him to us. His testimony can be trusted. John, called "the disciple whom Jesus loved", was the one most intimate with Jesus, and therefore the best person to testify about Him to the church (i.e. by writing this gospel). In case that sounds like bragging, John does remain anonymous in the book. It's clear he's not looking for accolades. But he did leave enough clues about his identity that we can figure it out. And he concludes the book:

"This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true." (John 21:24 NAS)

How do we know his testimony is true? Because he and Jesus were bosom buddies. He is the best qualified to "explain" him to us.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Historical Criticism meets "Panda in the Park"

I am currently reading Craig Keener's commentary on the book of John. More accurately, I am reading the INTRODUCTION to his commentary on John - all 363 pages of it. How is it possible, you ask (at least I did!), to write that much without getting to the text itself? Allow me to illustrate with one of Easton's current favorites, Panda in the Park. It does not contain the usual authorial designation on the cover, which raises a number of questions. Was this book written anonymously? Was the text of the book merely generated by the publisher, indicating that readers should not expect a high degree of rhetorical style? Was the author's name accidentally excised from the original manuscript? Do we have access to other surviving copies of this work? Are those copies similarly anonymous? An important preliminary question, of course is the nature of literature from the period in which we assume this book to have been written. Did children's books from this period normally indicate authorship? If we can ascertain the location of the publishing house, this too could shed light on our project. Perhaps a regional preference for anonymity in children's literature could be demonstrated. Better yet, have any subsequent works quoted from this book? Do those works give us any ideas about who the original readers assumed the author to have been?

In the course of our very exhaustive analysis of every available source of information about this book and others written in its time, we make a startling discovery. The BACK cover of this book includes the following designation: "Written by Anna Milbourne". We find this fascinating. Now we have a hypothesis which we can test. How reliable is this designation? That remains to be seen. In the absence of any other specific proof of authorship (either internal or external), we must return to hypothetical reconstruction of the milieu in which the book was written. We are aware of the possibility of ghostwriting and even pseudonymity. To what degree was either practiced during this period? We find that ghostwritten books did account for a surprising percentage of sales during this book's publication, but in every case the author listed on the cover was well known. This spawns a host of other questions. Have any other works been attributed to Anna Milbourne? Were they widely distributed? Would the average reader have recognized her name as an author? Does the genre, vocabulary and style of this book significantly overlap other works proportedly written by Anna Milbourne? Can we verify that she was even alive when this book was published? If not, is there a plausible explanation for its posthumous publication?

As you can see, writing an introduction which well exceeds the length of the work itself (in our case 49 words exclusive of the title) without actually commenting on the text is not as difficult as it may sound. And these are merely the questions which need to be addressed; we haven't even hinted at the answers! However, in the absence of any strong supporting evidence to the contrary, we will probably conclude that Anna did, indeed, write the book entitled, Panda in the Park, as John likely wrote the gospel that bears his name. As Keener thoroughly demonstrates, no compelling evidence exists to exclude the possibility that he was the author. And the best evidence we do have points to him.

By now it should be abundantly clear how much this reading of Keener has enhanced my role as reader of bedtime stories to my little ones. In case it's not obvious, I will put it plainly. A book which for years has brought delight to my children, now intrigues me as well. As I recite its lines over and over from memory, my mind can engage with more fascinating questions which previously did not occur to me. And such a small price to pay!

recommended for you

Amazon inspired this blog. Side by side on their list of recommendations for me have appeared such titles as "Goodnight Moon", "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics", "The Climax of the Covenant", and "If I Ran the Zoo". Somehow they have managed to capture the two sides of my life - motherhood and biblical studies - and hold them together on one page without tension or need for explanation. I know it's just a computer program that has figured me out. Even so, I can't help but feel as if I'm 'known' and accepted for being just who I am. :)

Some days I spend more time with Dr. Suess than I do Richard Bauckham or N.T. Wright. Other days the reverse is true. At times I wonder how to balance both worlds and stay sane. But the norm is feeling incredibly blessed to be able to do both things I love at the same time. Yes, my hands are full, but so is my heart. And here in this blog my two worlds intersect, interact, and (hopefully) enrich each other.