Monday, August 6, 2012

Rib is a Dirty Word

Apparently the word translated as "rib" in Genesis 2 when God makes woman from a piece of man could be a euphemism for a bone that had existed in his penis.  While most male animals have a baculum it is oddly absent from humans.  Discover Magazine's Discoblog takes this position.
Our opinion is that Adam did not lose a rib in the creation of Eve. Any ancient Israelite (or for that matter, any American child) would be expected to know that there is an equal (and even) number of ribs in both men and women. Moreover, ribs lack any intrinsic generative capacity. We think it is far more probable that it was Adam’s baculum that was removed in order to make Eve. That would explain why human males, of all the primates and most other mammals, did not have one. The Hebrew noun translated as “rib,” tzela (tzade, lamed, ayin), can indeed mean a costal rib. It can also mean the rib of a hill (2 Samuel 16:13), the side chambers (enclosing the temple like ribs, as in 1 Kings 6:5,6), or the supporting columns of trees, like cedars or firs, or the planks in buildings and doors (1 Kings 6:15,16). So the word could be used to indicate a structural support beam. Interestingly, Biblical Hebrew, unlike later rabbinic Hebrew, had no technical term for the penis and referred to it through many circumlocutions.
While almost any piece of biblical text in Hebrew leaves room for many good interpretations this particular one is motivated by an assumption that the passage in Genesis 2 seeks to offer a mythical explanation for a contemporary element of human anatomy.  Their rationalization that Hebrews would have known that men and women have an equal number of ribs (while many modern Christians do not and perpetuate the modern myth that men have less ribs than women based on this passage; did you ever hear that in your Sunday school?) shows their expectations for the intentions of this passage.  One would assume a reader ought to read the passage for itself to see what it actually explains before imposing an objective onto it.  If ancient Hebrews knew enough about biology to know that men and women had an equal number of ribs then they surely knew that when a father was missing a part of his anatomy his children were still born with it.  If one is determined to draw a mythical explanation of modern anatomy from this passage then a baculum explanation has just as many problems in this respect as a rib.

It is possible that the Hebrew word tzela is a euphemism for a penis bone but I fail to see how that explanation is somehow more likely than a rib.  An interpretation seeing an explanation of modern anatomy is unnecessary when either body shows that the author of Genesis 2 is asserting that women were made from a part of man making them suitable partners and setting the standard that man and women are supposed to be together.  Adding the explanation of the missing baculum in humans unnecessarily clutters the passage and is risky because of the memetic value of the fact.  People are apt to find almost any phallic interpretation of a Biblical passage interesting and memorable regardless of any evidence for that interpretation.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Philosophy and Theology

In a previous post I mentioned that I think of theology as philosophy or religion from inside the religion.  Now I think I may be wrong about that.  It seems to me that philosophy of religion is a system of translating theology into a language that is acceptable for philosophers.  While theology and philosophy are both attempts to describe some sort of rational position they deviate in their method, vocabulary and culture (though in the past there did seem to be a lot of crossover).  In this sense philosophy and theology are cousins that don't always get along very well.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

PUA Theology

This is a post where I will discuss Christian theology (particularly conservative evangelical theology) through the lens of the pick up artist movement.  If you need help with the terms you can go here.

God is the ultimate alpha.  Every human being on earth would want this guy (even the dudes).  He knows how to DHV by providing miracles that up his status.  He knows how to 101 using both his wrath and his mercy.  Either way, it helps us consider his commands (we love his mercy and fear his wrath).

Human beings throw out AIs to God when they display a certain emptiness in their lives without him.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Enlightened Sunday School: Teaching Job Part 1: Satan in Heaven

A lot of Sunday school material is written with the goal of teaching kids theology through stories.  Because of this curriculum writers are prone to reshape a story from the Bible to conform to the doctrine they want to get across.  This comes across several ways in how we teach Job.  This post is concerned with how Sunday School curriculum (SSC) goes about identifying Job's tormentor.  Usually it is assumed that the Satan mentioned in Job is the same one who got Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and tempted Jesus in the wilderness.  We can all add "tormenting Job" to the list of awful things this guy has done throughout history.

Bible scholars understand that the word ha-satan (the word that is usually translated Satan) means "accuser" and that it is not written like a name.  The intent behind the text of Job is not that The Evil One is tormenting Job to win a bet with God but that Job has a divine accuser who, in looking out for the interests of God, believes that Job's faith is not real.  Because this leads to a lot of misfortune for Job I'm sure many Christians would like to argue that Satan is behind it.  This way God can be one step removed from all the catastrophe in Job's life and the ultimate culprit is Satan who has always had it in for us anyway.  While it may trouble us that one of God's servants would, in looking out for God's interest, cause all of Job's woes it is actually less disturbing than the alternative.

According to the traditional Sunday school view God is Satan's dupe.  If Satan wants harm to come to one of us, even the most faithful of us, all he has to do is accuse us of being fairweather believers.  Once he does that he can take away our stuff, infect us and kill our family.  I can accept Job's troubles being part of God's perfect will, what is troubling is Satan's evil will being able to subvert God's.  If the Bible is supposed to tell the story of God's supremacy and victory then I do not see how the book of Job fits in with the Satan-as-the-Evil-One interpretation.

Monday, November 29, 2010


If I am going to claim that my Sunday school class is enlightened I have to be able to claim that I am teaching in an intelligent manner.  Unfortunately no one is sure what that means.

Despite a long history of research and debate, there is still no standard definition of intelligence.
The article is more optimistic than that quote makes it out to be.  The authors list 71 definitions of intelligence used in different fields of study but seem to be optimistic about finding some unifier for all of them that will give a general definition for the word.

There have been times when I have been particularly frustrated talking with people about intelligence because most people have a vague definition that is more about making people feel good than attempting an objective way to discuss it.  We don't want to find out that we or the people we care about or the people we agree with are unintelligent so we have all agreed to accept the "everybody is intelligent in their own way" line.  It might be useful to reframe the conversation  to acting intelligent instead of being intelligent (or having intelligence) for the sake of losing the personal label and making people more open to accepting objective standards.

Granted there is probably a lot of truth to being intelligent.  Some people have more capable brains than others and that's just the way it is.  The only reason we would adopt this concept of intelligence would be to make an objective definition of it more palatable for society.  We may have to postpone using objective-adjective intelligence for objective-adverb intelligence until we're mature enough to accept that the people we like and agree with may not be as smart as the people we don't like and disagree with.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why do we think God created the Universe from nothing...

if Genesis 1:1 does not describe creation ex nihilo but simply bringing order out of pre-existing chaos?

Because creation ex nihilo seems to be described in other places.

John 1:1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
Colossians 1:15-17
 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Of course, for the Colossians passage you can argue that the creation being described is all about the social order and not physical things.  Still, there are way more verses that have implications for creation found throughout the Bible than Genesis 1.  So maybe we have to rely on tradition and philosophy over sola scriptura for an ex nihilo doctrine.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Enlightened Sunday School: New Post Series

It's a common thing for blogs to have a collection of posts revolving around a theme. I wanted to get in on it.

Here's an interesting experiment to try. Go to an average evangelical church and listen to the theological conversations of the various members of the congregation. Now go to Fuller Seminary and listen to the theological conversations of the students. Or how about this: Go listen to a sermon on Mark and then listen to a lecture on Mark. They come off as pretty different. The stuff you hear in church often feels overly simplistic and (I hate to use this expression) dumbed-down. It has been deep fried and wrapped up in a to go bag to be easily consumed. The problem is that I have trouble criticizing churches for doing this. You can't expect everyone to go to seminary or to afford tuition at a Christian liberal arts college. Churches go for mass appeal because they have an important message to share with everyone. This gets to the heart of the new subject I'm going for. I know that a sermon and a lecture are two different things with different goals, but you would think that cutting edge research and philosophy should inform a sermon. My goal is to incorporate research and good philosophy into Sunday school teaching. That is, I want to be informed by the types of things people discuss in Bible lectures and philosophy of religion to be reflected in lessons I teach children.

This creates some problems for me that I am trying to work out and want to do posts on my experience dealing with them.

1. When I am honest about what I feel I know, what I believe on faith and what I'm not sure about I display less confidence and that can undermine the integrity of my lessons with the students. I need to be able to teach kids without pretending I have all the answers and for them to be okay with that.

2. Many churches are afraid of the types of things that get discussed in seminaries like Fuller. Often times they feel that studying the Bible like you would a historical text undermines the faith. Personally I think it helps us understand the Bible better and, if the Bible really is the word of God, helps us understand God better. I need to teach kids informed lessons in a way that convinces my superiors I'm strengthening their faith.

3. Kids may have trouble grasping complex ideas. I heard a story once that Stephen Hawking's publisher told him about A Brief History of Time "For every equation you put in your book you will lose half your audience." A similar thing could be said for adult sermons let alone Sunday school. "For every exegetical statement you make at church, half your congregation will fall asleep." I need to find a way to make this stuff exciting for kids.

My next Enlightened Sunday School post will deal with my unit on Job.