Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike 5/14

Let me quickly respond to the source issue regarding strangulation. According to David Daube in The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (1973, p.307), the Romans outlawed stoning by Jewish courts fearing that stoning drew crowds, and crowds often turned into anti-Roman mobs. Because of this the rabbis opted for strangulation, an act that could be performed more discretely. Seeing the creativity of the Jews in this regard, the Romans then outlawed capital punishment by Jewish courts altogether.

The Talmud goes into this at length, especially in tractate Sanhedrin (50a) where the rabbis argue that if a priest’s daughter commits adultery the punishment needs to be more severe than strangulation and opt for burning instead. This, however, is more an example of rabbis with too much time on their hands since the same tractate says ten pages earlier (41a) that the Jewish courts no longer have the legal authority to execute anyone (the Romans reserved this for themselves), and so adultery could only be punished by whipping.

I am very interested in the idea that even knowing that a text was added to a Gospel (in this case the story of the adulterous woman in the Gospel According to John) it can still be accepted as being the Word of God. This would, to my mind, invalidate the notion of biblical inerrancy. If you can’t trust this text to be gospel, how can you trust any text? And if the answer is that it fits, meaning that the message is in line with the Jesus of faith, then the arbiter of what is and what isn’t true is the reader rather than God. This makes us all part of the Jesus Seminar, voting our particular bias, and pretending that doing so somehow tells us something about the text. I have no problem with this. In fact that is what I think we all do, albeit unconsciously, but for many Christians I know removing even one block of text threatens to topple the whole tower of Bible (I couldn’t resist the pun).

What I am hearing in your comments, and what I expect we will explore at length when we take up the Sermon on the Mount is that by refusing to play the game of supporting or rejecting the status quo, Jesus is offering a third way (I will argue later it is really a fifth way) when it comes to dealing with Judaism and the Jewish realities of his day. I believe that this third or fifth way is vitally needed today, and I look forward to exploring it with you.

I am also intrigued that Jesus never forgives the woman, and only refuses to condemn her. He tells her to “go her way”— her way rather than his way— and “sin no more.” This is very Jewish. Each of us has our particular way to God, and following another’s path will get us nowhere. And the classic Jewish response to sin is teshuvah, literally turning as in “Turn from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:11) and “Cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

I like your interpretation of the story, Mike. I would say we are, each of us, the adulterous woman betraying God’s love for us. If we die in sin, we die cut off from God. If we live, we have a chance to live differently, to turn and repair (what we call tikkun) our relationship with God.

For clarity’s sake I am going to end this post here, and pick up the issue of celibacy in a separate post. You can comment on this one, or just let it be and move on to the next.

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