Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mike: Response to Rami's 2/10 Post

Thank you for pointing to the affinity between the morning liturgy of the Authorized Jewish Prayer Book and the Lord's Prayer passage. Like you, I find it rather striking.

That being said, let's take up your various comments relative to Jesus and Christianity's understanding of the devil, evil, and the like.

The Greek term in question may be translated either as "the evil one" or "evil." Even in the other passage you mention (Matthew 13:19), the Greek term might be rendered either as "the evil one" or "the enemy."

More importantly, any account of Jesus' concept of the devil or evil should take the rest of his teachings into account. For example, Jesus made it clear he thought our greatest danger came from within ourselves. Even the classic accounts of the temptations in the wilderness do not require us to posit a literal devil with a capital "D." The account itself leaves it to the reader to decide if the conflict takes place between two individuals facing each other in the desert, or within the mind and heart of Jesus. Given the teaching I mentioned first, I believe the latter most likely. If this is the case, I tend to think Jesus' concept fits within the broad scope of first century Jewish thought, even as we've found considerable continuity between Jesus and first century Jewish teachers with regard to other matters.

You're quite correct that the Satan plays a relatively minor role in the Hebrew Bible, though Job does take up a good bit of space, and the story itself certainly exercised considerable influence on both Jewish and Christian imagination. The influence of Persian Zoroastrianism, insofar as I can tell, found its way into Jewish thought during the exile. Quite a few years had passed, of course, and Judaism (for the most part) had resolved the matter along the lines you suggest. Again, it seems to me Jesus's concept is congruent with this resolution.

That being said, I see little evidence that the writers of the gospels opted for Persian dualism. They used the language of the day, language that later readers took either literally or as metaphor. Such are the limits of language.

Certainly, formal Christian thought rather consistently rejected the dualism you posit, insisting on the unity of God and the role of God as creator of all. Evil, sin, and even a literal Satan (in those cases where a writer so believed) were the consequences of free will abused. Even so, evil is not free of God in Christian thought; God shall take even its worst consequences and bring forth something new and good that otherwise would not have been.

Having said all of the above, like you I know any number of American Christians who function as dualists. The reasons, I think, lie within American history and culture, ranging from the influence of revivialism as developed since the Second Great Awakening, premillenial dispensationalism, and popular fiction. Dualism is one of the great temptations which beset each generation of Christians. Properly understood, though, neither the New Testament or historical Christian thought endorses it.

The matter probably merits additional conversation over Mexican food!

1 comment:

Patti said...

who is dual in dualism? Us and God? God and Satan? God and Jesus? Ya lost me here.