First of all, Merry Christmas!
Between me and Andrew, we got sixteen books this month! I started reading Encounters with Jesus by
Gary M. Burge this morning. It says "Uncover the ancient culture,
discover hidden meanings." Well, I love stuff like that. A few
observations so far. Sorry for the disconnected nature of this, but I
wanted to note a few things that took my attention.
INDIVIDUALISM FOR ALL
Western society is individualistic, and that has translated to our
faiths. The author notes the ways "every community of Christians has
framed its understanding of spiritual life within the context of its own
culture." He says, "Even the way we understand 'faith in Christ' is
to some degree shaped by these cultural forces. For instance, in the
last three hundred years, Western Christians have abandoned seeing faith
as a chiefly communal exercise .... Among the many endowments of the
European Enlightenment, individualism reigns supreme: Christian faith is
a personal, private endeavor. We prefer to say, 'I have accepted Christ,' rather than define ourselves through a community that
follows Christ. Likewise (again, thanks to the Enlightenment), we have
elevated rationalism as a premier value. Among many Christians faith
is a construct of the mind, an effort at knowledge gained through study,
an assent to a set of theological propositions. Sometimes knowing what you believe trumps belief itself." (pg. 7-8)
This book seeks to help us understand
the encounters of Jesus in a more cultural context. As I was reading I
noticed how often Jesus didn't seem to mind being unclean in the
religious, ritualistic ways of the Jewish people. Remember the story of Jesus visiting the demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs? He ended up sending demons into a herd of pigs. First of all
1. Gentile territory is unclean (or many Jews believe it so)
2. Tombs (unclean)
3. Pigs (unclean)
4. Demon-possessed man (surely this was unclean)
if you continue the chapter in Mark, Jesus is headed to a synagogue
leader's house because his daughter was near death (dead bodies are
unclean). On the way, the bleeding woman touches his garment. Granted,
she made Jesus unclean by doing this, but he didn't scold her
for it. Jesus regularly interacted with the sick, those with oozing
sores and other diseases that many of us might shy away from. Jews, who
tried to avoid uncleanness, would likely shy away even quicker.
Something I thought about as I read this: doctors must have been
really unclean individuals. They dealt with bleeding, oozing people, and, well, some of them died while they were tending them surely.
Actually all of society must be often unclean if you think
about it. How easy is it to avoid monthly menstrual cycles, childbirth,
other bodily fluids and so forth? How else do you have children without first becoming unclean?
HOW POWERFUL IS THE FLOW
The author provides this view of menstruation from Pliny the Elder in book 28 of Natural History.
to him, contact with the monthly 'flow' of women turns new wine sour,
makes crops wither, kills skin grafts, dries seeds in gardens, causes
the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors,
dulls the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory, kills bees, and rusts
iron and bronze. Dogs that come near become insane and their bite
becomes poisonous. A thread from an infected dress is sufficient to do
all this. If linen that is being washed and boiled is touched by such a
woman, it will turn black. A woman who is menstruating can drive away
hailstorms and whirlwinds if she shows herself (unclothed) when
lightening flashes. Pliny refers to Metrodorus of Scepsos in Cappadocia,
who discovered that if a menstruating woman walks through a field while
holding the hem of her toga above her belt, 'caterpillars, worms,
beetles, and other vermin will fall from off the ears of corn.' But, he
warns, don't do this at sunrise or the crops themselves will die." (pg.
He wanted to demonstrate the "superstition" surrounding
menstruating women that may have influenced the region at this time. I
just found it interesting...seems a pretty powerful thing, huh?
Any surprises? Thoughts?