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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ancient Jedi and Other Anomalies

Reading the Bible is a timeless exercise. Like any book it is hard not to read it in our current context and fail to grasp the "ancient" source. It is God's Word, living and true, and confronting us today. It is also God's Word then. It is also God's Word in and through a human author. The divine-human co-authorship, of course, it what makes it tricky to grasp.

One of my principles in reading to understand the Bible is incongruity. In other words, what does the typical Bible story "look" like and is the story/section we are reading aligned with that. The stories of Elijah and Elisha stand out as different from much else in the Jewish Bible.While the miraculous can be found elsewhere (e.g Exodus story in Torah) the two prophets in the Samuel/Kings collections are unique in the number and types of things we read.

In most of the narratives one encounters normal behavior (though sometimes sinful) but Elijah and Elisha are surrounded by the super powers of a Jedi master. They call down fire from heaven and consume armies. They do remarkable feats of physical endurance. They heal the sick and raise the dead. One of my favorites, 2 Kings 6, Elisha makes an iron axe head float in water, then he does a mind trick on an attacking army and leads them blindly into a trap. When the king excitedly asks, "Should I kill them?" Elisha (contrary to the stereotyped beliefs about the Old Testament) says, "No. Feed them and send them on their way home." In a curious twist, we read that Arameans no longer raided the land of Israel, followed immediately by King Ben-hadad mustering the army of Aram against Samaria (Northern Israel). Elijah does not die like other folks, he is swept up in fiery chariots. Like I said, there is not much congruity with the majority of stories found elsewhere in the Jewish bible.

For many, the fundamental issue in the Bible is history. When asked, "Is it true?" what they mean is "Did it happen in time and space exactly as recorded?" It seems that if you can say, "Yes" that you have solved the problems faced by the text. "Yes, it is true. Problem solved." However, I think the problem solved (historical) gives way to other, more pressing problems.

If fire from heaven was available to Elijah and Elisha, why not for Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest? If they have these "X Men" powers why don't others? Understanding the mind of God is not advanced much by answering True or False questions on historicity. Scripture is about meaning. Perhaps the most obvious is the ending of Jesus. The eye witnesses of Jesus' crucifixion could get the facts correct (and clarify the inconsistencies in our four gospels.). In fact, the eye witnesses knew much, much more about those details than you and I ever could. However, most of them did not know what they were seeing. They saw a guy on a cross. We see salvation. Think of the difference in knowing. We know a truth that no facts can reveal by simple observation. You cannot see the sins of the world absorbed into Jesus. That is one detail observation cannot attain. Yet in the end it is THE detail which matters most. So we see so much more, even though we were not there to see anything at all.

My quest is to ask the right questions about the Bible. It is to free folks from a defensiveness about history which blinds them to Truth. I do not know about the history of Ellijah and Elisha. I note the radical differences in their stories and others. I wonder why. But I also see the connections, over and over and over, to the Jesus story. Throughout the Gospels the story of Jesus reflects the stories of Elijah and Elisha. They are types of Christ. That is what matters. In all our reading the main quest is not for history, it is to find Jesus, hidden in every word of both Testaments. It is about Jesus. Always,

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