Well, the spring semester is off to a wintery start! Classes start this week with Old Testament Survey and St. Mark’s Passion (Greek Exegesis). The latter meets for the first time tomorrow; the former meets online so we’ve already started.
Our introductory assignments in Old Testament uncovered some items of interest, wanted to share them here…
The first thing that caught my attention was this: in the discussion of how the ancient historians (read: 200 BC to 500AD) understood their world, not one ever wrote from the perspective of total non-belief in deity. That is to say, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, et al, historians ALL took as a goes-without-saying assumption that both God and prophecy exist. What one calls one’s god might be up for debate, and whether or not a prophecy is true might be disputed, but the foundational belief in a higher power and that higher power’s ability to communicate through human beings was a given. The widespread and deliberate agnosticism of our day would have been completely foreign to them, no matter what nation they came from.
It brought to mind the scripture “the fool says in his heart there is no God”. How foolish our society has become… and how much more foolish still will it become? We could learn a thing or two from these ancient peoples…
The second item comes from the discussion on how Scriptures were physically recorded. For centuries much written material was recorded on papyrus scrolls… which worked well in Egypt and the southern desert areas (where the climate is very dry) but didn’t work so well in Palestine (which is a good bit more humid, except for Qumran, thankfully). So for a couple of centuries before Jesus’ day, Jewish writers began to experiment with using parchment (very thin treated leather). But sometime in Jesus’ lifetime or shortly later a new medium of communication was invented: the BOOK! They were called ‘codices’ back then and were made of leather, but for the first time in history, pages were bound rather than scrolled. And here we are 2000 years later still getting information from books. Am I the only book-lover around who thinks the 2000th anniversary of the invention of books calls for some kind of celebration?
The third thing that stood out for me was the last sentence in our assigned reading. This is from the chapter on the geography of the Holy Land.
“The land was designed more for tribal possession or city-states than for a strongly unified nation.” (p. 631, Old Testament Survey, Lasor et al)
This is so because physically Palestine is very divided – mountainous regions and a few lake areas separated by valleys and steppes (plus a river and a coastal area); in terms of climate, varying widely with distances of only 30-50 miles; naturally divided both east-west and north-south; and not easily traversed in a straight line in any direction.
Knowing this makes a lot more sense (from a human standpoint) of the fact that God instituted a system of tribes and judges to organize and govern His people. From the beginning He planned to be their King, their one unifying force, with the (very) extended family as the primary unit of society. So when the people asked for a human king it was clear they misunderstood and rejected God’s plan in every way it possibly could be — and in doing so made things a lot more complicated for themselves, not just spiritually but politically and in terms of their relationship to the land.
I note this now because I’m curious to see how this fact will play out as we study more about the Old Testament and God’s plan for His people. And it makes me wonder if perhaps His coming Kingdom might be… somewhat tribal or city-state-like? Something to think about…