A critique of A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament part 2

In A Theological Introduction of the Old Testament, OnionBrueggemann notes, “In the Old Testament, only rare reference is made to these texts, (Genesis 1-2.) He sites Isaiah 54:9-10. It seems that the beginning of the world was simply not of interest to the writers, “J” “P” or otherwise. We note that Hebrew, Aramaic, and Semitic languages in general, do not have past, present, or future tenses to the verb. All is perfect, imperfect, or a participle, and can be perfect or imperfect in past, present, or future time. Fritz Pearls makes use of this in Gestalt Counseling, fitting all into present time.

We also notice that in Hebrew, Prayer is a reflexive verb. When we pray the Avinu, we pray, “Our Father, who is in הַשָּׁמַיִם, הַ the ש of מַיִם water. Dedicated is your name. Your will be done as in heaven, and upon the earth.” We again start with the primal chaos, which started with the creation of the world and discuss how to move forward. We need to think of this in reflexive terms. This is not a request for God to do his will. It is us, sitting down with God, discussing how we, together, will accomplish his will.

Then we discuss the how. Give us our daily bread. This is reflexive. We discuss with God how he will help us (Genitive plural) provide food for each other. Jesus then tells us that it starts with repentance and forgiveness for failures in the past. Only then can we start to move forward with departure from temptation and removal of rot.

In Part One we noted how in New Testament studies we discuss High Christology and Low Christology. High Christology takes time to develop, and generally comes from the academics in the urban areas, in the universities. Likewise, in studying Torah, Prophets, and Writings, we note a High Theology and a Low Theology. Genesis 1-11 is a very High Theology. Genesis 1, as the cover for the Torah Scroll, may be the last chapter written for the scroll. This is my own conjecture, and yes it is a conjecture.

Later, Walter Brueggemann relates, “The opening pages of the Old Testament are key to a proper discernment of the whole. How would the reader experience this “opener”? This material is not laid out simply to give the reader some information about the world or the beginnings of things. The story does not begin with the chosen people or even with the human race. The strategy is to catch the reader up into a universal frame of reference. Readers are invited to view a screen that is cosmic in its scope and to engage in an act of the imagination that carries them beyond-far beyond-their little corner of the world, wherever that may be.”

“In serving this strategy, Genesis 1-11 presents a rhythmic interweaving of story and genealogy that focuses the mind on certain recurring images, especially those of God and the world. They set the tone and direction for reading all that follows in the Old Testament.”

The same is true about our mural at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada. True art is more than just images on the canvas. According to Isabel Piczek, one of the artists who completed the mural at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada, “Great art is more important than merely a decoration. It must carry a message. The message of sacred art is the manifestation of divine truths. It is through the human being that the great eternal truths and spiritual qualities are expressed.”

Our mural in Reno Nevada is the opus of renowned artists, Edith and Isabel Piczek. Edith referred often to her lifetime vocation of “visualizing God’s Word and His creation. It takes constant studying of Scripture and theology to find the images, shapes, and forms to translate God’s beauty.” The artist is creating visual representation … to see the sacred in each of us, to show the love of God through art for the Church.”

If the writer of Genesis 1 created a work of art, he probably thought along the same lines. If Genesis 1 is a verbal landscape, it is not a mere decoration. It must carry a message. It must manifest divine truth. It must be the work of scholars of his age. It must be a work of theology that looks for the shapes, forms, and images to translate what God is trying to say in the rest of Torah.

Walter Brueggemann notes that Genesis 1-2:4 and Genesis 2:4- 4:26 are not two creation accounts, but two creation accounts woven together to form one whole. It is true that someone in the “P” school wrote Genesis 1:-2:4, while someone in the “J” school wrote most of what follows. On the other hand, the first writing from “P” may be a very artistic verbal landscape that sets the tone for all that follows. He is doing art, and we vainly try to interpret it as pre-science or even as science. At this level, we are looking at Torah as the outer layer of the onion. To get to the sources of Torah, as we know it, we must first begin with this outer skin, what it meant to the people who heard it for the first time as related in Nehemiah 8:1.

Walter Brueggemann wrote, “One panel moves from beginnings (1:1-2:25) to deviant individuals (3:1-24), through family (4:1-26), through ten generations (5:1-31), out into the larger world (6:1-8:19), moving in catastrophe. A parallel panel begins anew after the flood (8:20-9:17), moving again through deviant individuals and family (9:18-27), out into the world (10:1-11:19), only this time into a world that Israel clearly know.” That is catastrophe.

We note how the main sources for the creation account are Isaiah 48, Isaiah 54:9-10, and Ezekiel 37. We also find glimpses in Psalm 18, Psalm 104, and Psalm 148. For those listening to Genesis 1 for the first time, the chaos they witness is the chaos in their lives as they remember life in the Babylonian Exile. Walter Brueggemann states we must understand Genesis 2 somewhat literally, or we have no beginning for the fall. This is not the case. The fall is what happens during the next ten generations, and what happens that results in the Babylonian Exile. Understanding this catastrophe is what Genesis 1-11 is all about.

Genesis 1-11 is also all about helping us in our own time as we look forward to apocalypse, through the fiscal cliff, solar storms, the Mayans, global warming, nuclear war… to understand the whats, whens, wheres, hows, and whys. It also helps us to understand God’s role in our world.

Through the lens of these images, the God of the opening chapters of Genesis is portrayed as a relational God. He is present and active in the world, enters into a relationship of integrity with the world, and does so in such a way that both world and God are affected by that interaction.

God involves the human in responsibilities for creation (1:28;2:15); he walks in the garden and engages the human in dialogue (3:8-13); he gives counsel with respect to human behavior (4:6-7); he softens his judgments (4:15); he suffers a broken heart (6:6); he limits the divine options in relation to failure and rot (8:21-22); and paints a reminder in the sky for whenever the clouds of judgment thicken (9:8-17).

God’s speech does not stand isolated from his deeds. Walter Brueggemann makes it a point to not from Isaiah 48, or Deutero-Isaiah, a work of High Theology and Ezekiel 37, the story of the dry bones, to show how God’s works are not separable from his Omer, his word. This thinking passes on into the New Testament where St. John uses a pun in Aramaic where Omer means both Lamb and Word. We also see this when God talks with Job at the end of that book, in Psalm 19, In Psalm 104 which contains the Barachah for the blessing of bread and wine, and Psalm 148, which also speaks of how God speaks and as he speaks things happen. We note how Genesis 2:1-5 ends with Kiddush, the blessing over the wine, a liturgical act.

Far from presenting a legalistic God, God of Genesis is at the same time, transcendent and very imminent. He is very personal. That is why Genesis 2 will go on to use the very Personal Name of God, HaShem, or the Name, the four-letter word for the name of God.

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