It Finally Came!

My personal copy of the thesis I completed this spring came today!

20170717_131625Recently, I heard a podcast interview of a college classmate of mine who said she was advised not to blog about her PhD dissertation topic until her dissertation was finished.  She said she followed the advice, but she didn’t explain the reasoning behind it.  (It makes sense in a can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it sort of way, like the wisdom of not having a drink in one’s hand when people are taking pictures.)

I had planned to use this blog as a way to work out my MA Thesis while it was in process throughout last semester, but was just never able to find the time to put anything here while it was going on.  Though I am not certain of the reasons why not, I guess it would not have been advisable for me to have done so.

20170717_131701Anyway, now the thesis is complete and my own personal copy, ordered from the Trappist Abbey Book Bindery arrived today on a UPS truck.

Hopefully, it is now safe to put the whole thing right here on GEBEROLOGY.  It is not as though millions of people will be downloading it and reading it, anyway.

If at some point, there arises some issue of propriety, I may remove it from here.  But for now, here is the thesis in pdf form:

The GIBBORIM of Antiquity_KCS MA THESIS_Final Edit

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On the Heroic in Primeval Genesis, Part 2

The following is Part 2 of the material I submitted for “Transformed.”  (See here for the explanation.)

In Part 1 of this post, we saw the timeliness of the need for work done on theologies of heroism and began our look at the theme in primeval Genesis with its first projection in the judgment of the serpent in chapter 3. Now we will follow by observing the second and third projections to come to some conclusions on the theme in this introductory part of the Bible.

Second Projection
The second projection of the theme of heroism comes as part of the pericope of Genesis 6:1-8, which is mostly devoted to explaining the conditions that give rise to the flood. Here are the first fiver verses of the pericope:

Now it happened that, as man began to multiply on the face of the earth, daughters were born to them.  2 And the sons of God saw the daughters of man—that they were good, and they took for themselves wives from all around, whomever they chose.  3 So YHWH said, “My Spirit shall not remain with man forever, inasmuch as he is flesh too. Thus, his days will be one hundred and twenty years.”
4 The Nephilim were in the land in those days—and so also afterward (whenever the sons of God went to the daughters of man so that they gave birth for them); they were the heroes of antiquity, men of name.  5 And YHWH saw that the evil of man was abundant in the land, and that the entire framework of the thoughts of his heart was only evil every day.
— Genesis 6:1-5

Here we find that humanity has perverted its way on the land, not least in the areas of sexuality, matrimony and procreation. Following the pattern of the woman in the garden, who “saw… good… and took” (3:6), men have turned sex and marriage into matters of indiscriminate personal preference.

But that is not all. We also learn that “the Nephilim were in the land in those days… they were the heroes of antiquity, men of name” (v. 4). This is the Bible’s first use of the term gibbôr, “mighty man” or “hero,” and it refers to a big problem. Quite simply, that there are Nephilim-heroes in the land is a major cause of the flood.

It is significant that the presence of these heroes in the land is a major reason for God to wipe out all of humanity (except for Noah and family). Why does He not simply wipe out the Nephilim, if they are the problem? The clear implication of the text is that the Nephilim problem is one that is shared by all people. Indeed, the verse portrays women as the willing partners of men, as they give birth for them. Whatever element of faith may have been part of human child-bearing for the likes of Eve and Lamech (4:1,25; 5:29), it has now all but vanished. Human beings are making their own heroes. Rather than calling on the name of YHWH, they seek to find hope (salvation), and greatness (glory) in the celebrity of their own names or in those of their Nephilim-heroes.

By perverting their child-bearing, human beings are effectively showing contempt for the first part of God’s creation blessing, “be fruitful and multiply.” And apparently, these twistings of sex, marriage and child-bearing into idolatrous hero-making leads to the corruption of the second part of the blessing, the enjoinment to “fill the land,” as well. For humanity is filling the land with violence. This is a state of affairs that grieves the heart of God, such that He observes of man “that the entire framework of the thoughts of his heart was only every day” (v.5).

Third Projection
Once God has renovated creation with the flood, we find that the same two parts of the blessing, fruitful multiplying and the filling of the land, are once again major concerns of the text. Chapters 10 and 11 are entirely taken up with genealogies (multiplying) and a brief little narrative about man’s refusal to “scatter” (filling the land).

Standing out as unique among all those in the table of nations (ch. 10), is a particular character who is the Bible’s first individually named gibbôr.

“And Cush Begat Nimrod. He began to be a hero in the land. He was a hero of hunting before YHWH. Therefore, it is said, ‘Like Nimrod,’ that is, a hero of hunting before YHWH” (10:8-9).

That Nimrod is a “hero of hunting” probably means that he is a great provider and, thereby, a civic leader. He is the first person in the Bible specifically said to have a kingdom. In fact, he has two. The first will eventually become Babylon, and the second, Assyria. He it is who leads the people to unify as one and to build a city with a tower to reach the heavens. Much is debated among scholars regarding Nimrod, but there is virtually universal agreement that the text of Genesis 10-11 casts him as the leader of the building project at Shinar.

There is much irony involved here. Nimrod’s is the only non-eponymous name in the table of nations; there will be no nation of Nimrod. Nor does his name appear at all in the pericope of 11:1-9. Though he is the leader of the people, his identity is completely lost in the collective. The chief concerns of the people in building the city are to keep from being scattered and to make a name for themselves. Yet they will be scattered, and the only name in the episode (other than Shinar and YHWH) is “Babel,” which, far from being a badge of pride, is a mockery of the people and their project.

The most basic and straightforward way to understand Nimrod’s name is to see it as a form of the verb marad, meaning “we will rebel.” The form is 1st-person plural, which fits perfectly with his identification with the people in 11:1-9. But the message of the name is an odd one. Until the scattering, the people he leads are the whole human race. Who, then, is left to be the object of their rebellion? God? Certainly, but we need not understand the author’s point as direct and artless as that. The truth is that people will follow any hero who will provide for them, especially if he can instill in them a sense of heroic triumph over even a vague sense of authoritative restraint –read: rebellion against God and His true Hero-King along the lines of Psalm 2:3.

Heroism, Then and Now
Not much has changed since the Primeval Age.  Or, at least, we may clearly observe that the one in which we now find ourselves is much like that first age of the world.

Human beings are still desperate for a sense of hope for restoration and greatness. We are still treating sexuality, marriage and childbearing as matters of indiscriminate personal choice. We are still finding in ourselves and one another heroes on whom we pin our hopes. We are still looking to heroes “of hunting” whom we hope to be “like.” We still look to heroes who can give us a sense of civic pride in our own name while affording us a sense of pluck and cool as “rebels” (against whom or what we are rarely sure).

The echo of God’s promise to send a Hero to right all the wrongs of the world still resounds in the human heart. There is a yearning for the messianic Hero, but even after His first coming, we, like the people of the Primeval Age, prefer heroes of our own making. We will make a name for ourselves, if we can. If we can’t, we will sign on to the names of our favorite Nephilim-heroes.

Better Than Heroes
Meanwhile, God repeatedly replaces the graspers after fame with His own people. Cain is replaced by Seth (4:25). The Nephilim are replaced by Noah, who is preserved through the flood (6:9ff.). And the Babel scene serves to introduce Abram, to whom God promises, “I will… make your name great” (12:1-2). At least within the confines of primeval Genesis, God allows the label of “hero” (gibbôr) to be the province of the proud who parade around in their self-made greatness, establishing cities and kingdoms. But He claims as His own the comparatively quiet souls who walk with Him in simple obedience, trusting Him as they occupy boats and tents.

These are they who call on the name of YHWH and believe that there is salvation in no one else.

Posted in Anthropology, Biblical Hebrew/Greek, Genesis, Gibborim, Theology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the Heroic in Primeval Genesis, Part 1

The following is Part 1 of the material I submitted for “Transformed.”  (See here for the explanation.)

Those of us living in 21st century America find ourselves in a culture obsessed with the heroic. The popularity of the current spate of superhero movies, which shows no sign of going away any time soon, is perhaps the most flamboyant manifestation. But fascination with heroes of all kinds—sports heroes, war heroes, even the “everyday” heroes featured at the ends of newscasts—accounts for an enormous portion of the culture’s imagination.

This is not to say that other cultures and eras have had no interest in heroes. Indeed, it is both fair and necessary to point out that, although the specific nature of what is considered heroic can vary, sometimes widely, every culture throughout world history has had heroes as a central ingredient in its cultural identity. But here in America and the western world at the present hour, heroism is on the rise like never before.

Not only are some quarters of the world of entertainment and pop culture now taking the concept of heroism more seriously than ever, “Heroism Science” is coming into focus as a burgeoning field of study with scholarly journals, research studies, conferences, publishing, podcasts, and a growing number of devotees. While it is not necessarily a good idea for the church to run around chasing after the concerns de jour of the broader culture, this is an area where we will do well, not only to sit up and take notice, but also to formulate biblical and theological approaches.

Some work of this sort is being done.  Hook and Reno’s Heroism and the Christian Life is a book length treatment of the question of whether heroism is a right category of thought for the believer. Matthew Lillicrap has written a very helpful article on similar questions of Christian moral heroism; but as good as these are, they would seem to be something like roofs with no buildings under them. What is needed first is a biblical theology of heroism.

Observing the theological theme of heroism in just the first eleven chapters of Scripture, this post is offered as a brief sketch of a study that might serve as a foundation for such a construct.

Scripture’s Glossary of Heroism
The Hebrew Scriptures are endowed with a vocabulary for talking about heroism in the GBR word family. Here we find words like geber, a word for “[manly] man” and the verb gabar, to “prevail.” But the chief member of the family is the intensive adjective gibbôr (plural: gibbôrim), “mighty” or “heroic.” Most of the time this adjective is substantival and acts as a noun, typically referring to a “mighty man,” a “champion,” or a “hero.”

The New Testament never employs such terminology—not even the Greek word hērōs. But that does not mean that the theological theme of heroism is absent there. Rather, the New Testament takes up the theme of heroism in the same way that it expands on the Old Testament theme of atonement without using the word itself. Explaining that, however, will have to wait for a future discussion. Here, our object is to sketch the theme in primeval Genesis, where the language of heroism first appears.

Heroism in Primeval Genesis
The Bible, it turns out, is very concerned to give us a God’s-eye view of heroes and heroism, and this concern begins in the earliest pages of Scripture. Literarily, the structure of Primeval Genesis (chapters 1-11) may be seen as arranged in three great acts, each of which, in turn, is composed of three movements.

Table - Literary Structure of PrimGen

Admittedly, this structural layout does not account well for certain sections of material, such as the Cainite narrative of chapter 4, which seems to lie between Acts 1 and 2 (but probably fits better with the former).  Still, the broad pieces are certainly there and worth our while to examine in this way.

Built into each of these three acts, we see a projection of the theme of heroism. That is, in each act, we find the presence of what may be termed a heroic element. And each time it arises, it does so in a dark context; first in the judgment on the serpent in 3:15, then in 6:4 as part of the description of the wickedness of humanity prior to the flood, and finally in the description of Nimrod in 10:8-12, which is inextricably linked to the Babel pericope of 11:1-9.

First Projection
“And antagonism I will put between you and the woman,
Between your seed and her seed,
He will smash your head,
And you will smash His heel.”
— Genesis 3:15

This part of the divine judgment of the serpent has traditionally been called the protevangelium, “first gospel.” While not everyone has always agreed that it refers to Messiah and His work, those of us who affirm that the Bible is a book about Christ should have no trouble seeing Him in this promise. The words here specifically predict the eventual arrival of a Person who will deal with the serpent. But beginning very early, humans understand that the implications are far greater than that. This One will put right all that has gone wrong, the painful and toilsome labors of men and women and the brokenness of relationships.

Among the three projections of heroism in primeval Genesis, this first is unique. Unlike the second and third projections, it does not feature the specific vocabulary of heroism used in the Hebrew Scriptures, namely the GBR word family. Consequently, the very fact that it is a projection of the theme of heroism is not as obvious at first glance. But it is, indeed.

A more significant difference between this projection and the other two is the fact that, here, we see that the concept of the hero is introduced by God.  Thus, the heroic projection in Act 1 comes, not in the second movement (man’s wickedness), but in the third (God’s righteous response). By contrast, the projections of the theme in Act 2 and Act 3 arise in the context of the second movements; that is, the heroic element appears as a part of man’s wickedness.

Here, though, we are shown that the original idea of a hope of restoration and greatness through the work of a Hero is God’s. Not long after, in the unfolding narrative, some of the characters show signs of a complicated mixture of faith and presumption with regard to God’s idea. That is, both Eve (4:1) and the Sethite Lamech (5:29) seem to have faith in God’s Seed promise; but they also seem to presume to direct its implementation, attempting to identify their sons as the promised hero. Of course, neither Cain nor Noah will turn out to be the One.

These are the first leanings in the direction that humanity will take in its impulse for the heroic. In Part 2, we will see what the swiftly expanding human race makes of the heroic impulse as we look at the second and third projections of the theme in primeval Genesis.


Posted in Anthropology, Biblical Hebrew/Greek, Genesis, Gibborim, Theology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Post Somewhere Else

Recently, I was given the opportunity to write a guest post for a blog called “Transformed.”

In April, I finally finished the MABTS (Biblical and Theological Studies) degree that I began at Western Seminary many years ago.  My thesis, which I will post here at some point in the future, focused on the theme of heroism in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis.

My reader and advisor, Dr. Jan Verbruggen, was very encouraging and asked me to submit to him a short, blogpost version of the thesis.  It was difficult to boil down a 160 page work into a few hundred words, but I finally managed to get it to him as a two-part blog post.

Dr. V then passed it on to Tim, who serves as the assistant director of the Th.M program at Western and also runs “Transformed.”  Once a week or so, the blog features a guest post, often written by a student. Last Thursday, my post was published.

In the end, Tim had to edit down the work I submitted into a single post, stitching together the gaps with a few sentences of his own.  But he did a great job of editing, and the final post is a much more accessible and pleasurable read.

Following the present post, I will put the original, two-part material I submitted for “Transformed.”  Anyone actually reading these things will, no doubt, concur that Tim did a great job of rendering them.

Posted in external links, Genesis, Gibborim | 5 Comments

A Hero for the Alien

“For YHWH your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the HEROIC, and the fearsome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
— Deuteronomy 10:17-19

This is one of the few times that the word gibbôr (“hero”) is used of God. And it is used here to remind Israel that He is a God who brings His heroic might to bear in His love for the downcast, the stranger, the alien, the refugee.

In this connection, here is a wonderful and desperately needed reminder from Thabiti Anyabwile:

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Calvin on the Nephilim

“The Nephilim were in the land in those days—and so also afterward (whenever the sons of God went to the daughters of man so that they gave birth for them); they were the heroes of antiquity, men of name.”
— Genesis 6:4 (my translation)

The following is from John Calvin’s commentary on this verse:

[T]hey were ferocious tyrants, who separated themselves from the common rank.  Their first fault was pride; because, relying on their own strength, they arrogated to themselves more than was due.  Pride produced contempt of God, because being inflated by arrogance, they began to shake off every yoke. At the same time, they were also disdainful and cruel towards men; because it is not possible that they, who would not bear to yield obedience to God, should have acted with moderation towards men.
Moses adds, they were “men of renown;” by which he intimates that they boasted of their wickedness, and were, what are called hounourable robbers.  Nor is it to be doubted, that they had something more excellent than the common people, which procured for them favour and glory in the world.  Nevertheless, under the magnificent title of heroes, they cruelly exercised dominion, and acquired power and fame for themselves, by injuring and oppressing their brethren.  And this was the first nobility of the world.
Lest anyone should too greatly delight himself in a long and dingy line of ancestry; this, I repeat, was the nobility, which raised itself on high, by pouring contempt and disgrace on others.
Celebrity of name is not in itself condemned; since it is necessary that they whom the Lord has adorned with peculiar gifts should be pre-eminent among others; and it is advantageous that there should be distinction of ranks in the world.  But as ambition is always vicious, and more especially so when joined with a tyrannical ferocity, which causes the more powerful to insult the weak, the evil becomes intolerable.  It is, however, much worse, when wicked men gain honour by their crimes; and when, the more audacious any one is in doing injury, the more insolently he boasts of the empty smoke of titles.
Moreover, as Satan is an ingenious contriver of falsehoods, by which he would corrupt the truth of God, and in this manner render it suspected, the poets have invented many fables concerning the giants; who are called by them the sons of the Earth, for this reason, as it appears to me, because they rushed forward to acquire dominion, without any example of the their ancestors.

Posted in Genesis, Gibborim, Quotes, Theology | Leave a comment

Doing “Greater” Works than Jesus?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”  (John 14:12)

The word “greater” here is the comparative form of μεγας (megas), meaning “large,” or “great.” In terms of the way it means large or great, it carries a wide range of semantic possibilities.  It is not likely that the Lord is saying that Christians will do things that are of greater cosmic or theological significance than His work.  How could we exceed the work He has done? In this same discourse, He clearly teaches that we cannot do anything at all without Him (John 15:5).

Actually, the Lord explains here what He means when He says “because I go to the Father.” His entire lifetime on earth was scarcely over three decades in length. His public ministry lasted for about three years and was geographically limited to Palestine. But for two millennia, His church has been expanding her mission around theclothed-in-christ world; and this is because He went to the Father, and the Father sent the Spirit to indwell and empower His people.

Still, we must notice that the Lord does not say the church will do greater things, but that the individual who believes in Him will do greater things. Even so, we can see that the individual believer does more and other things than those done by the Lord Himself. This is no insult to the Lord or His work. He simply never intended to do all the kingdom ministry Himself. In fact, the vast majority of the work of God’s kingdom throughout history will not be done directly by the Lord Jesus Himself. It will be done by Him through His church. And that means it will be done by individual believers.

There is a good picture in Scripture to show us this relationship between the church and the individual believer in doing the greater works of Jesus. To the church at Colossae, the apostle Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col. 1:24).  That is a crazy statement. It almost sounds like a man with a Messiah-complex. There turns out to be something missing in Jesus’ work on the cross (His “afflictions”)?… And Paul is going to pick up the slack?!  Well, actually, Paul says that what he is doing is on behalf of the church, not on behalf of Christ. In other words, it is his share in what the church is doing in making up the gap.

But why is there a gap at all? Again, it is not that anything was found wanting in the work of our Lord’s sufferings. It was God’s intention all along to accomplish the vast majority of this work through believing individuals. One major image of suffering in the Hebrew Scriptures—and therefore, something that must be borne by the shoulders of the Messiah—is that of the captive pining away in captivity. But other than His arrest and incarceration the night before he died, the Lord Jesus never directly suffered the plight of the prisoner. That particular piece of His afflictions, he left to Paul and others. Yet clearly, it is not Paul in himself who makes up these afflictions, but Christ in Paul who finishes His work in the story of the church.

On the road to Damascus, the Lord referred to Paul’s (then Saul’s) persecution of the church as persecution done to Him personally: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). When the Lord then tells Ananias to be ready to receive Saul, Ananias objects on the grounds that Paul is a persecutor of the church. Part of the Lord’s response is to say, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (v. 16). In other words, he will show Paul how, as part of the church he once persecuted, he will get to participate in His Lord’s own redemptive afflictions, filling up his part of the great works of Christ which God had planned and prepared beforehand.

In this way, every believer has a share in “filling up” the rest of the Lord’s work—yes, even His afflictions, for there is a cross-shaped costliness to every good thing we do in and for our Lord. The apostle John says that we all have an anointing from the Holy One (I Jhn. 2:20,27). There is a day coming when The Book of the Life of the Lamb will be opened, and our stories will be read from it (Rev. 20:12,15). The stories in which we do the “greater” (read: ‘more’ and ‘other’) things that our Lord has done through us by His Spirit. This is His life, after all (Gal. 2:20).

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