Posts Tagged ‘Origen’

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

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The Greek Texts as God’s Word: A Reply to ‘Submit’

July 11, 2013

I had this comment posted by ‘Submit’ to my post Christianity and the Survival of Ancient Learning: Part Two

Are Greek texts pure word of God. Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

P46 (175CE) is Greek manuscript with the largest percentage of difference on record. This just proved that Church have been changing words since early 2nd century at will.

Here is the words of the early church father, Origen (3rd century CE):
“The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.” Origen, early church father in “Commentary on Matthew.”

Regarding the oldest surviving fragment, Colin Roberts compared P52 writings using ONLY 5 samples from the early 2nd century CE back in 1935 and concluded based on those 5 samples; P52 was from the early 2nd century.

(Brent Nongbri’s 2005. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel)
What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. – Brent

Compare with 4th century codexes. You will be surprise how Holy Spirit inside the scribes fail to prevent them from changing words of God ever since the beginning.

‘Submit’s’ Question and Muslim Attitudes to the Gospels

Now it occurs to me that there’s a bit of Muslim polemic in here. ‘Submission’ is the English translation of the Arabic term, Islam, and while it’s possible that ‘Submit’ took his or her name from the ‘Submit’ button on the comments box, it could also be a reference to Islam’s name. One of the tenets of Islam is that it preserves the original teaching of the Jesus and the other Judaeo-Christian prophets, which the Jews and Christians have deliberately altered. Now I have to say that with arguments like those, I suspect there may be a double standard considering the penalties some Muslim societies have placed on the critical examination of Islam’s own sacred texts in the way the Bible has by Western scholars.

Now let’s examine some of ‘Submit’s’ claims and questions.

Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

They haven’t survived, but there’s no reason to believe that they were deliberately suppressed. The canon of scripture was formed from the books the churches used for preaching, learning about the Lord, and worship. There was no formal process in which Christian scholars deliberately decided which books to include in the canon, and which to exclude. Now the lingua franca of Jews outside Palestine, and indeed of the eastern Mediterranean in general, was koine Greek. The early Christian communities used the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible that had been composed for the Jewish community in Alexandria in Egypt. Some scholars have suggested that the division between the Greek and Hebrew communities mentioned in Acts may not refer to ethnic divisions in the early Christian community, but between Greek and Hebrew-speaking Jews. There is still some debate amongst scholars over how far Rabbinic Judaism was hostile to the early Christian communities. Some Jewish scholars have maintained that the Birakat ha-Minim, or 12th Benediction in the Talmud, was not written against Christians. The Birakat ha-Minim condemns ‘Nazarenes’ and other heretics. Earlier scholars have seen it as an attempt by the rabbis to combat the growth of Christianity. As I said, it’s disputed by Jewish scholars, who have argued that Christians were still welcome in the synagogues until the early 2nd century. The church historian Eusebius mentions Jewish Christians, such as the bishop, Hegesippus. Robin Lane Fox in his book, Pagans and Christians, notes that the Jews were largely hostile and unresponsive to Christian mission. Christian preaching to Jews in the synagogues appears to cease with St. Paul. Given that the wider language of the Jewish diaspora was Greek and that after the First century Gentile Christians exceeded Jewish Christians, it appears to me that Matthew’s Aramaic Gospel may not have survived, not because it was deliberately suppressed, but because it wasn’t relevant to the wider Christian community. Its use by Aramaic-speaking Jews would have meant that it would have died out when their community did.

Syriac, the Peshitta, and the Hebrew Gospels

There is also the general point that the Patristic sources, which mention this version of the Matthew’s Gospel simply states that it was written for the Jews ‘in their own language’. This could be Aramaic, or possibly Hebrew. It may also mean that the Gospel was superseded by the Peshitta, the Syriac language version of the Bible used by Assyrian and other Eastern Orthodox churches. Syriac is descended from Aramaic, and developed around the city of Edessa after 200 AD.

Problems of Assuming Bible first Written in Aramaic

Now there is the problem in that ‘Submit’ assumes that the Bible, at least in its earliest stages and elements was composed first in Aramaic, then translated into Greek. But this need not necessarily have been the case. AS I have said, koine Greek was the international language of the eastern Mediterranean. The language of the imperial administration, up to the Muslim conquest in the 7th century AD was also Greek. It is possible that Christ may have known some Greek, and part of his answers when tried by Pilate may also have been in Greek. It’s thus possible that the first logia composed by the Christian community may have been in the Semitic koine Greek used by the Jewish communities there, rather than in Aramaic or Hebrew.

Differences in Gospel Copies due to Scribal Errors, Not Invention

Now let’s deal with his contention that there are major differences in the various copies of the Gospels. In fact what he is describing, and what Origen was trying to correct, are copying errors. Manuscripts were frequently copied through dictation. This allowed a single reader, dictating to a number of scribes at the same time, to produce many copies of the same book, rather than a single scribe laboriously copying out the text for one book after another. The problem with that process, however, is that words that sound the same could be confused. Furthermore, Greek texts from the ancient world can be extremely difficult to read. There’s very little punctuation, and no gaps between words. It’s also true that some scribes may have slightly altered the text to make the passage clearer. Despite this, there are no major differences. About 97 to 99 per cent of the text in all the extant copies of the Greek Bible is the same, and there are no differences when it comes to the fundamentals of the faith.

As for scribes changing the text of the Bible ‘at will’, this also isn’t true. The scribal changes follow the conventions of three different stylist families, resulting from the different scriptoria that produced them. If the scribes were introducing such changes at will, they would be much more random and it would be much more difficult to group them into families.

Conclusion: Gospel Texts Accurate with only Minor Differences

So the early Greek texts were not altered at will, but largely through scribal error, and these differences do not altered the fundamental meaning of the Gospels themselves. They remain largely accurate copies of the original documents.

Keeping Sunday Special: Why Society Still Needs One Day Free from Work

July 10, 2013

The immensely erudite Jerome has published this piece defending Sunday observance on his website, And Sometimes He’s So Nameless: http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/lazy-sunday-afternoon-should-we-still-observe-the-sabbath/. His argument is that, even in this secular age people need one day a week which they can spend with their families. As you can expect from Jerome, he’s done his research thoroughly, and cites the statistics to support his argument. He also cites the employment legislation that says that Christians and others may not be forced to work on Sunday. This is now being comprehensively ignored, as Sunday becomes yet another day of the week when people are expected to work. Like me, Jerome is old enough to remember when Sundays were effectively dead days. They were incredibly dull, with little on television except religious programmes and classic adaptations of Dickens and the other great Victorian novelists. There were some game shows, such as The Golden Shot, and usually at least a couple of comedy programmes – I remember such classics as The Rag Trade, Only When I laugh, and George and Mildred, and later comedies, such as Ever Decreasing Circles and Oh, Happy Band!. This last was another product from Perry and Croft, the writing team that brought us Dad’s Army and ‘Allo, ‘Allo. It was also the day when the TV companies ran the western, Alias Smith and Jones, and The Holiday Programme with Cliff Mitchelmore. But mostly I remember it just being very dull. However, as Jerome points out, it was nearly the only day of the week when the whole family could be together, and as a result, family life was strengthened. People need one day a week off. The early Christian theologian, Origen, considered the Sabbath one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity, and noted that even some pagan Romans were copying Christians and taking a day off to rest. I am certainly not arguing for a return to the very dour Sabbatarianism Compton Mackenzie gently lampoons in the great British comedy, Whiskey Galore! You should be able to have fun on the day at rest, which even the 17th century theologians recognised when they debated the topic. My point is that people do still need one day a week to rest from work, and to spend with their families.

Love, Sex and the Song of Solomon

May 2, 2013

The Old Testament Reading at the beginning of March this year (2013) was from The Song of Songs/ Song of Solomon

This is hot stuff. When I was at College studying the Old Testament, we were told by the lecturer that because of its sexual nature, the rabbis would only let people over 30 read it. It was accepted into the Christian canon of scripture – the Bible – because it was seen as an allegory of Christ’s love for His bridge, the church. The 3rd century theologian Origen in his Homily on the Song of Songs states that it was one of four Biblical texts that the Jews would only allow people to read after they had completed their religious education. These other reserved texts included the Creation story from Genesis and the visions of the strange creatures in Ezekiel. These were kept back for advanced religious students because they could be the subject of heretical and bizarre mystical speculation.

Plot of the Song of Songs

Origen himself believed that the Song of Songs was a play written by Solomon in the form of an epithalamium, a wedding poem. Contemporary scholars also believe that it contains love songs sung at weddings. The passage from chapter 4:1 to 5:1 has been described as a wasf, a type of song still sung at Syrian weddings today. This chapter is a love song by Solomon praising the book’s heroine, the Shulammite. The book is about how she has been abducted from her home in the village to become part of Solomon’s harem. She resists his attempts to seduce her, and remains faithful to her true lover, a shepherd. Eventually Solomon realises that he can never have her, and releases her. The Song ends with the Shulammite reunited with her beloved shepherd.

God’s Love for Humanity, The Song of Songs and Monogamous Relationships

Modern commentators on it have stated that it needs to be read more as God’s instruction on the proper nature of sexual love between man and woman rather than as the tradition allegory about Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, there are sections, which may be read as God’s declaration of His steadfast love for sinning humanity. The physical description of the two lovers’ and their respective beauty – the Shulammite’s in 4:1-7 and the Shepherd 5:9 – 16, also show that God is also the God of beauty, who works are to be admired. The beauty of the human body is not something of which to be ashamed. Christians are frequently accused of being against sex and despising the human body. The Church since the earliest times placed a very high value on celibacy and sexual continence. Modern theologians since the sexual revolution of the ’60s are keen to show that Christianity is not against sex, but against its abuse and exploitation outside of an exclusive, monogamous relationship. The Shulammite in 4:12 describes her love as a locked garden. This shows that love most be monogamous in the heart as well as under law. Her rejection of Solomon’s blandishments also show that true love is not to be produced artificially, but only awakens when it pleases. The commentary I read for this talk states that the book is a censure on lust, polygamy, and infidelity, but endorses physical love within a legitimate, monogamous relationship.

Verse 8:7 where the shepherd and his friends ask the Shulammite to speak because they long to hear her voice also shows us the strength of Christ’s love, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His church, as well as the church’s own yearning for His presence.

Biblical God of Love against Graeco-Roman Values and those of Philosopher Nietzsche

Origen in his Homily also shows how the Song of Songs and other passages in the Bible show that God is a God of love, love for whom is shown is acts of kindness like the Good Samaritan in Christ’s parable. Although this is very much a cliché now, in the ancient world it was massively contrary to Graeco-Roman values. The Roman morals accepted and praised clemency, but found the Christian values of mercy incomprehensible and alien. Some Stoic philosophers, such as Seneca, rejected compassion. This attitude was taken up again the 19th century by the anti-Christian atheist German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was an admirer of what he saw as the heroic, tragic values of pagan Greece. He despised and attacked Christianity’s doctrine of compassion as ‘slave morality’.

Song of Song’s Message on Love Needed for Today’s Youth exposed to Pornography

Commentators on the Song of Songs have also stressed that a proper Christian emphasis on the true meaning of marriage and sexual love is needed more than ever. Since the 1960s western society has been faced with the increasing problems of divorce and breakdown in relationships, and the sexualisation of the young. The Independent newspaper a month or so ago reported a debate between two women writers at the Bath Festival of Literature. While keen not to be seen as anti-sex, they were concerned about the immense pressure now placed on teenage girls to perform degrading and perverted sexual acts due to the influence of increasingly extreme porn on teenage boys. A return to the morality expressed in the Song of Songs – of pure, ennobling love – is surely needed.

The Shulammite’s beloved shepherd, in 6:4 tells her that she is as beautfiul as Tirzah and as lovely as Jerusalem. Tirzah was the capital of the Northern Kingdom from the time of Jeroboam, so this is also a celebration of one of Israel’s greatest cities at its height. Archaeologists have discovered and mapped the location of some of the houses around its north wall from this time.

The Song of Songs is thus a celebration of both God’s love for humanity and His church, and earthly sexual love. It directly attacks both the aristocratic values of Roman paganism, and the modern degrading attitudes towards sex and relationships.