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The Trombone ForumPractice BreakChit-ChatReligion(Moderator: bhcordova) TTF "Read Da Book": The Christian Bible
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drizabone
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« Reply #2140 on: May 18, 2017, 03:55AM »

Yes, there's this ongoing uneasy tension between newfangled ideas of fairness and oldfangled ideas of basic retribution and gore. In some ways it's the same tension that sits at the heart of the modern political narrative still.

Retribution can be completely fair and deserved.  An eye for an eye is fair isn't it?  I would argue that our centralised social justice is based on the Mosaic Law.  Obviously modified.

Retribution can be completely just too which I think it more YHWH's concern than fairness.
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« Reply #2141 on: May 18, 2017, 04:00AM »

Isaiah 64 text

...

1) Why would a general lack of belief prevent Yahweh from manifesting himself?

I think the reason given is sin and uncleanness, which made God angry. General lack of belief is an example sin.
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« Reply #2142 on: May 18, 2017, 04:09AM »

...the tension seems to arise from the original conception of Yahweh as a simpler god, one among many, not even the head god (who was El)

I know wikipedia and others say otherwise but El is Caananite for god and Yahweh is the name of the God of Abraham and Moses and Isaiah etc.  So we have "Here oh Israel, the Lord (Yahweh) your God (El) is one God (Elohim).   

So biblically they are not 2 different Gods but 2 different ways of referring to him.

And Thor wouldn't have won, he's a puny god.
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« Reply #2143 on: May 18, 2017, 04:14AM »

Retribution can be completely fair and deserved.  An eye for an eye is fair isn't it?  I would argue that our centralised social justice is based on the Mosaic Law.  Obviously modified.

Seems much more straightforward to me that both are based upon a more visceral and obvious notion of reciprocation/fairness, and both also tend to validate vengeance. Rather, it's more accurate to say we use both to validate vengeance.
 
Retribution can be completely just too which I think it more YHWH's concern than fairness.

Do you mean we humans don't need to worry about that, or that retribution is God's right, or ... ?
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« Reply #2144 on: May 18, 2017, 04:49AM »

Retribution can be completely fair and deserved.  An eye for an eye is fair isn't it?  I would argue that our centralised social justice is based on the Mosaic Law.  Obviously modified.



I would suggest that our ideas of social justice date trace to the same attitudes in Job, or maybe even to Abrahamic covenant:  the poor and needy are that way because they deserve it, through disobedience or bad genes, depending on your time period.

Our ideas about criminal justice trace to Bentham's ideas of utility calculation from the 1830s, and have been proven wrong, but are still in favor. 
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« Reply #2145 on: May 18, 2017, 07:26AM »

I would argue that our centralised social justice is based on the Mosaic Law.

There's nothing new under the Sun, is there? All of our basic social ideas have been in circulation for millennia; we just shift emphases around periodically. The current formulations of Western societies were created by people raised with Christian concepts as touchstones, even if they went on to dissect and/or reject those concepts. Certainly some concepts reached us through the lens of Christianity.

Moses wasn't the first - even if we trust the story as it's written down here (a very big if, given that the Exodus narrative appears to contradict (or at least troublesomely fail to be validated by) each of archaelogy, written records, and genetics), we know that ancient Sumer had an extensive welfare system at an earlier date than any possible Moses date - indeed, from a date (in the decades preceding 2000 BC) that takes us further back even than Abraham. And given that Terah lived in Ur, we might reasonably conclude that the law code of a leader in the tradition of a group that counted themselves descended from a Sumerian might be held to owe some ancestral lineage to Sumer.

I know wikipedia and others say otherwise but El is Caananite for god and Yahweh is the name of the God of Abraham and Moses and Isaiah etc.  So we have "Here oh Israel, the Lord (Yahweh) your God (El) is one God (Elohim).  

So biblically they are not 2 different Gods but 2 different ways of referring to him.

"Biblically" is the key word here. The bible says that they're the same - so there you go, if the bible is all one requires as an evidence source. But if one views the Israelites as just one cultural group in the local melting pot and accepts the available other sources from the local area and period, then a more complex picture emerges. El is well attested as the head of numerous local pantheons in the period prior to the emergence of Yahweh. It's declared possible on the available evidence that Yahweh was a renaming of El, but (that Wikipedia page really is rather good, isn't it?) there are some puzzling elements to Yahweh that don't fit well with El - that in fact fit rather better with Hadad, another god, one subsidiary to El and named as worshipped in the bible in pejorative terms. I look at it and infer that various god concepts were milling around in this period, with inconsistent ideas between different places.
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« Reply #2146 on: May 18, 2017, 09:28PM »

Do you mean we humans don't need to worry about that, or that retribution is God's right, or ... ?

I was not clear there was I.

What I mean is that God seems more concerned about being just than with being fair.


"Biblically" is the key word here. The bible says that they're the same - so there you go, if the bible is all one requires as an evidence source.

Yes "biblically" is key: not as though I expect you to take it as proof but just to identify the scope of my point.

So I was saying that El is used in the bible to mean god, and this includes Yaweh as well as other gods with their own names like Baal and Marduk. Just like we talk about dog, Fido and Rex. 
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« Reply #2147 on: May 19, 2017, 05:42AM »

"El" is also used in the bible as a specific name for the Abrahamic god. For example, in the name "Isra-el". It's noteworthy that we saw -el names give way to -iah names as Yahweh-worship gained traction. In the biblical context, it's asserted that El changed name to Yahweh. With eyes that see no reason to treat the bible's words as ultimate truth, it appears that the worship of El gave way to - or perhaps transmuted into, with a certain confusion of deity roles - the worship of Yahweh.

Anyhow - we're all on the same page, I think.

As a completely incidental side point, it tickles me that both Israel and Jerusalem have names that honour deities that predate Yahweh in the region. If I were one of the people who argues vehemently for Yahweh worship displacing all else in these modern places, this perspective would give me a little pause for thought and reflection.
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« Reply #2148 on: May 19, 2017, 05:51AM »

Isaiah 65 text

Highlights

 - A proto-heaven concept

Summary

 - Yahweh made himself seekable to Israel, but was not sought
 - So he'll judge them accordingly
 - Those who did seek will be rewarded with descendants
 - Yahweh will recreate things so that all is reward for the just
 - None will strive against each other

Questions and Observations

1) Abraham's covenant referenced.
2) This sounds rather like the Christian notion of heaven. When did that arise?
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« Reply #2149 on: May 19, 2017, 06:05AM »

Isaiah 66 text

Highlights

 - Judgement is at hand

Summary

 - Yahweh made everything, but values those that worship him
 - And judges those that don't
 - Jerusalem is special
 - The faithful will find fulfilment there
 - Judgement will come by fire
 - Soon Yahweh will gather the faithful to Jerusalem, sending far and wide
 - Only the faithful will be left, the unfaithful killed, their dead bodies left as a grisly lesson

Questions and Observations

1) Again, the promise is that this will happen soon. The perspective of an immortal being on time will be different to what we expect, but what I am reading, words written down by humans, does not suggest that those humans thought that they would be waiting thousands of years.
2) It takes a special and intense kind of self-focus to fantasise about all people not like you being killed...
3) So that ends the Book of Isaiah, perhaps the most complex and meaning-negotiable of all the books that we've so far read through in our little venture here. I'll post my summary below, and pause a little for any concluding discussion before we launch into Jeremiah.
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« Reply #2150 on: May 19, 2017, 06:27AM »

Part I - The Tetrateuch
Genesis
  • Big picture stuff
    • Creation; Adam & Eve
    • Humans, take 1; Cain & Abel, Noah
    • The Flood; Wash everything away, start again
    • Humans, take 2
  • Abraham; extensive travels, original covenant, Lot, not sacrificing Isaac
  • Jacob; conflict with twin Esau, banishment, wives, 12 sons
  • Joseph; betrayal to Egypt, rise, saving of family, supposed origins of 12 tribes
Exodus
  • New scene, three generations on - Israelites now of low status in Egypt
  • Moses grows up, fights battle of wills with Pharoah over plagues, leads Israelites to depart
  • Wandering, take 1; through the desert to Mt. Sinai, where they make a long camp and...
Leviticus
  • ...many laws are given
Numbers
  • Wandering, take 2; they reach their destination, but are too weak to attempt the task, and so...
  • Wandering, take 3; more pootling around, building up military prowess over the years in the preparation for invasion; new leaders emerge, and they finish on the brink of their destination again

Part II - The Deuteronomistic History
Deuteronomy
  • Moses orates; recap of terms and conditions, forward planning
  • Moses dies
Joshua
  • Conquest of Canaan under Joshua
  • Division of conquered land between the tribes, East and West banks of the Jordan
Judges
  • Prologue: Messy details of attempted not-always-successful conquest, compare with previous book
  • An intermittent sequence of Judges leads: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson
  • The Dan tribe take territory in the North and the Benjamin tribe are defeated by the other tribes
Ruth
  • Intermezzo: Heartwarming tale of a family coming through hard times in the era of the Judges
1 Samuel
  • Samuel is a priestly leader in a time of Philistine conflicts who needs a worthy successor
  • Saul is appointed to the new role of king and with his son Jonathan defeats the Ammonites, Philistines, Amalekites, but he falls out with Samuel, who anoints David as a replacement king secretly
  • David (a military hero) and Saul vie for superiority over a long period, eventually brought to an end when the Philistines kill Saul in battle
2 Samuel
  • The kingdom nearly splits, but David unites it, doing many heroic deeds
  • But in time he becomes morally suspect and manipulated by schemers
1 Kings
  • David dies, succeeded by Solomon, who consolidates his power base brutally but gains great wealth and a reputation for great wisdom, building the "first temple" and a palace; however, like David he becomes morally suspect in time
  • After he dies, the kingdom is split into Israel (larger Northern portion) and Judah (smaller Southern portion), and the continual inference is that Judah is the legitimate one of the two
  • Kings succeed in both Israel and Judah; Elijah gains prominence as a prophet
2 Kings
  • Long successions of kings of both Israel and Judah are described, and the prophet Elisha comes to prominence
  • Most kings do not prioritise Yahweh-worship - none in Israel, but some in Judah.
  • First Israel then Judah are unable to tread the difficult path of negotiation between stronger powers on either side, with both populations destroyed and exiled by 586 BC

Part III - The Chronicler's History (including miscellanea)
1 Chronicles
  • Recap of genealogy to the beginning; return of some exiles to Judah
  • Recap of Samuel written to favour David more highly
2 Chronicles
  • Recap of Kings with only the Judah parts and a focus on relations with Yahweh
  • End of exile when Babylon falls
Ezra
  • Cyrus of Persia commands Judah to return home and rebuild their temple; decades later Artaxerxes of Persia commands Ezra to lead a second wave of returnees
Nehemiah
  • Nehemiah, a Judahite official of Artaxerxes of Persia, is appointed governor of Judah, rebuilding Jerusalem's wall; he and Ezra organise Judah, mixing enlightened social reform with brutally dogmatic interpretations of Mosaic law
Tobit Catholic/Orthodox
  • Tobit and his son Tobias are exiled in Nineveh when Israel falls, while Sarah lives in Media; a demon has killed seven of her husbands. With an angel's help, Tobias rescues her, and everyone lives happily ever after
Judith Catholic/Orthodox
  • Nebuchadnezzar is enraged by the Israelites' failure to answer a military summons, and despatches his general Holofernes with his army to suppress them; Judith, a beautiful Israelite widow, uses feminine wiles to distract Holofernes, killing him
Esther
  • Jewish exile in Susa Esther wins a beauty contest to become queen of Persia; factions vie to destroy the Jews in Persia, but the influence of her and her uncle Mordecai carries the day
1 Maccabees Catholic/Orthodox
  • In the 160s BC the Greek rulers attempt a religious crackdown in Judaea, against which Judas Maccabeus leads a rebellion
  • Various competing empires trade blows, and all the while the rebellion becomes more secure; Jonathan Apphus and then Simon Thassi succeed Judas and establish a medium-term peace, along with Simon's dynasty, the Hasmonaeans
2 Maccabees  Catholic/Orthodox
  • Prior to the Maccabean revolt, unedifying political struggles within the priesthood result in turmoil, resulting in the crackdown of 1 Maccabees; Judas leads the first portion of his revolt, in less detail this time

Part IV - Wisdom Literature
Job
  • Job is a wealthy and good man, devoted to Yahweh
  • Satan talks Yahweh into letting him test Job's faith, which he does by destroying his fortune, family, and health
  • Job and his friends talk it over at length; Job is convinced of his innocence, his friends of his guilt
  • Yahweh eventually turns up and ticks them all off for not respecting him enough; he restores Job's fortunes twice over
Psalms
  • Large collection of devotional songs/poems, whose themes include
    • Overarching powerfulness of Yahweh
    • Need to praise and thank Yahweh
    • How bad it feels when Yahweh feels absent, and how good it feels when he feels present
Prayer of Manasseh Orthodox
  • An extra psalm
Proverbs
  • Large collection of wise sayings, many attributed to King Solomon. Major themes include:
    • Industriousness, Humility, Fair dealing, Marital faithfulness, Religious devotion, Political savvy
Ecclesiastes
  • A harshly pragmatic sermon, attributed to Solomon, with the moral: All that one achieves will perish; the only true joy is to be taken in doing the tasks in front of you
Song of Solomon
  • A borderline erotic exaltation of the joys of love, possibly between Solomon and his bride, possibly between his bride and her lover
Wisdom  Catholic/Orthodox
  • The point of wisdom is to achieve salvation through Yahweh; those that reject this are accursed
Sirach  Catholic/Orthodox
  • The collected wisdom of Joshua ben Sira (c.200 BC), a large and rambling miscellany of precepts; major themes include
    • Death, Friendship, Happiness, Shame, Money, Sin, Social Justice, Etiquette, Women, History

Part V - Major Prophets
Isaiah
  • Oracles of Isaiah ben Amoz, who lived in Judah up to the time of King Hezekiah (c.700 BC)
    • Yahweh's judgement is coming - only the faithful will pass the test, and Isaiah is worried that Judah is not faithful enough
    • Various other nations will come to grief, but a servant of Yahweh will arise, leading the faithful to salvation in a recast Jerusalem
    • Current events - Hezekiah's escape from crushing by Sennacherib
  • Later additions to Isaiah's book
    • Cyrus of Persia acts as an instrument of Yahweh, ending the exile, and the once-supreme Babylon is crushed
    • The servant will show the way to salvation under the judgement of Yahweh
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« Reply #2151 on: May 19, 2017, 06:39AM »

"El" is also used in the bible as a specific name for the Abrahamic god. For example, in the name "Isra-el".

Didn't some worship Ba-el?  And there's an angel/demon, Azara-el?
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« Reply #2152 on: May 19, 2017, 06:45AM »

Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, there's a whole horde of them...
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« Reply #2153 on: May 19, 2017, 07:13AM »

Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, there's a whole horde of them...
I guess Noah must be worshipped too, because he is really Noel. :)
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« Reply #2154 on: May 19, 2017, 07:21AM »

:-)
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« Reply #2155 on: May 19, 2017, 10:50AM »

Don't forget Kal-el ... clearly a messianic figure in a familiar if revised mold.
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« Reply #2156 on: May 20, 2017, 06:31AM »

Jeremiah 1 text

Highlights

 - Introducing Jeremiah

Summary

 - This book contains the words of Jeremiah, in the reigns of the final kings of Judah before the exile
 - Jeremiah declares himself a prophet of Yahweh, stating that he put his over-youthfulness to Yahweh as a counter, but Yahweh insisted
 - He forecasts that disaster will come from the North, and that the tribes of the Israelite North will come to Jerusalem in supplication
 - He forecasts that his words will not be popular, but that Yahweh will lend him the resilience necessary to make them heard

Questions and Observations

1) On to the next "major prophet". Jeremiah is the "son of Hilkiah", presumably (or perhaps) the same Hilkiah that "found the Book of the Law" in 2 Kings 22.
2) His career as an oracle began in the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), and (skipping over the brief reign of Jehoahaz and Jeconiah) continued in the reigns of Jehoiakim (609-598 BC) and Zedekiah (597-586 BC). We are told that his writings occurred in the 13th year of Josiah - 628 BC - and then that they resumed under the later two kings, continuing until 5 months after the fall of Jerusalem in the summer of 586 BC. He is described (v6) as "only a youth" when he began his career - so perhaps we may assume that he was born c.645 BC. As with all such chronology numbers, there's a year or two uncertainty on them.
3) Anathoth, Jeremiah's workplace, was near Jerusalem.
4) Isaiah spoke to us from the period of the Assyrian exile and afterwards; Jeremiah now speaks to us from the period up to the Babylonian exile - perhaps 3 generations separate the two. Disaster coming out of the North sounds like a prediction of what had already happened, when the Assyrians depeopled Israel; the Babylonians would have come from the East. But then, maybe they would have gone around that way - easier terrain.
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« Reply #2157 on: May 21, 2017, 05:48PM »

Isaiah: Themes and Questions

I thought some of the significant themes in Isaiah were:

- Sin:
   - is the cause of the suffering and retribution in Isaiah. God punishes Judah and the nations for their sins.
   - what is sin: in Isaiah it pretty much always involves forgetting God, forgetting the origin and the creator of humankind
       - so Judah are punished for worshipping other gos
       - so Sennacherib is punished for thinking that he is greater than God and not his tool

- Suffering
   - for Isaiah suffering is a result of sin, both as a divine punishment but also a natural consequence.

- Justice and judgment
  - probably the biggest theme in Isaiah. God continually visits his wrathful judgment on everyone.
  - Isaiah basically exists, as a person, to warn about God's impending judgments and to urge people to change their ways before it's too late (ch6)
  - But God, in Isaiah, isn't mainly concerned with whether people are following all the rites and rituals. He wants to see them put their hearts into their actions, and behave with devotion and sincerity. He isn't punishing people for failing to offer him sacrifices. He's punishing them for only offering him lip-service, and for failing to treat the less fortunate (particularly, widows and orphans) with compassion

- Power
  - Isaiah compares human and divine power
  - People do what god wants

- Hope, Promise
  - much of the book is about judgement, annihilation and war, but to me, the most interesting and animated parts is that of hope:  the babies,  the servant, peace and comfort.

Compassion and Forgiveness ie Mercy
 - this seems to be the climax of the book: the moment of relief following all the constant conflict and violence. 
 - Isaiah says the God's mercy is based on his love for his people.
 - Isaiah ends with a reign of endless, universal love despite the preceding conflict and violence.
 - So Yahweh and Isaiah are more like hippies than socialists or conservatives.

Questions

I thought there were lots of questions raised by Isaiah.

Is suffering ultimately meaningful? Or is the kind of pain depicted here ultimately without any "gain" balancing it out at the end?
Do only guilty people suffer in Isaiah? Or do the innocent suffer along with the guilty?
How do people react to their suffering? Are their people who learn no lessons from it (if there are always lessons to be learned from it)?
Does suffering actually help improve Judah? Is it laying the groundwork for a better order, a better time?

Does Isaiah portray God as more just than merciful or the other way?
Is God truly just?
Does God's justice get people to behave better? or is it just about retribution and vengeance?
What is the purpose of all the destruction and killing?  Is their a purpose.
Is God fair?  eg he uses Sennacherib's egotism and destructive tendencies to punish Judah and then punishes him for being too egotistical.

What is God using his power for?

Why does God create a new heaven and a new earth? 
What does this say about the old ones?
Why does he create a new earth if eternal life was going to be in heaven?

Do the people of Israel and Judah need to be worthy of God's mercy in order to receive it? Or is mercy given without worrying about those kinds of things (because wouldn't it just be justice if you deserved it)?

How exactly does God love his people? Is it like a father loves a daughter, or how a husband loves a wife? What metaphors fit?
Are their some sins that are unforgivable? Who doesn't, in the end, get forgiven and why?

Ending

I think that Isaiah has been the most weighty book we've covered so far.  Its raised lots of questions about God's justice, purposes, mercy and plans for the world and people.

And I still have to think carefully when I type "Isaiah"
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« Reply #2158 on: May 21, 2017, 08:13PM »

Jeremiah 2 text

Highlights

 - Israel betrays The Lord and goes off after foreigners and their gods
 - The Lord is not happy

Summary

 - Jeremiah says that the word of God came to him and told him to speak to Jerusalem.
 - Israel is likened to a bride who used to be devoted to her groom when they were together in the wilderness (headed out of Egypt). So romantic!
 - But now Israel's become like a field where the fruits were eaten by robbers, who were put to death for trespassing on the harvest. Or like a runaway bride.
 - God asks why they've all forgotten him and why they never mention that he led them out of Egypt and into their own land.
 - The rulers and prophets forgot their sacred covenant with God and started worshipping Baal and doing other unholy stuff.
 - God accuses the people and their descendants of abandoning him. He asks them to look at other nations to see if they've ever abandoned their gods.
 - The heavens themselves should be shocked and disgusted at this: the people have abandoned the living fountain that's God, and built cisterns for themselves that are cracked and can't hold water (meaning the new religious practices they've adopted won't work).

 - Even though Israel isn't supposed to be a slave or a servant to other nations, it's become those things.
 - Foreign powers like the Egyptian cities of Memphis and Tahphanhes have had a bad influence on Israel.
 - Rather than return to God, the Israelites continue to pay more attention to fancy foreign empires like Egypt and Assyria.
 - Obviously, the people are going to get punished for their wicked and traitorous ways. They've forgotten to fear or revere God.
 - Israel broke the yoke binding it to God, and started prostituting itself to other gods, participating in pagan rituals involving worshipping trees and hills.
 - Israel's like a domesticated vine, planted by God, that somehow went wild. Or like an restless, camel or wild-ass, who wanders around in heat, waiting for potential mating partners to find her. She'll do it with anybody.
 - The people are stained with guilt they can't wash off, and have turned their backs on God and turned their faces towards trees and stones, which they now worship as father and mother.

 - When the people call on God to save them, he'll tell them to go ask their new gods for help.
 - The people killed their own prophets, and obviously didn't learn a thing from the punishment God already directed at them.
 - God asks if he's been like a wilderness of darkness to them, strongly implying that he has been free and available the whole time.
 - God says that the people have played around with wicked women and killed the innocent poor. They imagine that God will still have mercy on them, but he won't. It's vengeance time.
 - They won't prosper by trusting in Egypt or Assyria.

Questions and Observations

1) 3 generations after Isaiah and Judah is getting told off again.  Will they ever learn?

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« Reply #2159 on: May 22, 2017, 04:08AM »

Isaiah: Themes and Questions

Nice post this, Martin. It's striking to see how belief in this stuff leads you to see more questions raised by it than for me; what's an anthropological interest for me is personal and immediate for you.

I thought some of the significant themes in Isaiah were:

<snip>

I basically agree with your thoughts on all of these. We are also in accordance in seeing the suggested foretelling that people get all knotted up about as basically of no importance - certainly not reliable evidence for circumventing cause and effect.

Questions

I thought there were lots of questions raised by Isaiah.

You pose large numbers of deep questions! I'll offer a little commentary interspersed, but won't be able to offer any of them the depth they deserve - there's fodder for several long spin-off religion threads here.

Is suffering ultimately meaningful? Or is the kind of pain depicted here ultimately without any "gain" balancing it out at the end?

Suffering is in many places in these books acknowledged to be decoupled from virtue. The good suffer. The bad suffer. The good thrive. The bad thrive. It seems to be merely a context against which the idea of it feeling worthwhile to be good gets a serious challenge. In general, it is meaningful - in that the overcoming of it results in a perspective gain that tends to make one more resolved to act fairly to others - but in the specific biblical context? I can't think where that exact lesson is emphasised anywhere we've yet read. Have I missed somewhere? That to me is the meaning that one can extract from suffering - but these books just treat it as a given that must be stoically endured, rather than as an opportunity to learn about oneself. I've probably forgotten some critical stuff here - it strikes me that books such as Proverbs and Sirach must have talked about gaining through suffering... Do you recall better?

Do only guilty people suffer in Isaiah? Or do the innocent suffer along with the guilty?

In the near term, everyone suffers. Isaiah's offer is to in the (very) long term separate guilty from innocent sufferingwise. The concept is that there is no reliable justice in this life, so he'll promise you a second life, set up more fairly. Kind of obvious stuff, this particular answer.

How do people react to their suffering? Are their people who learn no lessons from it (if there are always lessons to be learned from it)?

As I mentioned above, I cannot recall anyone taking particular lessons from their suffering in these books, other than to work to avoid future suffering. There are general precepts dealing with shared social responsibility, but we don't see people changing character to becoming more giving in response to it. Job might have done so, making quite a fitting conclusion to his book, but he just went back to his old life happily.

Does suffering actually help improve Judah? Is it laying the groundwork for a better order, a better time?

Same answer as regarding the individual; the country must surmount it, but the promised better time is after the death of the individual. After the death of the country too, given that Judah historically disappeared and never came back - I have a hard time seeing modern Israel as continuing meaningfully from it, given the extreme time that elapsed in between. Others feel differently.

Does Isaiah portray God as more just than merciful or the other way?

The idea is that everything is evened out by him in the end. It's a distant prospect of justice. Mercy relates to suffering and the cessation of it, which ebbs and flows, and probably sums to zero after a while. So even the most distant and intangible promise of future justice probably beats that. But averaged over time we are comparing small numbers.

Is God truly just?

We are promised so... But it isn't ever really quantified.

Does God's justice get people to behave better? or is it just about retribution and vengeance?

If I might slip back into my secular skin here... Religion is a social tool, one whose primary purpose is to get numbers of people lined up and pointing in the same direction. Like any tool, it's as good as the purpose to which it is put. All religions of any sufficient age and/or geographical spread have been both used and abused by those placed in charge of them. Was Ezra's ethnic cleansing a good use of Yahweh-worship? Or the Crusades? Or the Inquisition? Less so than Jesus's exhortations to help the needy, in my view. Or the many simple small-scale local social helps that are delivered by right-thinking churches.

Not sure how to answer this question without a secular head on... It seems to demand a step outside the paradigm in order to judge it. One thing that's clear is that religion is an extremely powerful tool of the human mind. So powerful that it can be tempting to think that the world would be better if it didn't exist, despite the good things that happen under its umbrella.

What is the purpose of all the destruction and killing?  Is their a purpose.

It isn't obvious to me. Perhaps he's just passing a bored Sunday afternoon in front of his computer running a game of Civilisation...

Is God fair?  eg he uses Sennacherib's egotism and destructive tendencies to punish Judah and then punishes him for being too egotistical.

I guess it depends on what scale he cares to deploy his powers. He certainly isn't inclined to tip the scales to make individual lives come out fairly. Or to work consistently on any larger human scale as described in these books. I think we end up zoomed all the way out again, noting that if this afterlife stuff is true, then net fairness happens. It's a powerful concept, one designed to comfort the human mind.

What is God using his power for?

The writers of these books don't seem to have an answer, do they?

Why does God create a new heaven and a new earth?

You go on this one... I guess because he isn't happy with the old one.

What does this say about the old ones?

That he messed them up?

Why does he create a new earth if eternal life was going to be in heaven?

Was it at this period though? We aren't at a time where Christian theology was formed - not really even at a time where Judaic theology had contemplated this idea.

Do the people of Israel and Judah need to be worthy of God's mercy in order to receive it? Or is mercy given without worrying about those kinds of things (because wouldn't it just be justice if you deserved it)?

It seems pretty random in the short term, doesn't it?

How exactly does God love his people? Is it like a father loves a daughter, or how a husband loves a wife? What metaphors fit?

The picture drawn is of a general or a politician trying to inspire the devotion of the people under their command.

Are their some sins that are unforgivable? Who doesn't, in the end, get forgiven and why?

Yes? And they are listed explicitly in the various law codes?

Ending

I think that Isaiah has been the most weighty book we've covered so far.  Its raised lots of questions about God's justice, purposes, mercy and plans for the world and people.

And I still have to think carefully when I type "Isaiah"

Me too!
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Dave Taylor

(me, not the other one)
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