Standing against violence: 1-6-11
Roots of our anger at God: 1-8/9-11

An early Bible scholar: 1-7-11

Here's the name of a guy I'm guessing most of you have never heard about until now -- Julius Wellhausen (pictured here). And here's something for which he was known, something I'm also guessing most of you have never heard about until now -- the Graf-Wellhausen theory.

Julius_Wellhausen Why does any of this matter? Because it relates to the way we understand how the Bible was put together?

I mention Wellhausen today because he died on this date in 1918. And because he's connected with the theory that the final form of the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, was put together after 587 BCE and was written by various authors rather than, as tradition has it, solely by Moses. (In 587 BCE, Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar's army captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon, modern Iraq. It marked the end of what biblical scholars called the "Period of Kings," which began about 1,000 BCE.)

The tradition that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible is long, but it runs into logical difficulty, among other places, when you try to figure out how Moses wrote about the death of Moses.

Wellhausen, as you can see in the biography to which I've linked you in the first paragraph above, lived at a time when the Christian theological world was in exciting turmoil. A new approach to studying the biblical text in a historical-critical method was afoot and it was challenging biblical literalists on almost every front. A term that came to be applied to the hermeneutics (or science of interpretation) used by Wellhausen was "Source Criticism."

And as many of us now believe, you can take the bible literally or you can take it seriously, but you can't take it both ways.

At any rate, there were problems with some of what Wellhausen concluded, modern scholars have decided, though he clearly was in the midst of a textual interpretation revolution that continues to this day. Indeed, without Wellhausen and 19th Century German thinkers like him, our understanding of the Bible today no doubt would be hindered. Besides, now if you ever need this name as answer (well, question) on, say, "Jeopardy," you have it.

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COUNTERING PREJUDICE AGAINST ISLAM

Amidst all the efforts to demonize Islam, some cooler voices sometimes are heard. For instance, in this essay a man who teaches at Hiram College in Ohio describes approaches to all of this that are -- or at least should be, he says -- taken by African-American Muslims. Good points.

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THE BOOK CORNER

Best-of-2011 The Best Spiritual Writing 2011, edited by Philip Zaleski. Each year Zaleski collects examples of writing that shine with spiritual truths, that stare at a supposedly materialistic world and see far more. And this collection, while far from exhaustive of what's out there, is a lovely addition. Here we find poet Billy Collins rolling on the grave of his parents asking about how they like his new glasses and we find Robert Cording musing poetically about glasses, too, though not his own. We find Jews and Muslims and Christians and others poking around in this luminescent universe looking for meaning, for connections for spirit. This is a book to be read in short spurts. Indeed, if you read it all in one sitting you're likely to bloat up and float away, and that would be a reckless way to treat such lovely writing.

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