Sex, Sex, Orgasm: How Decency and Virtue Have Been Traded for Disposable Dildos and Mass-Orgasms in this “Museum of Pathology”

I was spoon-fed porn today. And rambunctious pandemonium. I did not want to see Britney Spears shaking her ass in my face, but it was meant to be. Apparently, if you ever find yourself being forced to have irritating noises scrape the brittle surface of your eardrums, chances are, you’re hearing “Scream and Shout” by will.i.am and Spears. Such was my experience today. I did not enjoy the sights and sounds. Given the apparent popularity of “the noise” (err, song), it made me wonder what “music” was to human beings these days. Am I the only one who honestly cannot bring myself to calling such filth “music”? Is there anybody out there who would agree? (As for those who disagree, please, spare me your noisy whining. My eardrums can bear only so much…) I felt sad for all of the morons listening to that shit. I needed to turn on Ludovico Einaudi to reset my tympanic membrane. I found myself swearing as I thought about all the money spent (and made) on producing junk. Is this all we’re going to be fed from here on out? Will all of our Beethovens and Mozarts become obsolete?

I imagine a dystopian society in which Spears is my music professor and will.i.am is my professor of African-American Studies. God, it would be mind-numbing. With such “talent” behind the podium, one would expect 10 mg of Ritalin just to stay awake past the initial introductions…

If this continues, I imagine a society where math will be taught by a nude instructor singing “Scream and Shout” while rubbing her vulva. I imagine a society where the biology professor has students looking at nothing but naked (and gorgeous) cadavers. Along with long selections made from the textbook—specifically from the “reproductive system” section. I imagine a society in which the students are forced to read Fifty Shades of Grey for English Literature class—afterwards, they’d be shown the movie, as if atrocities such as reading the so-called book were not enough. I imagine a society in which our psychology departments merely talk about Freud and sex. In between brief mentions of Skinner and Erikson, one would see “human interaction” take place while watching an orgy on screen. I imagine such a society because it’s, unfortunately, not so hard to imagine. In fact, we’re almost there now. It doesn’t take a sexologist to see that.

In such moments, I call to mind one of America’s long forgotten sociologists: Pitirim A. Sorokin. In his monumental book, The Crisis of Our Age (1941), he prophetically set forth, in great detail, our culture’s problems and our society’s future. He critically submitted our society to examination and found our problem: obsession with materialism and, hence, all things sensual. Being a social cycle theorist, he argued that societies run through three distinct phases: Idealistic, Ideational, and Sensate.

The Idealistic age is full of the super-sensory; namely, God. It is an age in which principles and Kantian categorical imperatives are obeyed not because they are sensory and exist in reality but because they are above-the-senses (i.e., super-sensory) and come from God. The art of this age tries to point one back to Heaven, to God. The literature tells tales of Gods and how we should imitate them. The parables of Jesus would be fair representatives of this age.

The Ideational age is a step away from the Idealistic. In this age, a society begins diluting its super-sensory, abstract, and principle-based approaches with sensory things. We get an age in which the great works of art and literature reflect half-man and half-God. “Its heroes are partly gods and other transcendental creatures; partly the empirical man, but in his noblest aspects only.”[1]

Finally, the Sensate age is an age in which nothing but the sensory matters; we are flesh and bones, nothing more. Here, one’s ultimate concern is that which is empirically verifiable, being human through and through. There are no moral principles to be obeyed (that’s all too abstract). All that exists is the here and the now; the neuron and the orgasm. Man is God and God is man. (In fact, God is dead.) In such an age, art becomes thoroughly grounded in the senses. If it moves your feelings and stimulates your senses; you’re probably looking at it right now. “Sensate art lives and moves entirely in the empirical world of the senses. Empirical landscapes, empirical man, empirical events and adventures, empirical portraiture—such are its topics.”[2] He further relates that “[I]t is marked by voluptuous nudity, and concupiscence…it must amuse and entertain…”[3] It has no other value except itself—it is art for art’s sake. It’s only goal is to bring some kind of stimulation, whether it is merely sensual or sexual. (One thinks of all the women watching Fifty Shades of Grey merely for the sake of a potential orgasm in a public theater. It’s only a matter of time before 3D glasses will be swapped out with disposable dildos.) “To retain its charm, it has to make lavish use of pomp and circumstance, colossality, stunning technique, and other means of external adornment…[t]he more it develops, the more pronounced become these characteristics.”[4] There is nothing in this form of sensate art in which one ever really reaches some kind of attainable goal—in fact, there is no goal (or telos, if you will) there. All one finds is some kind of stimulus—a stimulus strong enough to get you high but weak enough to have you coming back for more, more, and more. You don’t ever leave the theater. You stay until your senses have become so desensitized, you no longer feel anything. The only “goal” one can think of is the colossal act itself. Andy Warhol wrote regarding this problem—where the artist becomes reduced not to his artwork, but to his or her fame (read: colossality).“Eventually, no matter who the artist was and no matter what school he belonged to, the entertainment society made his fame his achievement and not his achievement his fame.”[5] In other words, you become famous not because your work is good, but simply because your work is colossal. And once you colossalize something, dang, it becomes inherently and colossally good. You popularize things to make them colossal; you make things colossal so you can popularize them. Nobody bothers to care about whether that thing is any good, really. They can talk about Kim Kardashian’s boobs for all they care…

Sorokin didn’t need to enter a modern theater to see what it would all come to—he was a part of a different age with a different mind. He lived in the abstract. He was able to imagine and conceive things we no longer can. We need some kind of stimulus just to get our neurons moving. He saw how it all would end. He knew your grandma would find her way to the theater to watch Sex and the City in 3D. He knew that if you could not reinvent pussy, you might as well make it bigger. Put it on a 30-inch screen. Hell, that’s not enough. Let’s throw it on a 72-inch High Definition screen. Shoot, something is still missing. Damn, how about I throw that on a BluRay disc, with an 80-inch Ultra High Definition screen? That will do.

For now.

Then it’s still not enough. Why not make it 3D? Why not make it virtual? Why not add something that stimulates more than just the photoreceptor cells in your retina? We need, as Sorokin remarked, to make this shit colossal! But even colossal becomes an epic failure. We still lose.

Sorokin predicted where it all would head almost a century ago. There’s no need for you to put on your 3D glasses, he’ll blow your socks off without them:

“[F]irst, the function of giving enjoyment and pleasure leads any sensate art at its decadent stage to degrade one of its own socio-cultural values to a mere means of sexual enjoyment on the level of ‘wine, women and song.’ Second, in its endeavour to portray reality as it appears to our senses, it becomes the art of progressively thinner and more illusory surfaces instead of reflecting the essence of sensory phenomena. Thus it is destined to become ever more superficial, puerile, empty and misleading. Third, in its quest for sensory and sensational ‘hits,’ for stimulation and excitement as the necessary conditions for sensory enjoyment, it is increasingly and fatally deflected from positive to negative phenomena—from ordinary types and events to those which are pathological, from the fresh air of normal socio-cultural reality to the social sewers, until it becomes a museum of pathology and of negative aspects of sensory reality. Fourth, its charming diversity impels it to seek ever-greater variety, until all harmony, unity and balance are submerged in an ocean of incoherence and chaos. Fifth, this diversity, together with the effort to give pleasure, and to stimulate, leads to an increasing complication of technical means; and this, in turn, tends to make of these instrumentalities an end in themselves—one which is pursued to the detriment of the inner value and quality of the fine arts. Sixth, sensate art, as we have seen, is the art of professional artists creating for the public. Such specialization, while in itself a distinct advantage, results, in the later phases of sensate culture, in the separation of artists from the community—a factor from which both parties suffer, as well as the fine arts themselves.”[6]

Sorokin essentially told your great-aunt what you would be witnessing today in 2015. What we now have can be rightly called a “museum of pathology.” Why is it pathological? Most of us living today should easily know. We have become obsessed with not “normal” sex, but with abnormal sex. Instead of pornography, we now request pathological pornography—rape scenes, violence, chains, etc. Instead of watching regular human beings on screen, we now need ever-increasing doses of violence, zombies, vampires, etc., etc. If modern American culture is not a museum of pathology then I don’t know what is.

Why did Sorokin think this not only would take place but, in fact, had to take place? He gives his reasons:

“In order to be a successful market commodity, sensate art has to impress, to produce a sensation. At its earlier stages its normal personages, normal, positive events, and normal, well-rounded style possess the fascination of novelty. But as time goes on, its topics, through constant repetition, grow familiar and trite. They lose their power to excite, to stimulate, to thrill. Hence the tendency of such an art to seek the exotic, the unusual, the sensational. Together with the ever-shifting fads of the market, this leads at its later stages to an excessively artificial selection of themes and patterns. Instead of the typical and the significant, it chooses such abnormal or trivial topics as criminals, insane persons, paupers, ‘cave men’ or ‘glamour girls.’”[7]

And here one has it: our sensate culture has finally come full circle (almost?). We are running out of criminals, zombies, vampires, insane persons, etc., to talk about. And some of us are getting tired. Really tired. We’ve enjoyed our share of watching series after series talking about a rapist, murder, thief, thug, and gangster. We’ve covered every angle of prostitution, sex slavery, stalkers, and so-called glamour girls. We’ve literally seen it all. After all of what we’ve seen becomes annoying and mundane, we change the channel. But this time there’s nothing left that stimulates. In a world of nothing but senses, we lose even our senses. It is no wonder that a long-forgotten writer, upon visiting a conservative Jewish family in Israel, remarked that “sex was palpable in the master bedroom.” She made that comment because she was in the home of a rabbi who believed in the sanctity of marriage and the reality of desensitization; his wife was covered in clothing from head to toe. The only time anyone got a chance to see her skin was her husband. And even then, that was special.

There is something, however, that is fantastically amusing about our idiotic culture. The so-called “freedom” in art has actually been detrimental to art. Look at porn, for example. It’s a joke. To make matters worse, our artwork so-called is not even art. It’s a crock of crap. For example, as Hedges points out hilariously (and somewhat sadly), in 1917 at the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, an artist by the name of Marcel Duchamp submitted his “art” signed with “R. Mutt” to a committee of “five hundred selected British art world professionals” which was voted “most influential artwork of the twentieth century.”[8] What did he submit? An “art” piece titled Fountain. What was it? A urinal. (That was not a misprint.) Sorokin was right: this kind of culture can only produce the stupid, idiotic, and pathological. A urinal succinctly depicts our present culture: something to be flushed and quickly forgotten. If only a urinal was not chosen as representative of the twentieth century, maybe then I would hold tongue-in-cheek.

Now that we have criminalized modesty, decriminalized nudity, we’ve had a chance to allow ourselves the fleeting pleasure of seeing everything. But like the author of Ecclesiastes, we, too, have realized that all is vanity. Not all things that are good come in overabundance. Some good things come in small and well-planned packages. Maybe our lust after sex is merely the reflection of a good gone wild.

For those of you who don’t get Sorokin, maybe it’s because you haven’t done the research he had done. For he carefully analyzed roughly 100,000 pieces of art and literature before writing his comments. Paragraphs such as the following fill his pages:

“My statistical studies show that from 1600 to 1920, among the leading musical works, the number of satirico-comical and prosaic genre compositions increased from 24 in the seventeenth century to 106 in the nineteenth, whereas the number of the heroic compositions decreased from 123 to 63.”[9]

In particular, he notes how, as the sensate age progresses, it gets caught up in satire and comedy (hence satire’s increase). This increase in satirical literature has an inverse relationship with heroic literature (where the hero is Jesus, St. Francis, Buddha, etc.). One sees an increase in the pathologically satirical and a decrease in the theologically heroic.

As the sensate age continues to progress, it begins accentuating what I have touched upon earlier: colossality. It begins making all things bigger. But herein lies the rub: in its lust after bigger, it fails to realize that bigger never satisfies. If one can have one, why not two? If two, why not three? If three, why not ad infinitum?

“Hence the disease of colossality, typical of the decadent sensate phase of Graeco-Roman and present-day art. We construct the tallest buildings, and boast that they are the best precisely because they are the biggest. We maintain huge choruses and orchestras—the bigger the better. A book sold en masse is regarded as a masterpiece; a play enjoying the longest run is accepted as the best. Our motion pictures are conceived on a vast scale and endowed with sumptuous trimmings and accessories.”[10]

Quantitative approaches to life will never end: you can always take infinity and add one. But, moreover, the fallacy which our society has committed en masse is the Fallacy of False Equivalence. We have made the word best equivalent to big. So long as something is big, it must be, by necessity, best. But “colossality inevitably leads to qualitative deterioration.”[11] The more we emphasize quantity, the more we forget about quality; the more we focus on quantitative orgasms, the less we recognize the reality of quality sex. We’ve become so focused on numbers, an author can hardly sleep, checking to see if his book reached the Best-Sellers List. No longer is he checking to see if his book is morally superb or whether it’ll make others better people. All that matters is how many copies he’s sold. But then he realizes the vanity if the book ever takes off. “After a few brief weeks our best-sellers sink into permanent oblivion.”[12]

And for all the scientists out there who love empiricism, there is one looming problem for you too: this love for the sensual in a sensate culture, while initially helping science, can actually ruin science. Why? Because science cannot be anything but a puppet to the sensate culture. Science becomes nothing more than a mouthpiece for pleasure and pain. “There are no virtues in a virtue-less world,” a good petitio principii. All you have are nuclear weapons, robotic dildos, pain medications, and antidepressants. “Our universities and colleges produce few, if any, authentic geniuses.”[13] Why should they? For “[a]nyone can pile mass upon mass, quantity upon quantity; but only a genius can achieve (often with the maximum economy of means) a masterpiece.”[14] As Chris Hedges points out, mysteriously[15] unaware of Sorokin’s work, “[T]his system is perfectly designed to reproduce itself. Universities, by demanding that professors attain doctorates, almost always written on narrow and obscure specializations approved by faculty committees, replenish their ranks with the timid and the mediocre.”[16] And here we have it: the commitment not to “authentic genius” but to inauthentic, subserviant-to-the-established-elite, pedantic, highly-technical, coma-inducing, footnote-inspired, scholastic jargon. We produce scholars, not geniuses. There’s a world of difference. We produce those who can only reduplicate somebody else’s thoughts. We produce so-called “geniuses” who can only recite what somebody long-dead had written. We are a society obsessed with sexual and scholastic reproduction. Every once in a while a mistake happens and we get something decent. We get a Noam Chomsky. With all the money spent on attempting to make this a society of geniuses, you’d think common sense would be ever-present at the White House. You’d think our elected officials would be the “cream of the crop.” But I’m “afraid it ain’t so,” my friend. Apparently, common sense suffered a stroke decades ago…

The picture Sorokin painted in the 1940s was a gloomy one. Back then it was a picture, now it has become reality. It is alive and well, so to speak. What he once merely put to paper, has now become what most of us see and feel on a day-to-day basis. We live in a post-Sorokin world. However, in spite of the accuracy of Sorokin’s predictions, Sorokin did also predict something rather much more optimistic: the rebellion against such a culture. Matter of fact, such a rebellion has already started. One can see it clearly in parts of the Muslim world—a world which rejects the West’s love of the sensate. It will not come as a surprise to any future writers if the world they live in is increasingly, and largely, Muslim. The problem with a sensate culture is that it fails to deliver. It fails to bring home the goods it promises. Initially, we all bought into the lie that maybe a black-and-white television was enough. But it was not so. We wanted more. Then we added other accessories. Now we’re waiting for the next big thing. In anticipation we fail to ponder a single and most profound thought: To what ends colossality? What are we all really looking for out there on the silver screen? And if more is equalling less, which we now know it is, why do we still pursue more? If more pornography never cured erectile dysfunction, why are we still feeding ourselves to such over-sized portions of it? If our love for big is worthwhile, at which point is big enough? If ever?

I now return to my initial observations. (Sure, Sorokin continues talking, on and on, about our culture’s issues. For that, one could read the book.) My problem with modern society is that it has become everything Sorokin said it would. And we have become all the worse for it. We’re not any closer to satisfaction than when we first started. I’d be willing to bet that the only one enjoying sex right now is that rabbi in Israel. As for you and your spouse, you can go back to watching Sex and the City and reading Fifty Shades of Grey to the mind-scarring beats of you-know-who…

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Pitirim A. Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age (Oxford: OneWorld Publications Ltd., 1992), 29.

[2] Ibid., 28.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 29.

[5] Quoted in Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class (New York: Nation Books, 2010), 114.

[6] Sorokin, Crisis of Our Age, 47.

[7] Ibid., 52.

[8] Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, 118.

[9] Sorokin, Crisis of Our Age, 54.

[10] Ibid., 58. Italics original.

[11] Ibid., 59.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] I probably should not have said “mysteriously.” In fact, there’s nothing mysterious about Hedges’ unfamiliarity with Sorokin’s work: Sorokin is a thorn in the side of modern society, a pariah. He has been relegated to the dustbin of useless existence because he deals with things none of us dare confront. He says nothing that contributes to untethered capitalism, corporate America, consumer culture, narcism, etc. Those who confront the elite are largely marginalized, ignored, or rechristened. Take a look at Einstein. Post-modernists have claimed his theories as their own. In fact, he wanted nothing to do with relativistic interpretations of his absolute theories. That is, post-modernists simply rechristened Einstein, accentuated “relativity” in “general theory of relativity,” and have made him one of their so-called allies. Something Kurt Gödel and Einstein vomited over. Einstein was rechristened in order to be accepted and brought to fame; Sorokin was ignored. Same difference.

[16] Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, 115.

A Stained Love: A Poem

Of ever soft lips

And perfect finger tips

That mind of mine revolves

Without a problem solved

Her gaze itself a wonder

With eyes that silence thunder

I’m mystified, in vain

To love with such a pain

Of pain and memories forsaken

That mind of mine still shaken

By ever gentle whispers

Of her ever perfect gestures

If ever there was love

If ever guidance from above

Then she alone it is

Whom my soul chooses to miss

Of hands that feed the fire

And passion that won’t tire

My heart of her still dreamin’

Beneath the stars of heaven

Of hope that has no end

A patience that transcends

The lust and blood of others

I dream, a love that never suffers

Of pain and no forgiveness

My mind drifts in the stillness

For her alone I’ve hurt

With a kiss so undeserved

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

The Anthropomorphization of Abstract Nouns: How Language Deceives All of Us

Abstract nouns are used in English all the time. One can read a headline today that reads something along the lines of: “The Crowd Is Supportive of President X.” In this headline, the noun “crowd” is being anthropomorphized. Once philosophically examined, one realizes that “the crowd” cannot do anything—it cannot “support” a presidential candidate. In fact, as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche so long ago have reminded us: the crowd does not exist. The crowd is merely an abstract noun—it means nothing. It exists somewhere “out there.” The people in the crowd—yes, they have a will, they can support or disapprove of a presidential candidate. On the other hand, “the crowd,” by definition, cannot will or do anything. One may object and say that the crowd is made up of individuals and, taken as a collective whole, where the majority rules, one can argue that “the crowd” is a valid way of speaking of a very real phenomenon that actually can have a “will,” a “desire,” a “need,” and all kinds of other anthropomorphic nouns and adjectives. One may maintain that, if a majority of the people clearly support President X, surely one is justified in using anthropomorphic language about this “collective entity” which we call “the crowd.” I do not think that such is the case, however. The crowd, by definition, is a collective whole made up of individuals. The individuals in a particular crowd may have wills, desires, and needs; however, the crowd, apart from the individual, does not exist. The moment the individuals which make up the crowd lose their individuality—the “thing” which makes them them—the crowd ceases to exist; for where individuals are annihilated, so is the crowd.

But how does one draw a line between the individual and the crowd? If a crowd of individuals is full of people who think alike, where no such “individualism” is found, what does one make of this notion of “the crowd”? I believe I can respond shortly: no such crowd exists where human individualities are thoroughly meshed into a single entity. Crowds are always made up of individuals. This must be remembered.

Language has a way of fooling people. (At this point one thinks of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “language-games”.) We are so used to speaking of “Americans” who invaded Iraq or “Russians” who invaded Georgia. But do such entities even exist? Obviously not every single American wanted to invade Iraq. (In fact, a good portion of the population probably had no idea as to what “America” was doing!) Point I am making: individuals, coming from the country of America, invaded Iraq—not “America.” Kierkegaard and Nietzsche both recognized just how dangerous the idea of “mob mentality” and “crowd mentality” was. Nietzsche wrote: “In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Likewise Kierkegaard maintained that “the crowd is untruth.” He argued that, during any form of great evil, it is not an individual who will commit the aforementioned evil; oh no, it will never be the individual—but he will gladly join the crowd. Only then can one say, “It wasn’t me—it was the crowd.” (What he really means is: “All you stupid morons who still believe conveniently that ‘the crowd’ exists should know by now that it never existed and never will—I only joined ‘the crowd’ so that I could lose my individuality and, hence, my individual responsibility. Hell, the only thing I wanted to do, really, is blame it all upon ‘the crowd’ [one could have called ‘the crowd’ Mr. Santa Claus, a green leprechaun or Snow White—none of which exist in reality].)

Our language has duped us all. The crowd does not exist. It never has existed and it never will. Let us no longer speak of an entity which has served its defunct purpose (a purpose of enslaving humankind to pseudo-democracy, totalitarianism, corporate despotism, World Wars, Crusades, social Darwinism, etc., etc.). The crowd has done its job—and, yes, it works. But we no longer need it to blame. We need to let the whole world know what we really want: we want to crucify the crowd.

Long live the individual!

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

A Tale of Two Problems—Human Sacrifice and God’s “Bad Commands”: Jeremiah 7:22 vis-à-vis Ezekiel 20:25-26

Jeremiah and Ezekiel provide us with a glimpse into the theology of meso-exilic[1] Israel. With the Temple on the verge of being sacked and the people either in a foreign land or headed there soon, prophet and priest alike wanted to explain to the people how this had occurred. How could Israel, God’s chosen people, be overcome by a foreign God and foreign power? How could God allow this to a people who sacrificed to him and who allegedly followed his commands? Jeremiah, at first blush, appears to argue that God never did command the people to offer sacrifices; Ezekiel, on the other hand, appears to argue that God did indeed make the command to sacrifice but that He did this to “defile” the people and make them unholy (implying that they were no longer His people).

Jeremiah argues that God made no such command to offer sacrifices. “For when I brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt, I said nothing to them, nor gave them any command regarding burnt offerings and sacrifices.”[2] Bright argues that “It is unlikely…that it is to be taken either as a categorical rejection of the sacrificial system as such, or as a statement that there was no sacrifice in the wilderness.”[3] In other words, the words in this passage should not be taken literally. Craigie et al. argue along similar lines that Jeremiah was really condemning a form of sacrificing to God that was not approved of—namely, the fact that the burnt-offerings were being eaten by the worshippers (v. 21). Again, according to some interpreters, the passage is not to be taken literally.[4] On the other hand, Hyatt argues that scholars who run away from this issue are actually not reading Jeremiah the proper way, that is, literally. “[I]t is best to take Jeremiah’s words here at their face value and see in them his belief that the sacrificial system was man-made and not willed by Yahweh…”[5] According to Hyatt, then, Jeremiah is completely contradicting what Ezekiel has to say about sacrifices and what the Pentateuch has to say about them. This is the uncompromising message of Jeremiah against the Temple cult in Jerusalem.

Ezekiel, on the other hand, argues that all of the evil which befell Israel was bound to happen anyways because Israel chose not to serve God and did not follow all of the commands which he had commanded. Following a long section on rebuking Israel and its forefathers, Ezekiel states, writing in the first person for God, “And I also gave them laws not good and rules by which they could not live, defiling them by their gifts, in that they delivered up every first issue of the womb, so that I might desolate them, so that they might know that I am YHWH.”[6] Greenberg comments that the year is 591 BCE and that Ezekiel is arguing, according to his interpretation, Israel disobeyed God and that God, in his anger, decided to give Israel bad laws instead of good laws. “The shocking idea that God misleads those who anger him into sin, for which he then destroys them, already appeared in 14:9 (the misled prophet)…”[7] He further argues that Israel really did offer up their firstborn son in child sacrifice up to God! “These [bad laws] are then exemplified by child sacrifice, at once a murderous pagan practice and an abomination worthy of severest condemnation…[b]y this anti-gift, God only confirmed the people in their choice of laws countering God’s…”[8] Allen argues that these so-called bad commands were “[n]ot of God, they were given by God! Theologically the divine policy is akin to the role of prophecy in Isa. 6:9-10, where the prophetic word is given to seal the people’s fate by giving them an opportunity to add to their sin by rejecting that word. Judgment had already been passed and the gateway to life was locked by his providential judgment. The covenant goal of recognition of Yahweh, unreached by positive means (vv 5, 7, 12, 19, 20), had finally to be attained by a life-denying encounter with his judgment.”[9] These laws were not “of God” in the sense that they were “godly”; rather, these laws were simply given by God, for He knew beforehand that the people would choose evil instead of the good—thus bringing judgment upon themselves by means of freewill. In more blunt language, E. L. Allen put it this way: “In accordance with Hebrew usage, Ezekiel tends to ascribe to God whatever happens. Here he has in mind the perversion of religion at the entry into Canaan. He describes the evil practices which the newcomers took over from the original inhabitants. Most atrocious of these was the custom of child sacrifice. He carries this back to a definite divine command, though he modifies this by saying that the command was given as a punishment for previous sin.”[10]

It is quite obvious by now that scholars do not know what to do with these passages. In this paper, I will be arguing that there is no contradiction between Jeremiah and Ezekiel—they are both actually saying the same thing. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel acknowledge God as the giver of these allegedly “strange” and unappealing laws regarding sacrifices. Moreover, I will somewhat briefly put forth the argument that the law does not command the sacrifice of human firstborn children,[11] as some scholars have horrendously suggested.

Let us first begin by examining Jeremiah’s strange passage. Jeremiah uses the normal negating adverb לֹֽא  (“not”) followed by the verb דִבַּ֤רְתִּי (“I commanded”), making the normal translation read “I did not command…” However, לֹֽא is not always a negating adverb; it can also be used as a Hebrew idiom which roughly translates into “not-only.” Thus, the following translation would emerge for the introduction of Jeremiah’s words: “Not only have I commanded…” There are many such uses of לֹֽא in the OT where, if taken literally, the adverb would make the verse contradict what the rest of that particular verse demands to be so.[12] For example, in Exodus 16:8 the people along with the entire congregation murmur against Moses and Aaron and wish to stone them both. However, Moses replies that the people have murmured not (לֹֽא) against him and Aaron but against YHWH. The use of the לֹֽא would indicate, if taken literally, that the people did not murmur against Moses and Aaron. However, if it is an idiom—which it really is—then the verse states that the people murmured not-only against Moses and Aaron but also against YHWH. In Joshua 17:17 a very clear-cut example of the use of this particular idiom is given: “You [Joseph] shall have not-merely one portion.”[13] According to Whitney, “Thus did Joshua pronounce a blessing on the house of Joseph. If the ‘merely’ is to be omitted and the verse taken out of context, it could be misunderstood as saying that Joseph would not receive even one portion.”[14] All this goes to say that the use of לֹֽא does not indicate necessarily that the adverb negates any following verbs. Another such use of the Hebrew idiom is found in Ezekiel 16:47. In the passage, Ezekiel writes that Israel had not-only (לֹֽא) walked in the ways of their heathen neighbors but went above and beyond their corruption—so corrupt was Israel. If the לֹֽא is taken literally, the passage would contradict itself. In the crucial interpretive verse of Exodus 6:3, the use of the Hebrew idiom comes into play on a more significant scale. In reading the Pentateuch, one notices that the name of YHWH occurs quite frequently, appearing as early as Genesis 2. However, in Exodus 6:3 we read—literally—“ I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name [YHWH] I did not make myself fully known to them.”[15] This flies in the face of the entire Pentateuchal narrative! If taken literally the verse would imply that God did not reveal himself as YHWH to anyone prior to this incident in Exodus 6:3. However, we know that He did. If this is not the negating use of the adverb לֹֽא then this may be the Hebrew idiom meaning not-only. What further corroborates this is a passage in Genesis 32:29, where God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. God says that Jacob’s name is not (לֹֽא) Jacob but Israel. However, in Genesis 35:10, God[16] allegedly says “Your name is Jacob.” Whitney writes, “The qualification ‘not-only Jacob, but also Israel’ parallels that of ‘not-only Yahweh [YHWH], but also El Shaddai.’”[17] After dissertating somewhat at length about several other examples, Whitney comes to the passage in Jeremiah. He argues that the passage is “the most extreme criticism of the sacrificial system in Scripture.”[18] However, he continues, “This alone should make us cautious of founding too great a structure on it as a base.”[19] He argues that this “tradition of prophetic criticism of sacrifice” is as old as Hosea 6:6 and even 1 Samuel 15:22.[20] Thus, there is no reason for us to suppose, if this argument is to be taken seriously, that Jeremiah contradicts Ezekiel. This brings us to the final question: did God, according to Ezekiel, command the Israelites to offer firstborn children as sacrifices?

Ezekiel 20:25 uses the Hebrew phrase רָ֑חַם כָּל־פֶּ֣טֶר בְּהַעֲבִ֖יר (lit.: “in causing to pass over [i.e., “to sacrifice”][21] all the first issues of the womb”). According to Hahn and Bergsma, the passage does not necessarily refer to sacrifices offered to the god Molech simply because it uses the Hiphil form for עבר (this word is used in Ezekiel in contexts that have nothing to do with Molech). “Ezekiel himself uses the term frequently in contexts having nothing to do with such practices (5:1; 14:15; 20:37; 37:2; 46:21; 47:3-4 [3x]; 48:14).”[22] Moreover, they point out that Molech never required firstborn sacrifices. The Hebrew, if taken extremely literally, means “every opener of the womb.” In Exodus 13:12 we have the same expression followed by אָדָ֛ם בְּכֹ֥ור וְכֹ֨ל (“and all the firstborn of adam/man”), which are to be excluded from the sacrifices. This means that the passage “distinguishes human firstborn from ‘every opener of the womb’ in order to exclude them from being offered” and “the context makes clear that human sacrifice is not the referent.”[23] Lastly, “there is no biblical archaeological evidence for the practice of child sacrifice to the LORD in ancient Israel.”[24] Regarding Ezekiel’s comment that God gave the people “bad commands,” one can merely note that the ancient Israelites attributed virtually all activity to God—be it good or bad; however, it does not appear that the commands flowed out of God Himself, but rather these commands flowed out of the deuteronomic contractual covenant which the Israelites had broken. In breaking the covenant, the Israelites brought upon themselves the “evil commands” of God.[25]

Ezekiel and Jeremiah, it appears, are actually arguing very similar things. The people of Israel have abandoned God and have begun to serve themselves. They no longer follow God and his ethical categorical imperatives. They only “serve” God superficially; their hearts do not reflect God’s laws nor the goodness of God’s nature. Theirs is the “prophetic criticism” of gibberish forms of worship which merely pay lip-service to God and His demands. Isaiah 1 could be seen as a summary of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s statements: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” (v. 13) and “Stop doing wrong” (v. 16)[26] because what essentially God requires is the commitment to His ethical imperatives.

Such “prophetic criticism” is never too out of date. Even today many of us would fall into the category of the “sinful.” How many of us go to church simply because it is the sociologically complacent thing to do? On the other hand, how many of us actually come to God with an immediate sincerity that asks God to come into direct existential communion with us? The beauty of Jeremiah’s critique lies in what follows the critique itself. “Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you” (7:23).[27] The point of the passage is not to simply criticize, put down, and harshly condemn; no, the point is that God wills people to be His people and He wants them to merely obey His commands. Why? For out of the goodness of Him who offers good commands flows goodness itself. The critiques ends not with a curse, but with a blessing: “that it may go well with you.” The laws of God, as God sees them, are not burdensome or “bad” for people; they are actually good and life-giving.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

Bibliography

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel 20-48. Dallas, TX: Word, 1990. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Bright, John. Jeremiah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 21. New York: Doubleday, 1964. Print. The Anchor Bible.

Craigie, Peter C., Page H. Kelley, and Joel F. Drinkard. Jeremiah 1-25. Vol. 26. Dallas, TX: Word, 1991. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 1-20: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 22. New York: Doubleday, 1983. Print. The Anchor Bible.

Hahn, Scott, and John S. Bergsma. “What Laws Were ‘Not Good’? A Canonical Approach to the Theological Problem of Ezekiel 20:25-26.” Journal of Biblical Literature 123 (2004), no. 2:201-218.

Whitney, G. E. “Alternative Interpretations of לֹֽא in Exodus 6:3 and Jeremiah 7:22.” Westminster Theological Journal 48, no. 1 (March 1, 1986): 151-159.

Footnotes:

[1] Jeremiah’s “Temple Sermon”—in which 7:22 feature—is dated to 608 BCE by many scholars, which is just prior to the Babylonian Captivity. However, the Assyrian dissemination of the Northern Kingdom (Israel/Samaria) had already occurred in 722 BCE. In other words, Jeremiah, here, is probably pre-exilic but his message is already similar to post-exilic messages; namely, why did evil overtake us, the children of Abraham? See Peter C. Craige, Page H. Kelley, and Joel F. Drinkard, Jr., Jeremiah: 1-25, vol. 26, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), 119.

[2] Translation taken from John Bright, Jeremiah: Introduction, Translation, and Notes, vol. 21, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 53.

[3] Ibid., 57.

[4] Craigie, Jeremiah: 1-25, 124.

[5] James Phillip Hyatt “Jeremiah: Exegesis,” in Jeremiah, vol. VI of The Interpreter’s Bible (New York: Abingdon, 1956), 875.

[6] Translation taken from Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 22 of The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 361.

[7] Ibid., 369.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, vol. 29 of Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 12.

[10]E. L. Allen, “Ezekiel: Exposition,” in Ezekiel, vol. VI of The Interpreter’s Bible (New York: Abingdon, 1956), 172.

[11] This is in reference to Ezekiel’s “first issue of the womb.”

[12] The following examples are taken from G. E. Whitney, Alternative Interpretations of לֹֽא in Exodus 6:3 and Jeremiah 7:22, Westminster Theological Journal 48, no. 1 (March 1, 1986):151-159.

[13]G. E. Whitney, “Alternative Interpretations,” 154.

[14] Ibid.

[15] New International Version (NIV).

[16] The name of God in this passage is elohim.

[17] G. E. Whitney,” Alternative Interpretations,” 156.

[18] Ibid., 157.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] The Hebrew expression הַעֲבִ֖יר  is in the Hiphil (causative) form (with a preposition בְּ) from the root עבר which means “to pass over.” This later became a euphemism for sacrifice.

[22] Scott Hahn and John S. Bergsma, “What Laws Were ‘Not Good’? A Canonical Approach to the Theological Problem of Ezekiel 20:25-26,” Journal of Biblical Literature 123 (2004), no. 2: 211.

[23] Scott Hahn and John S. Bergsma, “What Laws Were ‘Not Good,’” 212.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 205.

[26] NIV.

[27] NIV.

The Ethics of Regret: Towards a Philosophy of Regretting

Regret is a sore topic for me. I, the one who claimed to never suffer from the drinking of its venomous springs. Today, however, I have come, in some ways, full circle. I must state the obvious: I, too, regret. I, too, dream of a time when the past was the present; where my actions would be suspended for a brief moment, a moment in which I would have the omniscient ability to understand the implications of my actions, their repercussions, and my need to change the resulting action(s) which followed (i.e., the actual state of historical events which followed, which I now regret).

But what are the ethics of regret? How does one change things one regrets? Is it possible? If so, in which situations? In all? I have thought about this for quite some time now, and I have found several potentially helpful—and maybe even illuminating—thoughts. Regret, as I have already defined it, is a state of mind in which the author of prior events—events that occurred in the past—is ambivalent towards or would like to change. However, regretting the events themselves does nothing consequentially and ethically speaking—one is merely stuck reminiscing and thinking about the events; nothing of any consequence is actually being done. That is, to put the matter more clearly, nothing is really happening—all regretting, at this stage, is merely a part of the internal state of the individual. The individual is a thinking individual. Apart from the subjective world of the individual and his or her current state of regret, one would never know the particular individual is really regretting at all. Such forms of regret—where no action is expressed, where no thoughts are objectively revealed—I shall call “subjective regret.” This is a form of regret which is internalized, only the individual is aware of the regret and nobody else.

But what in particular does it mean to regret? Why do humans experience regret? I have some thoughts on this, too. It seems to me that regret is a conscious activity—conscious, at least initially—in which the regretting individual thinks ambivalently about his or her past actions. The individual may move between thinking thoughts such as: “I really should not have sent her roses” and “All in all, I do think sending her roses at that particular moment was okay and my best course of action.” The individual is stuck between what he or she did and what ought to have been done; the individual is caught in the tension of what is and what ought to have been. I shall call this the is-ought tension of regret.

Let us pose this theoretical thought experiment: An individual human being has (1) the ability to regret and yet also has (2) the knowledge that past events cannot and never will be changed. The question becomes in this thought experiment, the following: What purpose or function does the act of regretting serve? If the individual cannot actually, physically change anything—that is, the historical set of events which had taken place, which the individual regrets—what purpose does regret serve? Is its purpose transformative—that is, it gives humans the ability to reason, to think about past events, to see if they could, in the future, if a similar event ever took place, act differently? It appears, at least to me, one possible explanation for the origin and purpose of regret. I hope the reader has understood me here. What I am contemplating is the following: If I regretted sending the roses to the girl, my act of regretting and reminiscing about the event will, in the future, affect my actions if such a similar event ever took place. Along these lines, therefore, I am entertaining the thought that regret allows us to actually have the past affect the future in a very real and direct sense. By thinking about our past events we are changing our future actions.

Subjective regret is not the only thing that exists in this world; I, too, have experienced objective regret. I have experienced a form of regret in which I, the regretting individual, have acted differently towards an individual and have attempted to undo the past. Many of us have been in similar situations. For example, after saying something to a girl whom one is fond of, one may decide to regret the events which followed. One would then proceed to speak sorrowfully of all which followed, attempt to change her feelings, etc. The regretting individual may objectify his or her regret. It may become a tangible and real “thing.” My objective regret may take the physical form of a letter. It may take the form of a kiss; a gentle peck falling on her chin. It may take the form of sexual expression. It may take the form of a multitude of days of attempting to “make up” for something one has done. Regret can take a lifetime.

Believe you me, I, too, regret. I am sorrowfully wallowing in it. I sit at its demonic feet every day, listening to all of its lies. I have lived under its shadows for many a night. It is this that drives me; it forces me to rationalize my existence, my feelings, etc. The human being in me wants to change things; the philosopher in me merely wants to reduce things to the printed word. The human being in me aches away in exhaustion; the philosopher in me merely pays lip service to all the injustice perpetrated by our ambivalence. But even such “lip service” may do us no harm…

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

The Power of Love: A Poem

Amidst the joy and suffering,

Within a steady pain,

There rises, that beautiful thing,

Ah, Love, with all its gain.

Is there any hope for us?

Is there a place I can rest?

To wrap my arms with trust,

And pray that I be blessed.

Have I failed you, my Love?

Have I hurt you ignorantly?

If I could just be careful of,

The words that you’ve said to me.

And so, my beloved,

My most cherished possession,

Will you allow it?

Will you allow my obsession?

I have loved you ever,

I have watched you grow,

I have hurt you never,

Allow me to never let you go.

May my words of honey,

Clothe you with warmth,

May your days be sunny,

Without the bitter hurt.

I simply beg, my Queen,

My utmost and my crown,

If ever you have seen,

A lover who has drown?

In your waters and waves,

Has anyone yet died?

In that coveted cave,

Where hope and peace reside?

Have I seen your glory,

I have loved you tender,

I have not hidden your story,

To those who, to you, surrender.

Ah, Love, have I found thee,

You have kept me safe,

As I have sailed your sea,

From any hurtful wave.

Strength, I do not ask,

Only  joy, rest, and peace,

All else has failed to last,

So, forever, with you, I wish to be.

Yes, Love, I have sought you alone,

May my life be forever yours?

May I sit upon your throne?

Ah, to what heights with you I’ll soar!

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

Arguing with God: Deuteronomic Paradox and Habakkukian Critiques

The prophet Habakkuk was active sometime around 605 BC. He was most likely a contemporary of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Zephaniah. The context within which Habakkuk issued forth his complaints against YHWH is essential to understanding his message. Twenty-four years prior to Habukkuk’s complaints against YHWH, the prophet Jeremiah began his own similar activities in 629 BC. It was not until a few years later, in 621 BC, that the “book of the Torah” was found and brought to the attention of the youthful king of Judah, Josiah. The “book of the Torah,” usually identified with (probably) Deuteronomy 12-26, was brought to the prophetess Huldah. She exclaimed that the curses within the “book of the Torah,” which faithless Israel had brought upon herself, would come upon Jerusalem (2 Kings 22:15-20).[1] Josiah responded by seeking to go back to a more conservative and less “modern” Mosaic religion. “[T]he paganism against which Zephaniah had protested (Zeph. 1:4-6) was abolished…”[2] Moreover, “[t]he practices of sacred prostitution, child sacrifice in the Valley of Hinnom, and the consultation of mediums and wizards were discontinued.”[3] The most novel response being the centralization of YHWHistic worship in the Jerusalem Temple. While Josiah was on a rampage to restore primitive Mosaic faith, Assyria was losing its clutch on power; in a decisive battle, Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was overthrown by the combined forces of Babylon, Scythia, and Media in 612 BC.[4] Three years later, Necho, the ruler of Egypt, seeing an opportunity to help out Assyria, sent his troops in 609 BC. On their way north to Assyria, Josiah decided to play dice and come to Babylon’s rescue—he attempted to prevent the passage of Egyptian troops. Ultimately, he ended up dying and Judah would become a temporary vassal of Egypt.[5] For roughly another four miserable years, Judah is a slave to Egypt. Then, in 605 BC, the epic battle of Carchemish takes place, in which Babylonian troops put to waste Egyptian troops. In a matter of time, Judah is made a vassal of Babylon, and would remain so until its utter destruction in 587/6 BC. Thus, within a mere twenty years of Josiah’s initial reform, Judah is once again a slave to evil empires.

The theology of this period has been dubbed by modern scholarship “deuteronomic.”[6] It is a very retributive theology that is cut-and-dried: if you obey YHWH, good will follow; if you disobey YHWH, evil will follow. “In the popular view, Yahweh’s justice meant that good consequences would came from good actions, that obedience would result in security on the land, victory against foes, and abundant life. But the cruel facts of history seemed to contradict this belief.”[7] Within a matter of years, Jeremiah’s hopeful approach towards Josiah’s reform and deuteronomic theology withered away and became a bittersweet song; “[h]e came to see that  it did not result in a circumcision of the heart or a breaking up of fallow ground.”[8] Habakkuk, likewise, was greatly frustrated by this “health and wealth gospel.” How could it be that the children of YHWH, who did commit righteous acts, be visited by an utterly evil nation? Where was the deuteronomic righteousness of YHWH? Within these profound, paradoxical turmoils were born the complaints of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk wrote his complaints just after the battle of Carchemish.[9] “No one living in Jerusalem about the year 600 could fail to see that world-shaping events were already in preparation.”[10] Yes, he probably did witness the collapse of an evil Assyria—but that evil empire was soon replaced by one no different than it: Babylon. Habakkuk was not sure how one could approach this deuteronomic God. If evil is the result of disobeying YHWH, is it possible that those who were deemed “righteous” were somehow deceived? Maybe evil followed them precisely because they unknowingly sinned. But such thinking surely fled Habakkuk’s mind; he knew that the righteous were righteous—and, yet, they were being punished by the unrighteous. This deuteronomic paradox forced Habakkuk to cry out to YHWH: “How long, YHWH, will I call out and you will not listen? Or when I shout to you ‘Violence!’ and you do not save?” (1:2). Habakkuk expects a message from YHWH precisely because he knows that he is righteous. His contemporary, Jeremiah, likewise reiterated this fact: “When these people, or a prophet or a priest, ask you, ‘What is the message[11] from the LORD?’ say to them, ‘What message? I will forsake you, declares the LORD’” (23:33 NIV). Habakkuk had received a “message” and knew that, for whatever reason, he was not yet forsaken by YHWH. In the same vein, Job would cry out:

               הֵ֤ן אֶצְעַ֣ק חָ֭מָס וְלֹ֣א אֵעָנֶ֑ה אֲ֝שַׁוַּ֗ע וְאֵ֣ין מִשְׁפָּֽט

“Though I cry out ‘Violence!’ I get no reply; I cry out for help and there is no justice.”

Virtually the same language is used in both verses. Habakkuk cries חָמָ֖ס (“violence”) and so does Job; Habakkuk later (1:4) sees this as an attack on מִשְׁפָּ֑ט (“justice”) as does Job.[12] Job, it is presumed, was a righteous man.[13] Like Habakkuk, he too could not understand why YHWH would allow such a thing. How could it be that righteous men of YHWH could not get a response from YHWH?

Habakkuk was surely confused: isn’t YHWH too holy to behold any atrocities being committed against the righteous? “Why do you make me look at wickedness and trouble? Why do you make me gaze at death and at the violence before me? A dispute and a quarreling go up (to you)…” (1:3). Surely, YHWH was aware that “dispute and quarreling” were “going up” (i.e., being witnessed) by him. Habakkuk then calls to YHWH’s mind his own torah (“teachings”): “Therefore, the torah is paralyzed. Will justice never prevail? For the wicked siege the righteous; on this account, justice is perverted” (1:4). Habakkuk is directing his anger at YHWH, using his own torah, “Your very own laws, YHWH, are now paralyzed. They are no more. They are ineffective. You who defined yourself as just[14] have let justice fail. Justice has been perverted!” In what seems to be a statement vis-a-vis Deuteronomy 32:4, Habakkuk exclaims: “(Your) eyes are too pure to look at evil—they cannot gaze at trouble. Why, then, do you gaze at those who deal treacherously? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous (צַדִּ֥יק) than him?” (1:13).  The YHWH who defined himself as being “righteous” (צַדִּ֥יק) in Deut. 32:4 has allowed those who are like him to perish.

Out of this “doom and gloom,” in contrast to the “health and wealth gospel” of Habakkuk’s day, YHWH revealed something entirely new. “Behold,” YHWH tells Habakkuk, “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe (לֹ֥א תַאֲמִ֖ינוּ) even if you were told” (1:5). The root for “believe” being used here is אָמַן. (It is the same root word that is being used to describe the “righteous” in Habakkuk 2:4.) What YHWH tells Habakkuk shocks him. YHWH is the very one who is raising up the Babylonians (1:6). For what is he raising them up? To execute justice? We are never told. All that Habakkuk gets in reply is this: “Behold! The soul of the unrighteous is puffed up in him; but the righteous will live by faithfulness (בֶּאֱמוּנָתֹ֥ו) in it (i.e., the vision/revelation of YHWH)” (2:4). Habakkuk was given a חָזֹ֔ון (“vision,” “revelation”) and YHWH expects Habakkuk to simply place his faith in it.

While it is true that an explicit answer is never given to Habakkuk as to what exactly YHWH would be doing that people would “not believe,” there are some clues in the text that may suggest a slightly different version of events. Some scholars argue that the answer to Habakkuk’s critiques lies in the fact that the first part of the book is addressing internal problems, while later passages address external (i.e., Babylon) problems. Because Habakkuk uses such words as חָמָ֖ס (“violence”), אָ֨וֶן֙ וְעָמָ֣ל (“iniquity and trouble”), and שֹׁ֥ד (“death” or “pillage”), some think that this indicates “native oppression and not a foreign invader.”[15] In other words, it may be that the “revelation” which Habakkuk is receiving from YHWH is that YHWH will destroy internal evil, within the gates of Jerusalem, by the hands of external—and more evil—Babylonians. Even if this may be the case, the problem still remains for Habakkuk: will YHWH punish the righteous along with the wicked? And even if justice will come, how long must one wait for that to happen?

In the most critical time of his life, Habakkuk was told by YHWH what would come to pass. Against all expectations, Habakkuk received what appears to be a “non-answer answer”: simply put faith in my revelation. Later on in the book, Habakkuk reminds YHWH of his previous deeds and actions. He wants YHWH to act as he had acted in the past. “YHWH, I have heard of your fame, I have feared your deeds; make them come to life in our day…” (3:2a). He is attempting one last try, one last argument he is offering YHWH. This one is an argument of old; it was used so many times, YHWH was probably tired of hearing it. “Do what you have done in the past,” begs Habakkuk, “Please!” The author of Psalm 44:2 used a similar technique:

                        אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ בְּאָזְנֵ֬ינוּ שָׁמַ֗עְנוּ אֲבֹותֵ֥ינוּ סִפְּרוּ־לָ֑נוּ פֹּ֥עַל פָּעַ֥לְתָּ בִֽ֝ימֵיהֶ֗ם בִּ֣ימֵי קֶֽדֶם

“Oh God, with our ears we have heard, and our fathers have recounted to us deeds which you have done in their days, in the days of old.”

The ability to remind YHWH of his previous actions was founded on the assumption that YHWH was “reliable.” He was, as Deut. 32:4 put it, אֱמוּנָה֙. Anything that was not אֱמוּנָה֙ was not constant nor reliable. It is precisely because of this that Jeremiah likewise could say (15:18):

                        תִֽהְיֶ֥ה לִי֙ כְּמֹ֣ו אַכְזָ֔ב מַ֖יִם לֹ֥א נֶאֱמָֽנוּ

“Will you be to me like deceptive waters that are not reliable?”

The word for “unreliable” is the same root (and derivatives) we have seen being used before; it is the Niphal stem of the root אָמַן. In this particular case, the waters are not “reliable” in the sense that they are not “continual” or “lasting.” The expectation is that the spring or creek would have water whenever one would approach it; for Jeremiah, it is this “un-lastingness” that makes the waters “unreliable”—at one time there’s water, at another there isn’t. Like Jeremiah and the Psalmist, Habakkuk expects YHWH to be reliable (אֱמוּנָה֙). A derivative of this root אָמַן is the noun/adverb אֱמֶת, which basically translates as “true” or “trustworthy.” In Psalm 119:43, the Psalmist exclaims:

                        אַל־תַּצֵּ֬ל מִפִּ֣י דְבַר־אֱמֶ֣ת עַד־מְאֹ֑ד כִּ֖י לְמִשְׁפָּטֶָ֣ יִחָֽלְתִּי

“Do not utterly take/rescue from my mouth the word of truth, for in your judgments I have hoped.”

When the Psalmist uses this particular word, he “celebrates Yahweh’s torah and commandments as [אֱמֶת]…he does not just mean that they are true as opposed to false, but that they also have the character of being trustworthy and reliable for people to base their lives on.”[16] To be a trustworthy God is to be אֱמֶת. In fact, this particular derivative of אֱמוּנָה֙ is used in reference to God quite often. One can see the use of this word in one of the most divine statements in all of Scripture, Exodus 34:5-7, where God himself reveals his character and describes himself as וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת (“abounding in love and faithfulness”). To fully appreciate the moral uprightness of this word, one can look at its synonyms and antonyms, as found in the Hebrew Bible. The word is used in conjunction with חֶ֫סֶד (“covenantal faithfulness,” “love”), as was seen in the Exodus passage cited, צֶ֫דֶק (“righteousness”), and מִשְׁפָּט (“judgment,” “justice”) [e.g., Jer. 4:2, Ps. 15:2]. Its Hiphil form appears in parallelism with another Hebrew word בָּטַח (“trust”) [Micah 7:5]. The word is contrasted with שֶׁ֫קֶר (“lie,” “deception”) in Proverbs 12:22. The word אֱמוּנָה֙ (and its derivative noun אֱמֶת) has quite a moral character in the Hebrew Bible! It is no wonder, then, that Habakkuk could place such great faith in YHWH. If YHWH is the opposite of “deception,” if YHWH is equated with “reliability” and “steadfast love,” how could he allow a righteous person’s prayer go unheard? “Israel assigns to (or recognizes in) Yahweh elements of constancy and substance that make Yahweh in some ways knowable and available to Israel.”[17] And, yet, the strange thing about Habakkuk’s message is that YHWH does not really work in a way that seems, at least to Habakkuk, consistent with his character. In the words of the Psalmist, the deeds that YHWH had done were done (past tense) “in the days of old.” And that, precisely, is where they remained.

Habakkuk is no different than any one of us today. We are, to be blunt, all in the same boat. The fact that Pentecostals pray all day long, exceeding the volume of a rock concert, virtually does nothing to the way things really are. Even the good people are still falling prey to cancer at age thirty, dying in car accidents committed by drunk fools, or simply losing their jobs to more ruthlessly conniving individuals. The “faithful” people today still see the loud mouth, die-hard atheists using their vocal cords to cast curses upon YHWH. Just as in Habakkuk’s time, we still have our deuteronomic theologies—though they go by fancy names like “health and wealth gospel” or “success theology”—which teach people that, if one follows God, one will inherit the pearls of the Kingdom right here and right now. We still have our Joel Osteens, Joyce Meyers, Benny Hinns, regurgitating a worn-out theology; a theology of mere cut-and-dried retribution. Whether we like it or not, this sort of thinking was accepted by Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Moses, and a thousand others. It is the initial theology of all school children. But then we all grow up. Like Ecclesiastes, we shed our teenage mentality and we see that “things are not so.” Maybe along with his version of the categorical imperative—אַל־תְּהִ֤י צַדִּיק֙ הַרְבֵּ֔ה (“Do not be righteous too much!” [7:16])—we, too, will find rest in knowing that, no matter what you do, you will suffer. You can be good or bad, fat or thin, American or Russian, white or black, believer or atheist, you will still probably get cancer at some point in your life, and you may, or may not, live to see your grandchildren. One could relate to a lament made by people within Zephaniah’s time, a contemporary of Habakkuk’s, who had the audacity to say that YHWH “does neither good nor evil” (1:12). Von Rad makes the following remark about Zephaniah’s contemporaries, “[T]hese were no atheists, but they no longer reckoned with divine action in the present day; and when the storm broke, and the Southern Kingdom suffered the same fate as had the Northern, and saw its upper class deported to Babylon [in 586/7 BC], the question of Jahweh’s relationship to his people became completely uncertain.”[18] In Habakkuk’s time, deuteronomic theology became a theology of paradox—it could not even stand on its own two feet. And when the Babylonian captivity took place, after Habakkuk’s time, it completely fell beneath the weight of human experience. As I’ve stated earlier, even in the time of severe personal crisis and doubt, YHWH gave Habakkuk no real answer. “[T]he answer to the question why there should be such great and mysterious suffering is so remarkably veiled and obscure that it makes one feel as if Jahweh were retreating before the question, and withdrawing into ever deeper seclusion.”[19]

Habakkuk’s three-chapter book is one long sustained argument with YHWH, with a number of interjections made by YHWH. The prophet attempts to get YHWH to recognize that justice must be served at an appropriate time and in an appropriate manner. YHWH responds by making Habakkuk aware of, what appears to be, an uncertainty principle. Habakkuk is to trust that YHWH is, essentially, in control. All one has to do is trust in YHWH despite any given circumstances. No longer must one judge oneself as good or bad in relation to what one has or does not have. YHWH is not really about rewarding the righteous people, after all—at least not on planet earth. The methods Habakkuk uses to argue with YHWH are standard Old Testament methods that sometimes work (Moses and the Children of Israel in Exodus 32) and sometimes do not (Abraham and Sodom in Genesis18-19). We can plead with YHWH all we want, but Habakkuk is right, “the righteous will live by placing their faith in YHWH’s vision.” In the end, YHWH wins and you lose. You can either be on YHWH’s side or you can hold a sustained argument against YHWH, but it will be faith that gets you through on either side. As Paul once remarked, “Everything not done in faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). To argue or not to argue, to use Kierkegaardian language, “you will regret both.”

 

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

 

Appendix:

Translation and Textual Notes

עַד־אָ֧נָה יְהוָ֛ה שִׁוַּ֖עְתִּי וְלֹ֣א תִשְׁמָ֑ע אֶזְעַ֥ק אֵלֶ֛יךָ חָמָ֖ס וְלֹ֥א תֹושִֽׁיעַ׃

לָ֣מָּה תַרְאֵ֤נִי אָ֨וֶן֙ וְעָמָ֣ל תַּבִּ֔יט וְשֹׁ֥ד וְחָמָ֖ס לְנֶגְדִּ֑י וַיְהִ֧י רִ֦יב וּמָדֹ֖ון יִשָּֽׂא׃

עַל־כֵּן֙ תָּפ֣וּג תֹּורָ֔ה וְלֹֽא־יֵצֵ֥א לָנֶ֖צַח מִשְׁפָּ֑ט כִּ֤י רָשָׁע֙ מַכְתִּ֣יר אֶת־הַצַּדִּ֔יק עַל־כֵּ֛ן יֵצֵ֥א מִשְׁפָּ֖ט

מְעֻקָּֽל

טְהֹ֤ור עֵינַ֨יִם֙ מֵרְאֹ֣ות רָ֔ע וְהַבִּ֥יט אֶל־עָמָ֖ל לֹ֣א תוּכָ֑ל לָ֤מָּה תַבִּיט֙ בֹּֽוגְדִ֔ים תַּחֲרִ֕ישׁ בְּבַלַּ֥ע רָשָׁ֖ע

צַדִּ֥יק מִמֶּֽנּוּ

הִנֵּ֣ה עֻפְּלָ֔ה[20] לֹא־יָשְׁרָ֥ה נַפְשֹׁ֖ו בֹּ֑ו וְצַדִּ֖יק בֶּאֱמוּנָתֹ֥ו יִחְיֶֽה

יְהוָ֗ה שָׁמַ֣עְתִּי שִׁמְעֲךָ֮ יָרֵאתִי֒ יְהוָ֗ה פָּֽעָלְךָ֙ בְּקֶ֤רֶב שָׁנִים֙ חַיֵּ֔יהוּ

How long, YHWH, will I call out and you will not listen? Or when I shout to you ‘Violence!’ and you do not save?

Why do you make me look at wickedness and trouble? Why do you make me gaze at death and at the violence before me? A dispute and a quarreling go up (to you)…

Therefore, the torah is paralyzed. Will justice never prevail? For the wicked siege the righteous; on this account, justice is perverted.

(Your) eyes are too pure to look at evil—they cannot gaze at trouble. Why, then, do you gaze at those who deal treacherously? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than him?

Behold! The soul of the unrighteous is puffed up in him; but the righteous will live by faithfulness in it (i.e., the vision/revelation of YHWH).

YHWH, I have heard of your fame, I have feared your deeds; make them come to life in our day…

(Habakkuk 1:2-4, 13; 2:4, 3:2a)

 

Bibliography and Works Cited

Anderson, Bernhard W. Understanding the Old Testament. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975.

Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.

Goldingay, John. Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Life. Vol. 3. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2009.

Janzen, J. Gerald. Habakkuk 2:2-4 in the Light of Recent Philological Advances. Harvard Theological Review 73, no. 1-2. (January 1, 1980).

Moberly, R. W. L. “אָמַן,“ in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. Ed. Willem A. von Gemeren. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.

Rad, Gerhard von. Old Testament Theology: The Theology of Israels Prophetic Traditions. Trans. D. M. G. Stalker. Vol. 2. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

Ward, William Hayes. “A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk,” in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Eds. C. A. Briggs, S. R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975), 348-349.

[2] Ibid., 349.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 362.

[5] Ibid., 363.

[6] Ibid., 362-364.

[7] Ibid., 363.

[8] Ibid., 360.

[9] Ibid., 364.

[10] Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology: The Theology of Israel’s Prophetic Traditions, trans. D. M. G. Stalker, vol. 2. (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 263.

[11] The word for “message” here is מַשָּׂ֖א. This is the same word which is used to introduce Habakkuk’s prophecy (1:1); it is a מַשָּׂ֖א (“message,” “pronouncement,” or “revelation”).

[12] Another interesting parallel is that both use the same word for “crying out,” צָעַק.

[13] Though the technical word for “the righteous” (הַצַּדִּ֔יק) is not used in relation to Job, similar adjectives are applied to him. He is called “pure and upright, fearing God” (תָּ֧ם וְיָשָׁ֛ר וִירֵ֥א אֱלֹהִ֖ים).

[14] Deut. 32:4 defines YHWH’s actions as “all just”: הַצּוּר֙ תָּמִ֣ים פָּעֳלֹ֔ו כִּ֥י כָל־דְּרָכָ֖יו מִשְׁפָּ֑ט אֵ֤ל אֱמוּנָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין עָ֔וֶל צַדִּ֥יק ויָשָׁ֖ר הֽוּא. YHWH is called “pure” (תָּמִ֣ים), “just” (מִשְׁפָּ֑ט), “faithful” (אֱמוּנָה֙) and “righteous” (צַדִּ֥יק).

[15] William Hayes Ward, “A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk,” in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. C. A. Briggs, S. R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), 4. For a similar line of argument, see John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Life, vol. 3 (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 786-792.

[16] R. W. L. Moberly, “אָמַן,“ in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. von Gemeren, vol. 1. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 428.

[17] Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 229.

[18] Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 263.

[19] Ibid., 267.

[20] The Pual imperfect 3rd person feminine singular verb עֻפְּלָ֔ה (“she/it is puffed up, proud”) has been taken to be, by some, as corrupted. Janzen offers the suggestion that it be reconstructed to a noun to read עָצֵ֑ל (“sluggard”). I do not think that such a change would greatly impact my reading of the text, which is why I have not bothered to emend the Masoretic Text. See J. Gerald Janzen, Habakkuk 2:2-4 in the Light of Recent Philological Advances, Harvard Theological Review 73, no. 1-2 (January 1, 1980): 67-70. Numerous other, somewhat ingenious, emendations have been proposed by virtually any scholar who knows Hebrew, for those guesses, I refer the reader to any critical commentary on Habakkuk. As a rule, for every scholar there is an idiosyncratic emendation.

May 6, 2014

The Hardest Part: A Poem

The hardest part was learning to forgive
Solving the puzzles, the wrong and right—trying to make sense of all of it
The hardest part was learning to speak the truth
Where my thoughts bleed and your heart aches—the path was never smooth
The hardest part was learning to let go
Through twists and turn—with scars and burns—so much I didn’t know
The hardest part was trying to say “Hello”
After all we’ve done—smoked our guns—our cracks began to show

And this is what it feels like to grow old
This is what I think of when the fire’s cold
Friends come and lovers go
So long, my dear ones, my life was in The Show

The hardest part was trying not to break
With words that simmered beneath the hate of gone by mistakes
The hardest part was waking up again
Sweat poured from my soul, I lost it all, no place to rest in sin
The hardest part was facing you with smiles
So much to say—dear little sounds—but nothing comes for miles
The hardest part was fighting to live through this
Sometimes I wish we never met—our words misfired the kiss

And this is what it feels like to grow old
This is what I think of when the fire’s cold
Friends come and lovers go
So long, my dear ones
I’m exiting The Show

written by Moses Y. Mikheyev

A Recalled Romance: A Poetic Tribute to Søren Kierkegaard

I met a girl not long ago,
She was young, flamboyant, and lively
Her eyes, like diamonds, would display and show,
A love that was true and timely
At first, I merely cast aside
All thoughts of our hearts joining
But despair left me with the tide
Before long, “mad love” was I coining
Our talks went from God to love
From madness to burning desire
Before long, I would respond
And call her my Little Liar
For lie she did, that pretty girl
For carnal love was not eternal
I knew her well, and so I learned
How to make our love immortal
At first, I asked to hold her hand
To warm her when she felt cold
I would caress her and not pretend
About the way she drew my soul
Ah, that girl! She loved me too much
My sorrow, my depression she turned to naught
She’d hold me tight, with gentle touch
And soothe my aching heart with love
Then, as quickly as it all started
I began to feel a burning urge
The desire took strong hold, so I departed
And left her there, in love submerged
I left her, for I had my reasons
I wanted to cherish her forever now
For marriage strips love of all meaning
And tears apart love’s greatest vows
For love’s vows are rather simple
You must let go before you commit
For once committed, your love is stippled
By the futility of all marriage gives
For those who are married are truly sad
For they have attained what they desired
The love they wanted became a fad
For which they couldn’t maintain the fire
They wanted love and love they got
But what they got annulled desire
Thus, they slowly fell from the top
And lived happily-never in cold mire
But I, I wanted something else
I was willing to forsake my wants
I left that girl with tears myself
for a love that never haunts
The love I sought was truly eternal
It remained unchanged—forever—in my mind
Every precious moment that we’ve been given
Has been kept and brought to life
And even now, to this day still
Beneath the fiery stars of Heaven’s Gates
I lie awake, with joy and thrill
As I recall those memories made
For my love, baby, is not one drop carnal
It is truly not of this world
For you alone have I loved, darling
Forever you, alone, remain my girl.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev
This poem is dedicated affectionately to Søren Kierkegaard. May the love he had for Regina Olsen forever remain in the minds of his readers. He is, perhaps, the greatest thinker that has ever lived.