Friday, May 31, 2013

Homosexual sins and rabbi Steven Greenberg

Orthodox rabbi Steven Greenberg (1956)
Image wikimedia
Times are a'changing!

With the growing acceptance in secular and religious societies of the fact that sexual minorities do exists and that some people are naturally oriented towards their own sex, many homosexuals and lesbians are coming out of the closet. One outstanding example - because of the strict sexual morals of Judaism against homosexuality - is rabbi Steven Greenberg, 57, telling about his love of opera singer Steven Goldstein. Together they are the parents of two-and-half years old girl Amilia.

Greenberg's views
Israeli newspaper Haaretz had front page headline"And God created gays: The first openly gay Orthodox rabbi talks about coming out, pain, and parenthood" (Haaretz)

Wikipedia tells:
In 2004 Greenberg's book, Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition was published, meeting with critical acclaim. In particular it addressed permitted and forbidden sexual behaviour: “While the common understanding of the verse ‘Thou shall not lie with a male as one lies with a woman’ [Leviticus 18:22] has been taken to refer to both active and passive partners ... it would appear that the verse directly refers only to the active partner engulfing his penis in the body of another man. According to this analysis the verse prohibits one, and only one, sexual practice between men, namely, anal intercourse, and speaks specifically to the active partner. There is no mention of any other behavior that this verse would prohibit.”

In Greenberg′s reading “the verse prohibits the kind of sex between men that is designed to effect the power and mastery of the penetrator. Sex for the conquest, for shoring up the ego, for selfaggrandizement, or worse, for the perverse pleasure of demeaning another man is prohibited,” and he adds that reading Leviticus 18:22 “as a law against sexual domination and appropriation ... offers gay people a way to reconnect to God, Torah, and the Jewish people”. Greenberg says that he interprets the passage in this way “because it offers me a way of coming back to Judaism. It’s a radical reading, but if you believe that God hates what you are, why would you go to such a temple?”

Changing legislation
The acceptance of homosexuality as a natural phenomenon, as a true sexual minority, and the protection of their equality with heterosexuals has in recent years led to changes in legislation in several States of the United States and in many European countries, most recently France allowing gay marriages. The rights of homosexuals to have public legislative protection are a significant socio-ethical matter in Scandinavian countries where the majority of population belongs to Christian churches.

Sin of homosexuality
Times are a'changing!

However, with the acceptance of the fact that there are God created sexual minorities there is also a blurring of the divine prohibition of homosexual relations in the Old and New Testament.

For accepting the fact that some men and some women prefer their own sex is not a license to heterosexuals to engage in homosexual relations.

Bible says that homosexuality is abhorrent to God. But not only to God. It is a disgusting thing for heterosexual men and women who normally cannot imagine getting into bed with another man or woman. It is not predominantly a religious feeling, it is natural behavior.

In the same breath we can say that for a homosexual person having sex with opposite sex is a disgusting and unpleasant thing and in many cases simply impossible. 

This is good.

This is something that people of religious should keep reminding the people - that there are all sorts of things that God forbids and one of them is getting into bed with a person of same sex. 

It is a sin. 

The modern addition to this natural and just and important religious teaching is that it may be a sin for a homosexual to get into bed with a person of opposite sex. 

Times are a'changing
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.
Bob Dylan

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Resurrecetion - Impact crater

Speaking of religions Carl Sagan rephrased the Principle of Laplaze saying "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".  Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827) had said in more generic manner that "The weight of the evidence should be proportioned to the strangeness of the facts."

Some Christians take Sagan's famous challenge by trying to show that there actually is extraordinary evidence about the resurrection of Christ. See, for example, the blog on the subject by Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).

Weak evidence
The God of Israel has decided otherwise and the evidence of resurrection of Christ is minimal, contradictory,  weak and easy to dismiss. An empty tomb in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago, some confused women, uneducated Galilean fishermen... Encounters with Jesus after His death but stories told in the New Testament in such a manner that it is very difficult to put them together in logical way.

The claim that a human being comes back to life after being cruelly killed and buried for three days is truly extraordinary. It would have been easy to give extraordinary evidence for the case. For example, Jesus showing Himself publicly on the southern steps of the Temple of Jerusalem  proving to everybody that He lives.

But do you notice, what mistake I made in the above paragraph - a fatal error that so many people keep doing?

Apostle Paul
The life of Saulus of Tarsos was revolutionized by his encounter with Jesus after His death on the way to Damascus. He explained resurrection concept to the young Christian congregation in the Greek city of Corinth.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
1 Cor 15:44-49

The body of resurrection is not the body of Adam made of dust and having soul (nefesh in Hebrew) but it is a heavenly body with spirit.

Accordingly, resurrection of Christ is moved even further from our materialistic scientific world into the realm of religion and spirituality. Further away from extraordinary proofs and evidence that can convince anyone.

In fact, it is a miracle if anyone believes in the resurrection of Christ.

Impact crater
There is, however, something that brings the resurrection to the realm of material world, science and logic.

The comparison is obviously not perfect as resurrection is life and the impact of asteroids and meteorites on Earth is usually accompanied with widespread destruction.

What I am trying to point out with impact crater is that often we do not have much left of the large object that exploded when hitting planet Earth. But we do have impact crater as in the case of the famous Yucattan hit. We can study the signs that the impact of the asteroid left, the minerals, the temperatures, the size of the crater and so on.

There is a huge impact crater left from resurrection of Christ - in the lives of human beings, in the history of human race, in the fate of the Jewish people, on you and on me through something very strange and underestimated - faith alone.

For God of Israel has seen it good to arrange things for His only Son so that our relationship with Him is based on faith - not on knowledge and science.

And it works - there is quite a number of people who are willing to die for their faith that God has risen Jesus from the death.

Not back to earthly life but to eternal life.

They do not know it - they believe it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Christ and Dionysus

Furious maenad.  A spectacular Attic white-kylix 490-480 BC from Vulci.
Staatliche Antikensammlungen Munich Germany
image wikimedia
Google for "Christ and Dionysus" and you see how much interest there is today in the relation between Jesus of Nazareth and the fascinating ancient Greek god Dionysus (Roman Bacchus). Great deal of the modern interest seems to come from comparisons suggesting direct connection between the two. It is notable how many Atheists and Christian apologists argue in public about the issue of Greek mythology and Christ.

Here I am looking only at the particular issue of the suggested presence of the cult of Dionysus in Palestine at the time of Jesus.

Peter Wick published in the Pontifical Biblical Institute's journal Biblical a scholarly paper «Jesus gegen Dionysos? Ein Beitrag zur Kontextualisierung des Johannesevangeliums», Vol. 85 (2004) 179-198.
Abstract: The author of the article intends to show, that not just the episode of the "miracle at Cana" (John 2,1-11), but the gospel of John as a whole disputes in an implicit way the worship of Dionysos, which was wide-spread in Syria and Palestine. Jesus is presented as the true son of god, who surpasses the god Dionysos in every way. John represents the old Jewish tradition of disputing the worship of Dionysos. This dispute implies the rejection as well as the surpassing adoption of Dionysian elements. The author of the gospel strengthens the identity of his communities, which are confronted by the Hellenistic world, by arguing as a scripture-rooted Jew within the symbolic world of the Hellenistic mainstream.
Peter Wick 2004
Peter Wick examines Gospel of John in the context of the worship of Dionysus in Palestine as continuation of Jewish battle against foreign gods. For this the author suggests that there was quite a strong cult to the point that it is the raison d'etre for the episode at Cana and, in fact, provides the context for the entire Gospel. According to Greek tradition, the god Dionysus once filled empty jars with wine (quote needed!)

Plutarch (46-120 AD) is the principal witness among non-Jewish classical authors for the suggestion that wide-spread worship of Dionysus existed among the Jews.
After the festival called 'the fast' [the Day of Atonement], during the vintage, the Jews place tables laden with different fruits in booths of thickets woven from vines and ivy. Their first festival is called by them Sukkah (σκηνή). A few days later, the Jews celebrate another festival, which one may simply call a Bacchanalian festival. For this is a festival on which the Jews carry fig branches and sticks adorned with ivy and carry them into the Temple. One does not know" – adds Plutarch – "what they do in the Temple. It seems reasonable to suppose that they practice rites in honor of Bacchus. For they blow small horns as the people of Argos do during the festival of Dionysus, and call upon their god. Others, who are called Levites, walk in front, either in allusion to Lysios (λύσιος) – perhaps 'the god who attenuatescurses' – or because they call out 'Euius,' i.e., Bacchus.
Plutarch, Moralia, Quaestiones Convivales 4:671D–672B, 309 
Jewish Virtual Library 

Other evidence 
Encyclopaedia Judaica summarizes the evidence for the presence of Dionysus cult in Palestine
According to Plutarch the subject of the connection between the Dionysian and Jewish cults was raised during a symposium held at Aidepsos in Euboea, with a certain Moiragenes linking the Jewish Sabbath with the cult of Bacchus, because "even now many people call the Bacchi 'Sabboi' and call out that word when they perform the orgies of Bacchus."
Plutarch, Moralia, Quaestiones Convivales 4:671D–672B, 309

Tacitus too thought that Jews served the god Liber, i.e., Bacchus-Dionysus, but "whereas the festival of Liber is joyful, the Jewish festival of Liber is sordid and absurd."
Tacitus, Historiae, 5:5

According to Pliny, Beth-Shean was founded by Dionysus after he had buried his wet nurse Nysa in its soil. His intention was to enlarge the area of the grave, which he surrounded with a city wall although there were as yet no inhabitants. Then the god chose the Scythians from among his companions, and in order to encourage them, honored them by calling the new city Scythopolis after them
Pliny, Natural History 5:18, 74.

An inscription found at Beth-Shean dating from the time of Marcus Aurelius mentions that Dionysus was honored there as ktistes.

Stephen of Byzantium reports a legend that connects the founding of the city of Rafa also with Dionysus (for the Dionysian foundation legends of cities in the region, see A. Lichtenberger, "City Foundation Legends in the Decapolis," in: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 22 (2004), 23–34).
IMHO the highly respected historian Plutarch totally misses here the point and apparently does not really know Judaism at all as his description of the Feast of Tabernacles is a total misinterpretation of it.

Of the quoted witnesses the terse statement by the venerable historian Tacitus has apparently heard of Plutarch's description but he dryly remarks how different the worship of Liber (Dionysus) and the sordid Jewish feast are.  Indeed, the two have nothing in common and are in the opposite ends of religious cult practices.

The evidence concerning cities of Decapolis is interesting and apparently correct. One has to remember, thought, that Decapolis was inhabited by pagans and the cities avoided by religious Jews. Skythians may well have revered Dionysus in Beth Shean and Byzantine inhabitants of Rafa were quite possibly not Jews majority of whom were at this time living in the Diaspora.

It is true that Roman-Hellenistic cults penetrated Holy Land which is the land bridge between Eurasia and Africa and has never been - and will never be - a homogeneous cultural region. But note that the foreign gods were for non-Jews and presented a true challenge to the scattered and leaderless Jewish population staying in Palestine after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. The Zodiac mosaic in Beth Alpha and other Byzantine era synagogues in Palestine raise significant questions about the religious identity and culture at this time. (Walter Zanger, Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols 2012)

To conclude, the cult of Dionysus may have existed in Palestine as so many other cults did, including Tammuz, Sun and Jupiter (all related to Dionysus). Existing textual and archaeological evidence does not seem to suggest such a wide spread religious cult that Peter Wick assumes in his interesting article on the spiritual context of the Gospel of John.

Saving the weddings at Cana and being the god of wine does not necessarily establish a live connection between orthodox Jewish Jesus of Nazareth and the pagan god Dionysus worshiped by the gojim.