29 April 2008

If it is context they want...

I have heard much about taking 'quotes' or 'sound bites' out of context with the Rev. Wright problem, and, really, with the man's full sermons becoming available from start to finish, it is time to actually take a look and see just what the full context of one of these things looks like.  Really, if out of context is bad (and it is something I decry and try to avoid at all costs, so that individuals can get a full expression of their ideas in context) then looking at the full, exacting context should clear it all up.  Right?

So with much thanks to Hugh Hewitt for getting a couple of these things transcribed, I will take up the daunting task of not being a biblical scholar, not being all that 'in touch' with the pulsings of the the Leftist Liberation Theology movement and, of course, not being black.  Bound to get things totally wrong, so lets begin the 'object oriented' and 'right brain' analysis going...

Starting with 13 APR 2004 sermon by Rev. Wright, and there will be lengthy excerpts:

And they could not see the thing that make for peace. We keep forgetting, we keep forgetting, and we need ot remember, Jerome Ross wrote about it, I keep reminding you of it, write it down so you don't forget, these people had, in Luke 19, an occupying army living in their country. Jesus, in Verse 43, calls them their enemies. Say enemies (crowd responds). Their enemies had all the political power.

This is, of course, talking about Jerusalem under the Roman Empire after the fall of the Egyptian Dynasty.  That affair started with Marc Antony and Cleopatra, went through Augustus' victory (d. 14 AD) and Tiberius (14 AD - 37 AD) started to solidify the nearby areas after that.  Jerusalem would become part of the Iudaea Province under Tiberius.  That Province would *not* include the Galilee, Philistia, Phoenicia, Decapolis, Perae or Nabatea areas, just Idumea, Judaea and Samaria.  Prior to that Rome had chosen, as it usually did with client states, a local ruler to administer the area, and that was Herod I (The Great) re-builder of the Temple.  His lineage, under Agrippa II, would continue to rule Judea until 96 AD, after the area came under full Roman rule in 6 AD.  To set the scene, in Luke 3:1 we get the sole reference (directly, although the 'tribute penny' also is an indicator in Matthew) to the ruler in question (Source: Univ. of Virginia Library etext):

1: Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
2: Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.

This starts, then, in 29 AD, Tiberius as Emperor, Pontius Pilate as a military governor of Judaea (Iudaea Province) or the Prefect of Judaea, and Herod Antipas in charge of the Galilee Province.  So, the Romans have control, and put a military governor in charge of the Province, who had duties that were primarily military and tax collection, plus some other limited duties in the judicial realm.  Normal, civil, functions fell upon the local governors and, in Judaea, that included the High Priests.  As a military governor, however, he did not have control of any Legion based forces, which were stationed in Syria, and so used local forces either levies or mercenaries, or locally trained forces loyal to Rome, to keep things in order.

If Rev. Wright is trying to draw parallels to Iraq, which he is as seen later, then this is far closer to the 'Sons of Iraq' or 'Iraq Awakening' groups working with supervision from a US military commander to help keep order in places like Fallujah a couple of years after this sermon was given.  These local forces get trained to keep the peace, make sure their own actions don't get out of hand and, generally, makes sure that foreign forces are NOT needed to keep the order.  For Pilate he could request help from the Legate in Syria to come in with Legion based forces of Rome, but that is for only if things get way out of hand.  Such forces are not uncommon in history, with Germany during WWII, British Empire, French Empire, several Chinese Dynasties, Egyptian Empires under different Dynasties, Hittites, Persians, and, indeed, any state capturing far flung territory that is ethnically different and requires localized supervision seeing such forces arise.  Generally these are called 'Constabulary Forces', and the US much prefers to get a local government to handle those sorts of things until we can leave the folks to their own devices, like in the Philippines.  Of course during Roman times things were a bit more 'rough and ready' but they still had an orderly way of doing things in the military realm.

When Pilate did call in regular Legion forces, they brought their battle standards with them, according to the account by Josephus (not the most trustworthy of sources) and Pilate tried to keep friction to a minimum in their display which was considered idolatrous by the Jews.  That doesn't sound like an 'occupying army' but a foreign government installing local rulers with military oversight to keep the peace and ensure that there is no sedition or rebellion ready to flare up.

Going from there we get to an interesting passage from Luke 19, and while the immediate sentence referenced by Rev. Wright appears to indicate the Roman Empire, it is not the only mention of 'enemies' in Luke 19, where Jesus teaches Zacchaeus via parable:

9: And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10: For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
11: And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.
12: He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
13: And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.
14: But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
15: And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
16: Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
17: And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
18: And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.
19: And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.
20: And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:
21: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.
22: And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:
23: Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?
24: And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.
25: (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)
26: For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.
27: But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
28: And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem.

Not the sweetest of all parables, it is true, and puts a rather nasty cast on those having gained by not doing anything.  Also called 'usury'.  The parable shows how those that expect usury will take it even if not given, and declare those that will not let this reign over them to be 'enemies'.  So the first 'enemies' mentioned are: those collecting usury that are in power.

Now, a bit further on we get to see where Jesus ends up once he gets in Jerusalem:

37: And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;
38: Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.
39: And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.
40: And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.
41: And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
42: Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.
43: For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side,
44: And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
45: And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought;
46: Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.
47: And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him,
48: And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.

In weeping for Jerusalem upon sight and saying that 'thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee' and then going to the Temple where usury is practiced, the direct correlation is: that those not acceding to the usury of the Temple Priests shall be considered its enemies.  It is pretty striking to me, at least, that the preceding parable is a foreshadowing by Jesus of what he is about to do, which is decry the money-lenders in the Temple.  If Jerusalem's people find the good grace not to use the money lenders in the Temple, then the Priests will find them as enemies.  It would be fun to misread that as the Romans coming to do things, I suppose, but notice that they are not mentioned in Luke 19?

Now one could misconstrue that the High Priests had all the political power, but Rev. Wright is implying an occupying force and Rome, while Jesus looks to be talking about the bad end that will come with usury in the Temple via the Priests.

Of course I'm just reading it straight up, no interpretations, no scholarship, no fancy anything between me and the scripture.

Just like Martin Luther wanted!  And in English, too!

Finally, not knowing the good Rev. Wright's normal references, it seems likely that it is Jerome Ross of Virginia Union University that he is referencing.  He does have some interesting works on his page:

________, “The Cultural Affinity between the Ancient Yahwists and the African Americans: A Hermeneutic for Homiletics.” In Born to Preach, ed. Samuel K. Roberts. 22-39. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2000.
________, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah: A Compilation (Unpublished, 2000); At press (Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co.).
________, A History of Ancient Israel: A Compilation (1999).

________. “Jubilee in Lev. 17-26.” In the Holy Bible: The African American Jubilee Edition (1999).
James H. Harris, Jerome C. Ross, & Miles Jerome Jones, Proclamation 6 | Series B: Lent. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.
Book Review of Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation, ed. Cain Hope Felder in Interpretation: A Journal of Bible & Theology (Apr 1993): 200-201.

A Hermeneutic for Homiletics?

Ok, from the ever somewhat reliable Wikipedia, we can get this lovely idea of 'Hermeneutics':

Hermeneutics may be described as the development and study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts. In contemporary usage in religious studies, hermeneutics refers to the study of the interpretation of religious texts.

It is more broadly used in contemporary philosophy to denote the study of theories and methods of the interpretation of all texts and systems of meaning. The concept of "text" is here extended beyond written documents to any number of objects subject to interpretation, such as experiences. A hermeneutic is also defined as a specific system or method for interpretation, or a specific theory of interpretation. However, the contemporary philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer has said that hermeneutics is an approach rather than a method and, further, that the Hermeneutic circle is the central problem of interpretation.

Essentially, hermeneutics involves cultivating the ability to understand things from somebody else's point of view, and to appreciate the cultural and social forces that may have influenced their outlook. Hermeneutics is the process of applying this understanding to interpreting the meaning of written texts and symbolic artifacts (such as art or sculpture or architecture), which may be either historic or contemporary.

The meaning of hermeneutics and its range, depend strongly on the precision of definitions of such terms as: interpretation, understanding, point of view, and the choice of its domain of interest/(domain of intervention). On the other hand, as in the case of other abstract terms, definitions depend on the consensus of their users, and can evolve with time.

Hermeneutics interest includes also recognition and explanation of parables, metaphors and insinuations.

Yes, instead of just reading what is written you try to figure out, or GUESS, what the motivations are for the person to have written them!  Or, if you want the perfect example, trying to figure out what the meaning of the word *is* is.

And Homelitics:

Homiletics (Gr. homiletikos, from homilos, to assemble together), in theology the application of the general principles of rhetoric to the specific department of public preaching. The one who practices or studies homiletics is called a homilist.

Maybe its not this Jerome Ross that Rev. Wright is referencing, but it has that 'ball park' feeling to it and the man is teaching biblical scholarship from an African-American perspective and syllabus.  What you get from 'Hermeneutic for Homiletics' is teaching about the bible based on what you *think* the writers of it were intending by going beyond the written text and *guessing* how their cultural milieu influenced their writings. 

Instead of just reading what they wrote and correlating it to what was going on.

Got the 'context' of how this all starts out?

Rev. Wright starts out with a reference to a man who uses 'guess work' to figure out how other people think to get their perspective, and then puts forward that Jesus was talking about the Romans as the enemies of the people of Jerusalem while, just from the plain old reading of the text where a parable is put close to what Jesus did so that we can draw the lesson from it, that Jesus is making the Priests out to be the long-term enemies of the people if the folks get religion and stop using the money lenders.

I could be wrong!

Still, its amazing how such high scholarly folks couldn't do a little bit of military research to find out just what sort of forces a Prefect gets to work with and that they are not, normally, the regular Legion.  The Legion would get called in to put down a later revolt... ruin brought by folks not liking money-lending and the Priests not liking it, perhaps?

See what you have to do to get 'context' in three measly sentences, and only two if you get rid of the shout-out sentence?

Next up from Rev. Wright:

Remember, they had to send Jesus to a court presided over by the enemy, a provisional governor appointed by their enemies, ran the civic and the political affairs of their capitol. He had him backing him up an occupying army with superior soldiers.

Actually, the Roman Prefect ran the military side of the house and left it up to the local government and Priests to keep things in order on the civil side.  The Priests, however, dithered and wanted nothing to do with figuring out Jesus as they were in a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' sort of deal.  But if Jesus takes on the mantle of 'King of the Jews' in defiance of Roman Law and order, the becomes a *military* problem... which Pilate would have much preferred the local government handled as a civil affair as Jesus had no real army behind him.  On that civil side was the current descendant of Herod along with the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas.  Thus you have a breakdown of the Priestly law and civil law, with none of the locals wanting to handle the case because, no matter what they did, there was a good chance of sparking off a rebellion OR the loss of power for the existing civil/priestly order.

In case folks forgot, Judaea was not the most stable of places once Egypt was defeated, and there were more prophets and messiah claimants running around than anyone could easily keep track of, which is part of the reason that a military Prefect was put in, between the local civil government and the main Roman government in Syria: to keep things under wraps.  I looked at how the major uprising in 66 AD was viewed at the time previously as part of a longer article on Private War, Piracy and terrorism:

Before heading into the international aspects of this and yet more civil law, it is time to backtrack to earlier days of warfare and forces on land that operated in ways like this. One can start with the bandit army raised by Josephus against Rome in 66-73 AD and identify it as such and the Roman attitude towards such a thing. Mind you Josephus *did* switch sides, so the history may be a bit shaky, but the concept was quite clear: bringing down an army that was fanatically inspired by their religion. Still called a 'bandit army' however.

That is why a 'King of the Jews' could get hauled in front of a military Prefect for final say on things: the last thing Rome wanted was a major uprising from an upstart religious leader going on.  Pontius Pilate knew he was walking on eggshells when things like this landed in his lap.  Look at the result of this one: we now have Christianity as a major religion that grew up out of his decision 1900 and some odd years afterwards.

As for the 'occupying army': at worse you have Pontius' household troops being regular Legion.  The rest would be local auxiliaries or levies, plus mercenaries (Assyrians were popular in that era if memory serves).  So some foreigners, some locals and under foreign command... while local police forces would be purely local.  That is something that Rev. Wright glosses over: the local government having police forces for civil work.  At best guess Pilate had about 3,000 troops to cover all of the province, and there was more than just Jerusalem to consider as sea ports were a vital link to be guarded as were major trade routes going through the province north-south and east-west.  He could and *did* get assistance when needed from the Romans based in Syria, but that was on an 'as-needed' basis, not permanent garrison.

Back to Rev. Wright:

They were commandos trained in urban combat, and trained to kill on command. Remember, it was soldiers of the 3rd Marine Regiment of Rome who had fun with Jesus, who was mistreated as a prisoner of war, an enemy of the occupying army stationed in Jerusalem, to ensure the mopping up action of Operation Israeli Freedom.

Legio III Cyrenaica were trained to fight, it is true, but as for 'urban combat': the Legion preferred to avoid that as their tactics required open fields for shifting formations.  What you did have were somewhat lesser armed auxiliaries in the form of the Menapian Celts and Nabataean archers.  The former were probably more on the lines of irregulars or skirmishers (light infantry), utilizing spears, while the archers are, perhaps, not the best sort of troops to have in city fighting if they are not backed by regular infantry.  Legio III also had Egypt to look after, so its forces spread between Syria and Egypt would be pretty thin if every Prefect needed immediate backing by the Legion.  Although there was no set size for a given legion, as they were flexible based on need, the typical core legion (no auxiliaries) went on the order of 4,200 to 5,200 troops.  Auxiliary troops cannot be considered as anywhere equivalent to the Legionnaires, and might be considered on a 2:1 or 3:1 effectiveness basis in combat (3 aux. : 1 regular).  Outside of personal or household troops, then, Pilate's 3,000 might be about 150-200 Legion and 2,800 aux. troops.

Now for those who are wondering, I do believe there were actual Roman Marines!  These were specially trained soldiers... for boarding vessels and repelling boarding parties from other ships.  Yes, in using hyperbole, Rev. Wright wishes to impugn the honor of the US Marine Corps: the very same USMC THAT HE HAD SERVED IN.

So much for honoring the Corps.

As for 'Operation Israeli Freedom' perhaps Rev. Wright forgets that the era of the Roman Empire was one of *empires* that would have control of multiple provinces and that if another governing power didn't step in to help things out, which Rome had been doing for some time in the area so as to get a decent sea port going and influence things locally, that the resultant chaos and disorder would end up with everyone suffering to no good end at all?  Of *course* that is raw, power politics as that was the era for that sort of thing.  The US has this strange idea that we should teach folks how to govern themselves, get things in order and then hand it all over to them... like we did in the Philippines, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea... but that would be drawing upon history to show how enlightened nations view warfare.  Can't have that.

Lets see, we now have mis-statements and recasting of what Jesus has said, ahistorical views of the actual conditions in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, and impugning the honor and integrity of the US Marine Corps by likening them to Roman Auxiliary troops... and I am not even past 6 sentences into the sermon!

Somehow I don't think that either Rev. Wright or Sen. Obama want folks to take things in context: they look much, much, much worse close up and that isn't even getting to the juicy and truly incendiary parts.

But then I'm not much of a biblical scholar... and only have a passing interest in military history that is a bit more than skin deep.

I don't need multiple degrees to tell me when something stinks, however, when the lies and deceit pile up like this.


SwampWoman said...

Heh. I read that same passage you referenced, and concluded the "reverend" don't know much about history, don't know much theology....

A Jacksonian said...

SW - Yes, reading Jesus as a 'POW' would require him to be a military commander of actual forces... the same man who wanted folks to render unto Caesar etc. Josephus might be considered such, until he switched sides, but he was part of the self-organized group or 'Army of Bandits', as characterized by Rome which is how they saw it. Just on history, Rev. Wright misses the boat, but his insinuations are awful and contrary to the scripture as I read it.

Thanks for stopping by!

SwampWoman said...

I stop by fairly frequently and love the analyses of issues that you do.

The problem as I see it is that fewer and fewer people are willng to seek out the facts for themselves but are instead willing to accept what self-proclaimed "experts" like the "Reverend" Wright proclaim as truth without checking the accuracy of his statements.

I see the same willing suspension of disbelief in the global warming through the miniscule amount of human-generated CO2 fanatics. I would think that they would ask themselves "What have historic levels of CO2 been? Have there been ice ages with levels of CO2 greater than the present?"

I see in both of these examples that too many people prefer to have others do the thinking for them.

A Jacksonian said...

That is what I try to do: give context and historical backing for my reasoning.

As in GW a simple look at previous levels of carbon dioxide reveals much, much higher levels than at present and yet no runaway greenhouse effect. Atmospheric scientists are only now realizing that their models are dead wrong, and they are having to step back from them. As models are only as good as the reasoning behind them, when the reasoning goes - so goes the model.

As Mark Twain said of diet books - he suggested you didn't follow them as you might die of a misprint. I agree! Reasoning and moderation should do until we get to unreasoning times, which more people seem to push for every day. I dare not let others do my thinking as, if I had done so previously, I would be deceased. Thinking and reasoning for oneself are vital survival tools, not mere accessories.