Monday, October 22, 2007

Notes Toward a Report: Question 1

If Abraham is the paradigm of fidelity to God, then what are the essential elements of this faithful relationship?

13 Comments:

Blogger Robert C. said...

Well, again, I'm not sure how much this will fit the bill of "notes toward a report" (sorry Adam!), but these thoughts, or the origins of them anyway, are at least inspired by reading back over some of the discussion on the blog:

I've been reading back over some of our discussion of the wandering/journey themes, esp. in our Gen 11-12 and Abr 2 threads, in light of some themes from Totality and Infinity I've been thinking about--in particular, Levinas's protest against a means-only view of labor and enjoyment (I don't have my book handy, but the passages I have in mind are in section 2.c or thereabouts). Here is something Joe said on the Abr 2 thread:

"Abraham's journey through Canaan towards Egypt is in Genesis the trek of the confused wanderer who attempts to fulfill God's promises to him, and in Abraham the trek of the confidently covenanted son/father who counsels with the Lord in a very direct way. In short, the Book of Abraham essentially undoes what Jim argues in his paper on Genesis, not by suggesting that these themes are not to be found in Genesis, but by trumping the Genesis text itself."

This idea of movement not only in the texts but also between the texts, has got me thinking about the "purpose" of Abraham's journey, and movement more generally. Levinas makes a big deal (in "The Idea of the Infinite" in particular, I think) about the difference between the "return home" in The Odyssey as being symptomatic of Greek thought, and the movement toward a new land in the Abrahamic account as being symptomatic of Hebrew thought.

Having thrown these various threads of thought on the table, let me try to weave something coherent out of them that pertains to relationships (incl. our relationship with God, so I'm not really sure if I'm thinking more about Q1 or Q2 of the seminar...). Well, let me put it tritely first: our relationships are journeys not destinations. Or, the relationship itself is the destination, and everything else in the story should be interpreted through this lens of Abraham's relational dynamics.

I've been thinking a lot about the very process of reading scripture, and I think this idea of a movement or journey, rather than a particular destination is key. That is, if we approach the scripture looking for a particular destination, a timeless nugget of truth that is extractable from the text (I've also been listening to a book on Freud and how he wanted to think about psycho-analysis, at least in the beginning, as a kind of surgery, simply cutting out the problematic neurosis and sort of leaving everything else unchanged...), then I think we will always be frustrated. Scripture presents us with the theme of exodus over and over again, and recurrent themes of creation. We have a few exceptional instances recounted of people "getting there", like the City of Enoch or 4 Nephi, but then, as Jim is fond of pointing out, we have almost nothing written about these episodes in (or, better: beyond) history. Why? I think it's because learning about the destination is not really the point. Rather "the point" (to still use ends-focused language...) is to learn about journey along the way--more about transcend=ing than transcend-ance perhaps? Our relationship with God and with others, then, must also be approached in a way that never becomes static, or ends-focused, but it there must always be a kind movement or wandering (Brague talks a bit about the Israelites's "floating God" that is not tied down to politics or land, and he views this as peculiar and distinct--and very important, I would add).

One final thought on this parallel between movement and reading and relationships: I'm in the middle of listening to Joe's seminary lesson on Gen 18 (see here), and I think this exchange between God and Abraham is a key development in Abraham and God's relationship. We also talked on the blog post for Gen 18 a bit about this idea of Abraham "talking back" to God. What's curious to me is the structural movement of this theme. In broad strokes, we have: in Gen 12, Abraham silently obeys; in Gen 18 Abraham actively questions God as a result of God allowing Abraham into his council; in Gen 22 Abraham silently obeys again. I'm inclined to think about this chiastic structure as a sort of disruption of any destination. The interactive dynamic of Abraham being part of God's council is preceded and followed by Abraham obeying silently. I think this is an interesting pointing-to-infinity in relationships. That is, it's not as though we "achieve" some sort of Celestial relationship in which we cease proving each other; rather, the proving is itself the relationship. For me, this helps me in thinking about the atonement: the Father's Son was sacrificed--not just to prove that he loves us, as though proving and loving are two different things, but because he loves us (and vice versa, the Son actualized his love in the sacrifice, which is different than saying he suffered because he loves...). At any rate, I think the structure of the narrative itself somehow points us toward a kind of perpetual movement in relationships that should also be viewed in a non-static, non-destination, non-ends-focused way. Although there are times my wife and I take council with each other, if she asks me to do something, I do it unquestioningly--not so that she will know that I love her, but I love her in the very act of obeying (without having to have a family council before obeying...).

6:41 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

- the imperfect tense in Gen 12.1 ("Now the Lord had said unto Abram . . . ") indicates that God's call, though textually contiguous with the death of Terah, preceded these events in some way; does the tense indicate an immemorial or metahistorical dimension to God's call? the call has always already preceded whatever historical events take shape in light of it?

2:11 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

- The faithful must flee the world for the promised land, though on arriving they will not find the “Garden of Eden/idol” they fantasized about. They will find place where their work can begin anew. (Gen. 13)

6:30 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Genesis 15

- Is a faithful relation to God mediated or immediate? how does one or the other of these choices effect faith, doubt, knowledge, etc. (i.e., the structure of the relationship)?

- Why does the covenant keep getting repeated? Must it be continually re-made?

- God responds to Abraham’s doubt with a miraculous display of power, but this display doesn’t stick (it only temporarily relieves doubt); does this failure of the sensible image (however spectacular and powerful) imply the necessity of a symbolic supplement (words/texts/promises)?

6:11 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Genesis 16

- the difference between seeing and hearing in this chapter (and its peculiar emphasis on sight, on seeing, and on seeing oneself being seen)

- the importance of distinguishing contract from covenant; what is the difference? a difference in one’s relation to the symbolic, a relation which either includes or excludes the Real?

- faith takes place only in relation to the (impossibility) of the covenant rather than in relation to the (possibility) of the contract?

- Hagar’s inclusion is an attempt to “guarantee” rather than interrupt the patriline?

5:41 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Genesis 17

- walk before me . . .” (17.1), the first comprehensive commandment given to Abram; “. . . in my presence,” a life thoroughly conditioned by the Lord’s regard?

- the promise of being a king/queen of nations: does this promise still resonate with us? why would anyone want the trouble?

- contract vs. covenant: do we treat the excess of the contract as something that threatens to ruin it or as something that opens the very meaning of the contract itself? a contract supplemented with an avowed excess = a covenant?

- the excess of God’s unconditional commitment to the contract transforms it into a covenant?

5:56 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Genesis 18

- the problem of the ethical ambiguity with which God is portrayed (e.g., Abraham’s negotiation)

- the parallel between Gen. 18 and Job (questioning God, “dust and ashes”): are these provocations
meant to test and prove them?

- the unconditionality of the relationship renders it arbitrary or beyond ethics?

- an additional question here: is God impassive or passionate? can he be moved or swayed by the argument or is it a show?

- this chapter: the first time the promise is made conditional on some action

- Abraham must learn to act unconditionally in order for the unconditioned event / impossible child to arrive?

- the lack of clarity about the number of visitors (1? 3? 2?) and their status (God, angels, men?) is felicitous: Abraham, likewise not knowing, acts without regard to the answers offering hospitality unconditionally

- Abraham promises a modest meal and delivers a feast

- Abrahamic ethics: a hospitality that overflows obligation

5:54 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Genesis 19

- There are a whole series of structural parallels between Gen. 18.1-8 and 19.1-3.

- Abraham promises little and provides a feast. Lot promises a feast and provided little.

- If Abraham’s unconditional hospitality is the mark of his fidelity, then how do we distinguish it from Lot’s own excessive hospitality in Gen. 19?

- Is Lot’s hospitality counterfeit? If so, on what grounds?

- Possible answers: Lot is responding to men rather than God? Lot makes the offer of his own volition while Abraham acts only in response to an explicit command? Abraham meets the angels on their own terms, Lot brings them into the city on his terms? Abraham leads them into safety, Lot leads them into danger?

- Abraham gives perfectly, Lot gives imperfectly, and the Sodomites refuse to give?

- Lot: an everyman, wanting to do the right thing but after doing it badly or wrongly?

2:24 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Genesis 20-21

- Gen. 20 is about God’s protection of Abraham when hospitality fails?

- the strong parallels between Gen 20 and 12.9-20; the earlier story is a foreshadowing of Israel’s entrance, sojourn, and exodus from Egypt, is this one also?

- 20.7 is the only occurrence in Genesis of nabi, “prophet”: why is Abraham described this way here?

- the events of this chapter make us realize that Abraham is not such a saint as we might have supposed, nor are all the inhabitants as depraved as those in Sodom

- why frame Gen 22 with a story of the fallible Abraham? In general, has our assessment of Abraham to this point been relatively negative?

- predicates that have been explicitly applied to Abraham over the course of the story to this point: old, son, father, prophet, wandered, stranger, servant, circumcised, husband, rich, Hebrew

- Abraham is the recipient of two gracious covenants with God and Abimelech; his exemplarity derives in each case from his response to the graciousness?

- Gen 21, the birth of the covenant child is the expulsion of the child of the handmaiden (we need to read these events as belonging together)

- covenant and promise do not appear to be the same: Isaac receives a covenant, Ishmael a promise; promise = I will bless you? covenant = I will bless you so that you may become a blessing to others?

12:15 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Genesis 22

- is hineni, “Here I am,” the response of perfect fidelity? Does this response mark a culminating moment in Abraham’s relation to Lord, moving from his originally mute response to God’s call, to his doubting dialogue, to an affirmatively unconditional response?

- is Abraham’s willingness to not “hold back” his son the core of hospitality? hospitality: a willingness to not hold anything in reserve but unconditionally consecrate everything?

- the repetition of the covenants in 22.16, 18 include a causal construction “X blessing because you have done Y”; possible readings: not a making conditional of the covenant but an acknowledgement of Abraham’s unconditional commitment to the covenant that God has unconditionally extended to him, a recognition of Abraham’s joint-partnership in a mutual unconditionality

12:58 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Genesis 22/23

- is to ask a question about Abraham as a model of fidelity necessarily to ask a question about typology? how ought we to think about typology?

- does the fact of the Genesis 23 (the fact that, after the akedah, the story STILL continues) recast the events in a new and/or less climatic light?

6:45 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Abraham 1

- a different kind of relationship between God and Abraham: not the abject subject/Lord relation of Genesis

- the emphasis on “rights” may be a way of re-thinking grace rather than marginalizing it

-the rights in question are the rights of primogeniture

5:53 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Abraham 2

- the image of Abraham pleading with God to have mercy on his father

- the problem of grace in the book of Abraham: perhaps the issue shifts in this book from receiving grace to giving grace? from receiving blessing to becoming a blessing? (e.g., 2.11)

- grace is received as grace only to the extent that it is given away graciously?

- this is the problem of the blessing of posterity: the relation of a parent to a child is the giving of a grace (life itself) that cannot be earned and, in the end, only related to by giving that unearnable grace to one’s own children

- the gospel: an attempt to work through the tangled complexities of the grace given to us by parents/Parents by taking up this grace as something that we ourselves give; sin is refusing or economizing this grace

- Terah tries to economize this grace by calling in Abraham’s debt when he tries to sacrifice him; Abraham marks no debts, pleads for his father’s life and wants to endlessly give this gift of life to his posterity?

7:07 AM  

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