That of course is an allusion to the common mistranslation of the coat young Joseph had in Genesis.
Jacob loved Joseph more than he did any of his other sons, because Joseph was born after Jacob was very old. Jacob had given Joseph a fancy coat to show that he was his favorite son, and so Joseph’s brothers hated him and would not be friendly to him. — Genesis 37: Contemporary English Version. [Or “a coat of many colors” or “a coat with long sleeves.”]
My current reading following the US Episcopalian Daily Office — an eccentricity of mine — has been taking me through Deuteronomy. Aside from being a cat in T S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Deuteronomy is the fifth of the so-called five books of Moses. It was written much later than the other four, and contains quite obvious evidence of its late date. For example:
Chapter 17: The King
People of Israel, after you capture the land the LORD your God is giving you, and after you settle on it, you will say, ” We want a king, just like the nations around us.”
Go ahead and appoint a king, but make sure that he is an Israelite and that he is the one the LORD has chosen.
The king should not have many horses, especially those from Egypt. The LORD has said never to go back there again. And the king must not have a lot of wives–they might tempt him to be unfaithful to the LORD. Finally, the king must not try to get huge amounts of silver and gold. The official copy of God’s laws will be kept by the priests of the Levi tribe. So, as soon as anyone becomes king, he must go to the priests and write out a copy of these laws while they watch. Each day the king must read and obey these laws, so that he will learn to worship the LORD with fear and trembling and not think that he’s better than everyone else. If the king completely obeys the LORD’s commands, he and his descendants will rule Israel for many years.
Rather than being amazing foresight on the part of Moses, this is post-Solomon politics on the part of the Jewish priesthood.
Now there is much that is to be treasured in Deuteronomy. For example:
Those of you that become judges must be completely fair when you make legal decisions, even if someone important is involved. Don’t take bribes to give unfair decisions. Bribes keep people who are wise from seeing the truth and turn honest people into liars. People of Israel, if you want to enjoy a long and successful life, make sure that everyone is treated with justice in the land the LORD is giving you. [Chapter 16]
But you don’t have to go far to find the origins of Talibanism and similar phenomena:
Someone else may say to you, ” Let’s worship other gods.” That person may be your best friend, your brother or sister, your son or daughter, or your own dear wife or husband. But you must not listen to people who say such things. Instead, you must stone them to death. You must be the first to throw the stones, then others from the community will finish the job. Don’t show any pity.
The gods worshiped by other nations have never done anything for you or your ancestors. People who ask you to worship other gods are trying to get you to stop worshiping the LORD, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt. So put to death anyone who asks you to worship another god. And when the rest of Israel hears about it, they will be afraid, and no one else will ever do such an evil thing again.
After the LORD your God gives you towns to live in, you may hear a rumor about one of the towns. You may hear that some worthless people have talked everyone there into worshiping other gods, even though these gods had never done anything for them. You must carefully find out if the rumor is true. Then if the people of that town have actually done such a disgusting thing in your own country, you must take your swords and kill every one of them, and their livestock too. [Chapter 13]
The Episcopalian Prayer Book leaps over such passages with embarrassment and alacrity. Muhammad of course took such teaching on board with considerable enthusiasm, the Quran being from my reading of it as clear an example of intertextuality as one could hope to find; he also took on board its positive teachings on justice and equity, to be fair.
Of course Christians will point out that stoning to death went out of fashion quite some time ago, so far as they are concerned; but putting witches to death persisted well into the eighteenth century and is well attested in the Pentateuch.
The Episcopalian Prayer Book has also been taking me through 2 Corinthians. That is one interesting letter, among the most personal of Paul’s letters. But even there, in a passage in Chapter 6 many scholars believe to be a later interpolation, there are intimations of a Talibanesque view of the world.
Stay away from people who are not followers of the Lord! Can someone who is good get along with someone who is evil? Are light and darkness the same? Is Christ a friend of Satan? Can people who follow the Lord have anything in common with those who don’t? Do idols belong in the temple of God? We are the temple of the living God, as God himself says, “I will live with these people and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” The Lord also says, “Leave them and stay away! Don’t touch anything that isn’t clean. Then I will welcome you and be your Father. You will be my sons and my daughters, as surely as I am God, the All-Powerful.”
I am utterly agnostic when it comes to a hard doctrine of inspiration such as fundamentalists profess; in fact I am rather more than agnostic about it, being quite certain the doctrine is dubious and its “proof” notoriously circular. So while he is no ignoramus or redneck, Sydney’s Archbishop Jensen is really on shaky ground, even as he seeks to plant himself and the church on a firm foundation. See the ongoing Anglican saga as reported in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Gay death knell for the Anglican communion. (It should be noted that David Marr, as a gay ex-fundamentalist, is not the most objective of reporters on such matters, but his account of the Archbishop’s position is fair enough.)
AS THE Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, prepares to leave for the conference that will decide the fate of the worldwide Anglican church, fresh trouble in North America suggests the 450-year old communion has little hope of holding together.
Archbishop Jensen is one of the leaders of 1000 conservative churchmen from 17 Anglican provinces who will gather at the Jerusalem Global Anglican Futures Conference this month. Mainly from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, they are united on one principal issue: hostility to homosexuality.
But Archbishop Jensen argues: “This dispute is not really about homosexuality. It’s really about authority and who runs the church. And fairly clearly, to most of the rest of us, God runs the church through the Bible.”…
The Catholic Church would disagree with the last proposition there, but I won’t pursue that theological hare at this point.
I find reading the Bible, and indeed many other texts from many religious traditions, is a great source of inspiration nonetheless, a confirmation of the quest, an echo of what the conservative (but not ignorant) Christian writer Philip Yancey has called Rumors of Another World. My own position is more akin to what I find on the site Radical Faith, among others you can see on my links page. Anything there I feel is worth considering, but that is not to say I endorse them all, or all that they say.
More evangelical than I am but still well worth attending to is another site I regularly visit: Sojourners — especially the blog. Consider the latest entry: A Transformational Moment (by Jim Wallis):
When the historic legislative milestone of the Voting Rights Act finally passed in 1965, I was still a young teenager. Until then, black people in America didn’t have the right to vote. And until the Civil Rights Act passed the previous year in 1964, black Americans had to drink from separate drinking fountains, eat at separate lunch counters, ride at the back of buses, and watch movies only from the balconies of theaters. Then there was all the violence. I remember a civil rights worker from my hometown of Detroit, named Viola Liuzzo, who traveled to the South in order to help black people win the right to vote for the first time. She was murdered for doing so.
I was still in the U.K. on a book tour Tuesday night, just having finished speaking to a forum at the British Parliament with ministers from all three parties about the relationship between faith and politics. Then I stayed up until 4 a.m. to watch Barack Obama claim the nomination of the Democratic Party for president of the United States. It was my birthday the next day, and I recalled those days when the relationship between faith and politics for many black and a few white Christians was that if you stood up for civil rights — especially the right to vote for black Americans — it could get you killed. So I was not only blurry-eyed but also more than a little teary-eyed as I watched a young black man announce that he was ready to run for president of the United States, and for most of America to assume that he had a chance to win.
Race was the issue that led to my own confrontation with the church that raised me. It was my “converting issue,” though the conversion led me out of the white church of my childhood, not into the church. A church elder bluntly told me one night that “Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That’s political and our faith is personal.” I was only about 15, but it was the night I think I left, in my head and my heart. And a couple years later, I was gone all together…
Meanwhile it is that time of the month again and South Sydney Uniting Church has just published the June South Sydney Herald. As Andrew Collis notes, “You’ll see that (on p. 12) our SSH volunteers recently received an award from Housing NSW, the Factory Community Centre and Volunteering Australia ‘in recognition of outstanding volunteers and contribution to our community life’. So, congratulations, and thanks again!” The front page makes interesting reading as a foil to Archbishop Jensen. There is also towards the back a profile of the lovely Dorothy McRae-McMahon. Have a look: June South Sydney Herald (PDF).
KIND OF RELATED
There have been developments, speaking of Talibanesque tendencies, in the Bill Henson naked teens case. The Federal Police have decided not to proceed.
IT’S official. The picture of the naked girl that sparked the Bill Henson fuss is not pornography.
The sight of her on an invitation to the photographer’s Sydney exhibition two weeks ago provoked shock and outrage, but the Classifications Board has now declared the picture “mild” and safe for many children.
Yesterday the Herald also learned that the Director of Public Prosecutions was on the verge of advising NSW police that any prosecution of Henson was unlikely to succeed. In Canberra, Federal Police also announced that no charges would be laid over photographs in the Australian National Gallery.
The Henson affair appears close to collapse…
Kevin Rudd is sticking to his guns, even if it is now manifest that Henson’s work is not considered in the same league at all as this vile activity. See however the range of comments — some of them may lead to baldness when you tear your hair out — on the ABC report.
Given the nature of the post and the comments appearing thus far, let me draw your attention to a note in the side bar: The writings and opinions written on this weblog do not necessarily represent any organisation(s) the writer may be affiliated with. I can report quite happily though that I just received an email from my church’s minister congratulating me on this post! 🙂
What a crop of comments this has attracted! Some are good-natured, some have dark undertones. I should mention up front that however much Kevin and I disagree I have good reason, going back a year, to respect him as a person. You may wonder from the comment thread, but I still do respect him.
However, I am gobsmacked that someone could get so worried about the sight of “deviant” clothing on Salam Cafe! Such a worry.
Susan Carland, with her husband Waleed Aly, and children Zayd and Aisha. [Photo: Craig Abraham]
They look so scary, don’t they? The picture is linked to its source on Rickshaw Diaries.
Perhaps the “coat of many colours” I began with has taken on a whole new set of references now about what is so good, at its best, about life here in Australia.