Cassiodorus on the Violence in Psalm 137

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare
down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
– Psalm 137:7-9

Psalm 137 is one of the most violent Psalms in the famous Judeo-Christian prayer book. It’s a classic “problem text” for many Christians, as the prayer that the children of one’s enemy may have their head smashed upon rocks seems completely at odds with Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies.

How should Christians read this text?
Can a Christian legitimately pray this prayer about one’s own enemies?
How can we reconcile this text with Jesus’ teachings?

As explained in detail in Mark Sheridan’s Language For God in the Patristic Tradition: Wrestling with Biblical Anthropomorphisms (full review coming soon), the church fathers almost unanimously considered this text to be irreconcilable (on a literal sense) with the teachings of the New Testament. This led them to various interpretive strategies such as the use of allegorical interpretations.

Cassiodorus, in his commentary on this Psalm, quotes 1 Corinthians 10:11 and says that “we must interpret these events spiritually.” He goes on to say:

“They are still addressing the flesh, stating that the person who takes hold of his little ones, meaning his harmful vices, is blessed, because he has already made progress towards controlling them; for when we hold something we take it in our power, and it ceases to be free since it has begun to be enslaved by us…. We do will to analyze their phrase: Thy little ones, meaning sins of the flesh born of a wretched mother. While small they are easily grasped and effectively dashed against the heavenly Rock; but once they begin to mature and reach a most vigorous manhood, sterner struggle is commenced with them, and they are not easily overcome by our weakness.” (Cassiodorus, Explanation of the Psalms; ACW 53:364.)

Notice two things here:
– Cassiodorus agrees with the majority of early Christian interpreters (from both the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools) that a literal sense of the text (the wishing of children’s skulls to be crushed on rocks) is unfitting (“not worthy of” … a common interpretive move by the Church Fathers when encountering anthropomorphisms or violent/angry language) of God and Christians.
– Cassiodorus also agrees with many of the other church Fathers in his interpretation that the “small children” represent the beginning stages of growth of vices which must be put to death in the Christian life, including, ironically, the desire to see enemies punished and killed. (Other Church Fathers who have a similar interpretation: Origen, Eusebius, Hilary of Poitiers, Augustine, and John Cassian.)

What do you think about Cassiodorus’ interpretation?
How would you suggest Christians read Psalm 137’s violent prayer?

The hardships of Biblical Scholar’dom (or, Beware the buzzwords, my son!)

Jessica Parks:

Some good stuff here from my friend Kris over at Old School Script… check it out.

Originally posted on Old School Script:

Biblical scholars have always been in a difficult place. Trying to interpret the message of ancient people through ancient writings. So many disciplines must be incorporated and roles played to accomplish this task.

Stack of hatsSociologist.

Grammarian.

Historian.

Literary critic.

Translator.

Anthropologist.

Theologian.

Textual critic.

Fill in the blank…

Eclecticism is the name of the game. And what a difficult game it is. To grapple responsibly with so many different disciplines, all the while determining the appropriate level of expertise or detail with which it is necessary to interact with the field can be an incredibly daunting task. And honestly, I think a good many biblical scholars do a da[r]n good job juggling a handful of these roles at the same time.

If this wasn’t hard enough, a new role has come on the scene over the past several decades: the Linguist. Now biblical scholars are faced with several choices: to entertain…

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50 Shades of … Confusion (Christians, Youth, and Sex)

My job (pastor and high school teacher) and age (I’m 26) both mean that I have an inside track to what’s really happening in the world of kids. They trust me and let me see the things they usually hide from adults. As one who thinks he has a pretty good feel on today’s youth (both inside and out of the church) it always amuses me to see Christian leaders react to the continued sexualization of our media.

It is obvious that they have no idea what these kids are already watching and doing. Trust me, it’s worse than watching a sexually-charged movie.

I have two theses that I’d like to explore about sexuality (particularly among Christian youth):

1) Christian youth are (about) just as sexually active as non-Christian youth.

It’s built into our DNA, people. If you think there is a significant difference in the sex life of an average Christian young person and the average non-Christian, then I can’t help but think that you are (either intentionally or unintentionally) hiding your head in the sand. Now, if you defined “Christian” as a “very committed Christian” then I’m guessing there would be a difference. But your numbers and sample size would drop even more significantly – most who self-identify as Christians don’t meet the average pastor or priests’ definition of “committed.” Further, I’m not sure that this is all that big of a change from earlier history. The narrative we’re often sold is that “back in the day” kids were so pure and innocent and now we have corrupted ourselves into a sexualized hell on earth. I agree with the premise that the media has changed significantly, but I’m not convinced that kids actually behave all that differently. Then again, I wasn’t alive 50 or 80 years ago… I am just imagining that kids have always been curious and a good portion of kids are sexually active (and the ones who aren’t are not restraining based on choice, they just can’t find a willing partner – – – trust me… this again is a very real thing in the world of Christian youths).

For older readers of this blog – would you agree or disagree? Was there plenty of sexual activity at the High School / College you attended as a kid? Would there have been even more if there were more opportunities or willing partners? Was there a significant difference between the average “Christian” and the average non-Christian?

2) The reason Christian youth do not embrace a healthy view of sexuality is related to our lack of proper theological teaching.

I teach 9th graders and every year I survey them about what they have heard about sex outside of marriage. Every year I hear the same thing: they’ve been told it’s against God’s will and that dangers abound: unplanned pregnancy, STD’s, emotional damage, etc. Unfortunately, they either usually have the second reason over-emphasized to them and/or the first reason left unexplained.

Guess what: everyone (Christians and non-Christians) know the dangers of sex. It’s a simple risk-reward calculation . . . and most human beings usually decide its worth the risk. If we teach our children the same things about sex, we shouldn’t be surprised if we get the same results.

Instead, I suggest that Christian youth need to be taught to think theologically about sex. Why is it outside of God’s will for creation? What happens, spiritually, during sex? What does it mean to be united to Christ and how does that relate to sex? Only when our youth truly understand the spiritual implications of sex (instead of just telling them loudly that it’s against the rules), might we see a difference in their behavior.

Thoughts?
Do you agree or disagree?

Cyril of Alexandria on Reading Scripture Christologically

A quote from Cyril which comes after he explores the similarities and differences between Jesus and Jonah:

“Thus just as bees in the field, when flitting about the flowers, always gather up what is useful for the provision of the hives, so we also, when searching in the divinely inspired Scriptures, need always to be collecting and collating what is perfect for explicating Christ’s mysteries and to interpret the Word fully without cause for rebuke.”
– Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment 162; MKGK 205

Quote of the Day: The Brain Rules

“Most of us have no idea how our brain works. This has strange consequences. We try to talk on our cell phones and drive at the same time, even though it is literally impossible for our brains to multitask when it comes to paying attention. We have created high-stress office environments, even though a stressed brain is significantly less productive. Our schools are designed so that most real learning occurs at home. This would be funny if it weren’t so harmful.”

John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (p.2)

I have been thinking a lot about how I can improve my thinking, learning, and doing, with the hopes of improving my academic, professional, and creative endeavors. I’ve only read about 20 pages of Brain Rules but so far I’d highly recommend it. Not only is it full of helpful information on how to improve our thinking and doing, it’s an incredibly interesting read. You can also check out the 12 Brain Rules here.