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Monthly Archives: October 2016

“In Pain You Shall Bring forth Children”

I’m now convinced of the obvious: that bringing forth the next generation is the most difficult and most important job on the planet.

One of the consequences of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil–something God directed them not to do–was that “in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16, New American Standard Version).  The passage is complicated, but most of us think we know what that means: that labor and delivery are going to bring immense pain and in some cases death to the mother.  At one level, that certainly seems the interpretation, but there may be more to it.pic57

One night we were interviewing Rabbi Harold Kushner on a radio show I co-host, “A Show of Faith” (950 AM KPRC). At the time Kushner was the most famous rabbi in America known best for his book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?  On this night we were interviewing him about another book he had written, How Good Do We Have to Be?  The topic of conversation turned to the Genesis passage about pain in child-bearing and Kushner made an interesting observation.  In good rabbinic style he said the Hebrew word often translated “pain” in Genesis 3:16 is the same word used in Genesis 6:6 to describe God’s grief and pain over the sorry state of humanity.  You remember: God was so upset he lamented the fact he made humanity in the first place.

So here was Kushner’s interpretation: the real pain of child-bearing is not the 18 hours of labor (though painful, that pain is soon forgotten in the joy of birth), the real pain comes in the fact that after 18 years of love, teaching, nurturing and raising your children to the best of your ability, they turn against you, disobey you, disappoint you, end up on drugs, end up in prison, etc.  In a sense we share in our Heavenly Father’s pain when we bring forth children who go astray and do not remember us and our sensible teaching.

Let me add another insight.  Because the two have become one flesh (Genesis 2:24), both man and woman, husband and wife, share the same pain.  The pain of bringing forth the next generation is not unique to women.  Women may experience it more acutely, but men experience it as well.  Medical science, of course, may intervene and lessen the pain experienced by a woman in childbirth, but it is unlikely to be able to stem the tide of pain to fathers AND mothers when children go astray.  Like the other consequences of the first couple’s disobedience (domination, death, work degenerating into toil), both men and women share the same fate.

Most parents will experience significant periods of pain as their beautiful babies become adolescents and adults.  I’ve spent many hours listening to parents whose children have hurt them deeply.  And there are no easy solutions to this.  There’s no perfect strategy to parenting.  Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that it is a universal experience, and even more, to know that God felt the pain first.

In The Voice we tried to express this universal, more nuanced aspect of Genesis 3:16.  As we worked through this text, I was interested to note that in the King James Version the Hebrew word is not translated “pain” but “sorrow.”  I think the KJV had it right.  Here is how we rendered it in dynamic translation:

God (to the woman): As a consequence of your actions,

I will increase your suffering—the pain of childbirth

And the sorrow of bringing forth the next generation.

Despite all this, we confess and we believe that children are a gift from God.  We confess and we believe that it is our greatest and most important life’s work.  For a time they are ours to love, to care for, to protect and to teach.  Then, we commend them and their future to the grace and guidance of God.


Wrong about Christian history? . . .

One of the great joys I have in life is special friends.  The same is probably true for you.  One of my best friends for most of my adult life is Prof. Larry Hurtado, now retired Professor of New Testament from the University of Edinburgh.  And Edinburgh happens to be one of my favorite cities.

Recently Larry was on a podcast with Tom Holland, who is an amazing historian.  Holland doesn’t just tackle little narrow bits of history (like most of us).  He tackles the big questions and does so with clear, insight into the past.

Not long ago Holland wrote an article on why he believes he has been wrong about Christian history.  That article resulted in a podcast featuring both Larry Hurtado and Tom Holland. The podcast is about 1 hr and 20  minutes in length, but it is well worth your time in listening to two  of the most engaging speakers I’ve heard in a long time.

Here is the URL for your browser:


Or click here.

If you’d like to read the original article by Holland in The New Statesman, here is the link:


Or click here.

How Did Jesus Become God?

Early in 2016 a group of scholars gathered at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to debate the question: how did Jesus become God?  I wish I had been there, because it is a question of interest to me.  For those who know me and my work, I’ve worked on aspects of this question since the late 1980s when I was writing my dissertation.

Well, thanks to YouTube we can all be there to at least hear the comments and arguments of these scholars.  I want to help  you find them so I’ll post them here and eventually pull them together.

The first is a debate between Bart Ehrman and Mike Bird.

Click here for the link.

Or if you prefer, cut-and-past the URL to your browser:

James McGrath and Christology

James McGrath, professor of New Testament at Butler University in Indiana, is somebody you need to know.  He’s a good scholar and a faithful blogger.  He’s worth reading on a variety of subjects. He has good judgment and sound methods.

.  In a recent post he collected some of the hubbub going on right now on the web regarding “an early high Christology,” a topic I have some interest in.  In fact over the next few years I hope to return to the topic–though I never really left it, I got distracted–with what I trust is a more measured and mature reading of certain texts. In the meantime I thought I’d link to his Patheos blog.  mcgrath-james

Click here for the link

or type the URL below into your browser.


Early High Subordinationist Christology around the Blogosphere

Jacob Neusner: Dead at 84

Dr. Jacob Neusner, author of hundreds of books on Judaism, has died at the age of 84.  I have more of Neusner’s books than any other Jewish scholar. He has been an interpreter of Judaism to millions around the world for decades.  neusner

My rabbi friend, Stuart Federow, was a student of Neusner’s at Brown University.  He writes a fitting tribute to him on his facebook page.  I’ve copied it here without editing it.  I’ve included it here for you.  If you are a professor, take note of some of the ways Prof. Neusner engaged students.  Go thou and do likewise.


by Rabbi Stuart Federow

I just read the incredibly sad news on the Facebook page of RabbiSeymour Rossel, that my mentor, my professor, my teacher, my friend, has passed away. Jacob Neusner was a professor at Brown University when i was a student there. A student there… HA! He is the one who turned me into a student. First paper for him, he handed back to me 6 times.. Seven times he would look over it and six of those times he would say, “wow, Stuart, so much better. Here, re-write it.” And i would say nothing, and re-write it, and hand it back in. The last time i handed it to him, he looked it all over, then started reading it with me sitting there. When he finished he looked up and said, “Good. Good Stuart.” I may have been upset with him, to say the least, But those words, “Good. Good Stuart,” had me walking out of his office on air. A couple of quick stories… He always showed up to class fifteen minutes early, so anyone who wanted to, could talk to him. The first class with him after the ’73 war began, the Yom Kippur war began, he showed up 15 minutes late. He came in, very upset, and announced to the class that Israel had lost the war, and that as he was speaking the Israelis were being slaughtered, Israel was no more. Then he sat down, and watched the reaction of the students. I was not prepared, as he must have been, for the reaction of the students. Weeping, wailing, crying. People saying that they were just not going to be Jewish any more. Anger. Questions said aloud about where was Gd? He let this go on, for I-dont-know-how-long, an eternity, which means probably only for ten minutes or so. Then he stood up, and told the class, after he settled them down, “I lied. Israel is struggling but she is not losing this war. I just wanted you to see your reaction.” He went on to say, to teach, that if we were so willing to give up on Judaism, to question Gd, with the loss of a country, when they can come up in a day and go down in a day, then perhaps our faith in our faith was not so strong after all. He reminded us of the psalm, “If i forget thee oh Jerusalem…” He reminded everyone of the faith of those who wrote that, They just promised to remember. Of course, the class wanted to lynch him. I didnt. I thought it was brilliant, even if everyone else wanted to slit his throat. That is what he did. Maybe not always the most adept at social graces, but much of my attitudes toward so much i learned from him. He was the first to voice an objection to the Secular Jewish community replacing Judaism’s system of Religion, namely of Gd, Torah, and Israel with the Death and Resurrection System of religion, exemplified with the pairing of The Holocaust (death) with Israel (resurrection). That Judaism’s system of religion was Gd (One, Indivisible, Unique) who gave a Divine Revelation (the Torahs both Written and Oral) to a specific People (the Jews). He foretold that trips to Israel would be paired with trips to European Concentration Camps, to exemplify this new system of religion foreign to Judaism’s thousands of years of history, and he was right. The Holocaust was death, and the rebirth of The State of Israel was resurrection, and as a system it had more in common with the Christian system of Religion than with anything that Judaism had ever been. Another story. He had just come from speaking at a small college, i think in the D.C, area, but i cant remember where. Maybe it was closer to Rhode Island, i just cant remember. I had to go see him for something and i walked into his office and he was just dejected. he said that he was asked by the students at that college, as they were used to doing so with their own professors, if they could call him Jack, or did he prefer Professor Neusner. He answered them by saying, I would prefer to be called Mr. Neusner. Those students were shocked and upset. He could not understand why. He said that on campus, it was always ‘professor this,’ ‘doctor that,’ even ‘Jack…’ But he never got to be called Mr. Neusner. He was not being standoffish or stiff, he thought he was being open and they asked him what he wanted to be called, so he answered them honestly. I told him that they misunderstood his response but that was their problem, and not his problem. He did not respond to that, but he asked me why I came by, and we started talking about something else. However, I felt it was just another example of how he was not exactly adept at people skills. One more story. A few years ago, he was invited to speak at The University of St. Thomas. Since he was always fifteen minutes early at classes way back in the early 70’s, i decided to get there early for his lecture. Sure enough he was helped in by his wife, Susan, if my memory serves me right. And shame on me if i got her name wrong, i spent enough time in her kitchen to not remember it. But he was already showing signs of not being well. They seated him at a table, from where he would deliver his speech. And he sat there alone. So, i decided to go up to him and introduce myself to him. I walked up to the stage and up the stairs and then i walked up to him. He looked up at me, and immediately said, “Hello Stuart.” Just like that. After almost 40 years. As we age, either our bodies betray our minds, or our minds betray our bodies. For Professor Neusner, obviously, it was the former. We chit chatted, and then i sat down. And, once again, i was transported over time to my student days listening, learning, as he spoke. He is the author of over 900 books. No, i never sent him a copy of mine. If he would have critiqued it, i am not sure i could have stood that, he would probably have given it back to me 100 times. Ive just wanted to do him proud. At any rate, at the end of his lecture, at the very end, he immediately did what I had noticed so many decades before, again, his first look after completing a speech, with her in the audience was to look at his wife for approval. Every time i saw him speak with her in the audience, he did that. And he did it again. I mentioned this to her at the reception, and she just smiled at me. Ok. Well. So pardon me for just waxing nostalgic. But he meant so much to me. Once a long time ago, over 20 years, it has to be, i fulfilled a promise I made myself. I had written down when his 65th birthday was going to be, and i promised myself that i would send him a birthday card when it rolled around. When he turned 65, i sent him a birthday card. I wrote that he had said in class that our perspectives change, and how he saw things then, would not be how he saw things at 65, and he gave that date, and I wrote it down and promised myself to send him a birthday card on his 65th birthday. I signed it, ‘Your student, Stuart.’ When he wrote me back to thank me for remembering, he mentioned that I was no longer his student. I wrote him back, and objected, saying that i still tried to read what he wrote, and i had some of his books, and had read most of the ones I had, and that, regardless of what he said, I was still his student.
I will always be his student.
Now, i envision him in the Yeshiva Shel Mala, the Yeshiva above, meaning the Yeshiva in heaven, and continuing to teach, even there. Baruch Dayan Emet.

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