Goodness, I have nearly two pages of notes this week! Normally I don’t manage more than about one page of highly scribbly, often almost unintelligible script (buses really don’t make for the best writing tables), but I clearly had a lot to say this week. Also, this week’s theme appears to be superlative bafflement.
I’m nearing the end of Paul’s letters, and he has now stopped addressing them to entire cities or peoples and is writing to his friends instead, the first one being Timothy. The full English name of this book is First Epistle to Timothy (and yes, there is a Second one), whereas my Dutch Bible is explicit in stating that this letter is written by Paul (this becomes important in a moment!) The Dutch version is De Eerste Brief van Paulus aan Timoteüs.
Paul calls Timothy his ‘true child in the faith’, so I assume the two were close. Both letters are sanctimonious lectures to Timothy to remain true in his belief and stuff like that, with Paul’s reiterations of what things are Good and what things are Bad. It starts off with the law, which is good when one applies it well, ‘for we know that the law was not set for the righteous, but for the lawless, the undisciplined, for the godless and sinners, miscreants and the unholy, for patricides and matricides, fornicators, paedophiles*, soul-sellers, liars, perjurers and all else that goes against healthy lore’.
*I must highlight that my Bible uses the Dutch word ‘knapenschender’ here, which is an amazing word which can’t be done justice by merely translating it as ‘paedophile’. A ‘knaap’ is a fairly old-fashioned word for boy (the normal word is ‘jongen’), very much in disuse apart from possibly in the word ‘koorknaap’ – choirboy. Schenden means to defile, so the word as a whole translates to ‘defiler of boys’. Rather prophetic, given the amount of defiling of young boys the church has indulged in for far too long.
1 Timothy 2 indulges in more oppression of women – a woman must dress in a dignified manner, without hair-braids, gold or pearls, and she must let herself be taught calmly. Paul will not tolerate a woman teaching, or having authority over a man; she must keep quiet.
1 Timothy 3 – rather interestingly – states that a man who wishes to be a leader of his people must be (amongst a whole load of other things) the husband of one woman. So the whole abandonment of polygamy can also, it seems, be attributed to Paul.
1 Timothy 5 states that you must honour widows who truly are widows, which puzzled me – are there fake ones? But then it went on to explain that these are women over sixty who have had one husband. We must reject young widows, for they have nothing to do and only spread gossip. Well, Paul, may I suggest that you allow them to hold down a job? They’d probably still be spreading gossip, but so do men, and at least they’d be productive members of society. But no, Paul states that young widows should marry again, have a bunch of children and basically shut the fuck up.
1 Timothy 5 also states that the elders (men, of course), who give good leadership, are due double the honour. As such you must not accept a complaint against an elder, unless there are two or three witnesses. And I can’t help but wonder how many horrific crimes of abuse took place because of that stupid rule… ‘Father Thomas? He can’t possibly have done that! He’s a pillar of society!’
1 Timothy 6 says that if someone teaches a different lore from that of Jesus Christ, it means that they love strife and see the love of God as something profitable. I don’t quite see how the one follows from the other, but maybe I should allow a few more men to teach me the word of God before I understand. I’m only a woman, after all.
Then we’re on to 2 Timothy, which sounds like Paul wrote it on his deathbed. I haven’t got anything more to say about it – it’s just the usual blah from before.
Moving on to the Epistle to Titus (De Brief van Paulus aan Titus). Titus also appears to be his ‘true child in the faith’, and Paul has left him on Crete to preach the faith there. This is rather necessary, apparently: ‘Liars are the Cretans always, beasts and fat bellies’. To which Paul adds ‘this testimony is true’. I think it rather a generalisation, but hey, it’s the Bible so it must be true.
Titus must refute their words, so that they may be healthy in the faith and do not lend their ears to Jewish made-up stuff (I’m having difficulty translating the word). I must say that throughout these books, Paul has constantly said nasty things about the Jews, which rather makes me wonder whether he was a proto-antisemite, despite being (half-)jewish himself.
This is a pretty short letter – in his closing address Paul warns Titus to avoid foolish questions, genealogies, strife and quarrels about the law.
Wait, what? Genealogies? I… What? I really don’t… What?
Still baffled, I moved on to the Epistle to Philemon (De Brief van Paulus aan Filemon), which is quite possibly the shortest book in the whole Bible (including the minor prophets in the Old Testament). The letter appears to be a request to Philemon to take under his wing a man called Onesimus. Paul calls Onesimus ‘my child, whom I begat in my imprisonment’. I’m rather thinking he doesn’t mean that he literally begat him, but if so it’s a weird way of expressing yourself.
Then on to the last book for this week, the Epistle to the Hebrews. Note that in Dutch this book is simply called ‘De Brief aan de Hebreeën’ – no mention of Paul there. A quick browse of Wikipedia seems to imply that the authorship of this book is either unknown or disputed, even if it’s paul-like in style.
Whatever, I got to Hebrews 5 before I got confused about the mention of some guy called Melchisedek. Apparently God declared his son Jesus to be ‘a priest in eternity, after the ordination of Melchisedek’. Note that this guy has never been mentioned before in the Bible, so I was understandably confused. But hey, Hebrews 7 explains who he is!
‘Melchisedek, king of Salem, priest of the highest God, who blessed Abraham after he defeated the kings.’
Um, what kings? I don’t remember that bit in Genesis! But whaddayaknow, my Bible has handy little references, and it mentions Genesis 14. And indeed, in that chapter Abraham defeats some kingly dudes and is then blessed by Melchisedek, king of Salem, priest of God the Almighty. Clearly that part didn’t stick with me very well…
Still it gets more confusing (this is still about Melchisedek): ‘According to his name: king of justice, then also: king of Salem, that is: king of peace; without father, without mother, without genealogy, without start of days or end of life, and, equal to the Son of God, he will remain priest forever.’
Colour me completely baffled.
Hebrews as a whole seems to imply that the old law and ways of worship are obsolete and superseded by the law and worship of Christ. As such, sacrifices are no longer needed (because Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice).
Hebrews 10 says that if someone breaks the law of Moses, he will be killed without mercy on the testimony of two or three people. How much worse then the punishment for he who has walked all over the Son of God? (I guess they don’t mean literally, but the Bible is far too poetic most of the time.)
Hebrews 12 offers up some more twisted logic: by punishing you, God treats you like his sons, for what father doesn’t chastise his sons? If you don’t receive punishment, you must be a bastard.
And on that upbeat note I shall leave you for this week.