Category Archives: Theology

Genesis Theology: Patristic Understandings

by Doru Costache

In my early days in the University of Bucharest, I was confronted by the opinion of many colleagues and students that the Orthodox must side with creationism against evolution. This meant presenting Genesis 1–2 literally, as a scientifically accurate report on the universe. I begged to differ and ended up quite isolated. After my relocation to Sydney, I discovered that many “first world” Orthodox reasoned much the same way and that, once again, my rejection of creationism looked suspicious. My attempts to show that, surreptitiously, Orthodox creationists largely borrow from denominational backgrounds which they traditionally despised fell on deaf ears. This prompted me to continue my work of patristic exploration, particularly seeking how Genesis was read in the early Christian centuries. In what follows, I refer to several findings that contradict the creationist view of Genesis as a scientific report, even though the authors I mention here unceasingly proclaimed the sublimity of the Genesis creation narrative. There was no biblical “science” of creation for them, no creationism. Instead, Genesis was a theological account of the mystery of the universe as God’s creation.

Before I turn to examples, a few words about the current understanding of the Genesis narrative are in order. It does not read like a regular story, from head to tail, instead adopting the symmetrical pattern of chiastic structures. Continue reading

Give Us This Day Our Daily Portion of Nationalism… Reflections on the Issue of the Autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine

by Davor Džalto

I tried to stay away from publicly expressing my thoughts on the current church/autocephaly crisis in Ukraine, for many reasons. First of all, there are much more competent people who know the situation better than I do. Second, the issue of autocephaly of the church in Ukraine has, by now, escalated so dramatically that one feels compelled to side either with the “pro-Russian” block or with the “pro-Ukrainian/pro-Constantinople” one. The “camps” seem to be so fortified, and the discussion so heated, that it seems difficult to formulate and express one’s opinion without taking a clear-cut “pro” or “contra” position.

In the end, however, I decided to write a short piece about the issue because I received about a dozen requests from various people to comment on the situation, and to give my view on the issues at stake.

Let me say at the beginning that I do not share the mainstream views when it comes to the issue of autocephaly in Ukraine. I will try to explain why. Continue Reading…

The Vale of Abraham

by David Bentley Hart

I may be entirely mistaken here, I confess it; that is why, in my footnotes for the tale of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, in my recent translation of the New Testament (Yale University Press), I freely state that mine is a speculative rendering.  But, if I am wrong, mine is an honorable error.  The text of Luke 16:22-23 reads thus: ἐγένετο δὲ ἀποθανεῖν τὸν πτωχὸν καὶ ἀπενεχθῆναι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγγέλων εἰς τὸν κόλπον Ἀβραάμ· ἀπέθανεν δὲ καὶ ὁ πλούσιος καὶ ἐτάφη. καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ, ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις, ὁρᾷ Ἀβραὰμ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν καὶ Λάζαρον ἐν τοῖς κόλποις αὐτοῦ.  My version of the passage reads thus: “And it happened that the poor man died and was carried off by the angels into the Vale of Abraham; but the rich man also died and was entombed.  And lifting up his eyes in Hades, being in torment, he sees Abraham far off and Lazarus in his vales.”  The issue, obviously, is my eccentric choice to render κόλπος not as the conventional “bosom,” but as the aggressively unconventional “vale.”  N.T. Wright, for instance, in an article in The Christian Century, complained that I had perversely chosen the metaphorical meaning of the word over the literal, and in so doing had ignored the ancient Jewish idiom of “Abraham’s bosom.”

Actually, neither meaning is either more literal or more metaphorical than the other, but it is true that “bosom” might have been the more common meaning in the first century; and, were Luke merely a common writer rather than quite an educated one, that would be an extremely significant consideration. As for the ancient Jewish idiom to which Wright so cavalierly alludes, it never existed as far as we know; it is entirely his invention. There is, it is true, a fragment of papyrus from Alexandria, probably from about the same general era as Acts, that mentions the κόλπος of the three patriarchs; but, of course, that does not tell us how the term or the image is to be understood there either. In what sense could three men share a single bosom, after all? Surely one should assume the phrase means “their midst,” or “among them,” or “their special place,” or “their sheltering care,” or even (to risk a wild conjecture) “their vale.” Then, from some centuries after the time of Acts, there is a single Mishnaic phrase that might refer to the same image, in the tractate Kiddushin (72b), where the third-century figure Adda bar Ahava is described as seated within “Abraham’s bosom” (presumably not a metaphor). But this, it is generally believed, is a usage without deep roots in antiquity, perhaps borrowed from the Christians and entirely unilluminating as to what the Greek phrase used by Luke back in the first century really meant. It is possible, I happily grant, that κόλπος should be taken as simply equivalent to the Hebrew cheyq—the breast, or the fold in a man’s garment located at the level of his chest—and understood literally. But Luke did not write in Hebrew or Aramaic, and he lived in a Hellenistic and Roman Mediterranean world, and he used its language, and he conceived of reality in the terms common to his time.

This is all very important to keep in mind, because Wright had an odder complaint to raise against my treatment of the parable: he objected truculently to my observation, in my footnote to the episode, that the rich man and Lazarus are depicted as occupying two distinct regions of the one realm of the dead (Hades or Sheol). Continue Reading…

How to Be the Right Kind of “Fundamentalist”?

by Davor Džalto  |  ру́сский

“Fundamentalism” is a difficult concept to define. The difficulty does not primarily stem from the demanding task of describing certain actions, beliefs, and ideas and drawing general patterns that would help us differentiate “fundamentalist” phenomena from what they are not. The way the concept of “fundamentalism” is often employed, both in the public discourse and in academia, shows that the major obstacle consists in the underlying logic behind many implicit or explicit definitions of fundamentalism, which differentiates between actions and ideas that “they” propagate and do (which can be labeled as “fundamentalism”), and same or similar actions and ideas that “we” do. That means that the concept of “fundamentalism” is more often than not used as an honorific term, whose lack of descriptive value is compensated by a strong judgment value.

Take, for instance, the categories that Leonard Weinberg and Ami Pedahzur offered in their attempts to define “fundamentalism” in Religious Fundamentalism and Political Extremism (2004). They identified a couple of main types of “fundamentalist” groups and movements (such as “reactive” groups and movements; movements that “define the world in dichotomous and Manichaean terms…Choices between good and bad are always clear-cut and straightforward”; fundamentalists that hold the sacred texts to be “of divine origins and consequently inerrant and beyond questioning”; and so forth).

Certainly all of us can think of those religious radicals and fanatics who conform to some of these descriptions, or maybe to all of them at the same time. The problem, however, is elsewhere. Continue Reading…