Saturday, June 05, 2010

Matters Theological

N. B.: I began this post way back in the first days of April and never had time to finish it. With a few more moments of late, I here it with you anyway and then onward to other posts!

My wife bought me Jim Lahey's My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method for Christmas. I recommend it; it really is a simple method of making delicious bread. What does this have to do with theology? Simple. One of the things that got Lahey going on bread is that we moderns had somehow made it far too hard and involved. In fact, I stayed away from making bread except in a bread machine for just those reasons. Anyway, his method is simple: mix the ingredients, let stand 12 to 18 hours, bake at nearly 500 in a dutch oven. Fabulous.

Now, considering his research, the way the loaf looks, and imagery of ancient and medieval loaves, I think the man has discovered why bread is so ubiquitous in the ancient and medieval world. Easy, simple, delicious. And it suddenly hit me the way that only the obvious can. When in the Lord's prayer it says "Give us this day our daily bread....", well, I just figured out what that means in real terms. For a handful of ground grain, a bit of yeast, salt and water or salt water, and about 30 seconds of mixing, one has daily bread. Surely there were times when even some of those simple ingredients would not be available to all strata of society. Even in the modern period---I recently taught Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya in which just this sort of unavailability of grain to make the necessary bread to survive happened. And one can't help but think of the dole in the Roman Colosseum: keep the crowd satisfied by throwing them a daily bread supply and keep them entertained with the games, and they don't riot. Panem et circenses, as ol' Juvenal phrased it. Anyway, I digress...ok, I'm digressing some more and will mention that one of my favorite blogs is Bread and Circuses. Anyway, making bread and reading Lahey's personal journey to get past our modern, industrialized approach to something closely akin to the bread eaten by our forebears--and what Jesus was talking about in requesting that God give us that tasty, mouth-watering, loaf everyday. From Jesus' mouth to God's ear...

Now for the medievalist, when you look up the passage in the Vulgate, ol Jerome translated the Greek into Latin as "supersubstantialem"--trying to come to grips with the Greek: epiousios, usually glossed as "sufficient for the day." Jerome justifies his translation in his commnetary on St. Matthew's gospel by claiming that when this word in appears in the LXX or in Symmachus that the word indicates "future" bread, as does the word in the Gospel according to the Hebrews (which for Jerome is the "authentic Matthew"). So rather than "daily" bread, Jerome and all Vulgate dependent readings spiritualize the bread...the bread of life rather than the the bread necessary for life. It has been an interesting week that now connects Gospel of the Hebrews, making bread, and the Lord's prayer.

But that's not all. Over at Magistra et Mater we have a meditation on whether the Fall and Science can be partners. Wow. Huge question, and certainly not the first time such a question has been asked. Magistra answers it by looking at the differences between hunter-gatherer societies and agrarian cultures--the latter being less advantageous t most human beings, who by the way were the ones growing the grain, grinding it into flour, and making the bread for the upper classes. Anyway, the value of myth is that there are many applications: from a psychological one of describing the growth from childhood to adulthood, or Magistra's application of the change from hunter-gatherers (eating what the garden produces as needed vs. agriculture post-fall) to agrarian societies, or Star Trek's frequent dealing with the theme that we have outgrown Eden: that what defines us is the need to push on and out and explore and know.

What all these interpretations, and most of the theological ones such as "disobedience" miss in the story of the Fall is the result: that now Adam and Eve know good and evil. There's even a hint in the word "know" of deciding or determining good and evil. But that's the issue: it isn't simply the disobedience over munching a piece of fruit, but it is the knowing of things that are the provenance of the divine: what good and evil is. This definition fits well the growth of humanity whether we apply it to society, to children becoming adults or what have you: moving from childhood to adulthood comes with knowing what is good and evil, right and wrong and being responsible for those choices; moving from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies was also attended with increased control from the top of society in the form of law--which as Paul points out teaches us what is good and evil. In asking any question about the Bible and science though one can only note the irony that the Bible made modern science possible--regardless of whether one looks for reconciliation between the myth and the science--one might argue that such is the result of knowing good and evil. Further, while the Bible makes modern science possible and in fact informed early science to a gread deal, the child has replaced the parent--not only in proving that much of what was taken as "true" in the Bible isn't, but in that our new priesthood wears white lab coats; rather than training in the Bible and skills and arts that are focused ultimately on getting one closer to the divine, our education system now is largely concerned with making certain students achieve high science and math scores on standardized tests. I like the irony.

And speaking of Paul, discussion of Paul on the Synoptic-L list has turned slightly to noting that we really only have Paul's word for what he says about Peter and earliest Christianity. It's an interesting discussion especially when one realizes that so much of the modern historiography of the earliest strata of Christianity depend directly on reading that episode and what it might mean against a larger canvass. But we do only have one side, and the question is how historically accurate is that presentation and how much weight can be placed upon it? Unanswerable question on the basis of the evidence we have. But a good question and issue to keep in mind when doing early Christian history.

1 comment:

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

I'm reminded of the oft-quoted commentary on the opening chapters of Genesis that Cain was the farmer in the story, and that all of the creators of "civilization"--the builders of cities, the metalworkers, etc.--came from his line...