Bradwell Papers 10

Spring 2004

This edition of the Bradwell Papers is not for the theologically squeamish, for it explores three highly challenging themes. First, I am indebted to Dr Rupert Chapman, a widely published author and archaeologist with the Palestine Exploration Fund, who lives in our diocese and shares with us some insights from his experience as he confronts the difficulties with which scientific discoveries are now presenting us. How are we to understand certain biblical texts when the archaeological evidence challenges their historical authenticity? How is the authority of the bible to be understood in the light of these contradictions? The Revd John Richardson then presents us with an equally alarming challenge – the biblical injunction against usury (lending at interest) which is so often politely ignored, even by the most committed of Christians – especially those of us clergy who derive our stipends from modern investment practices. Finally, the Revd Ivor Moody opens the door to the challenges of sacramental theology as they might impact a very secular university setting.

I am extremely grateful to all three of our contributors, trusting that the perceptions and insights they offer will stimulate some stiff soul-searching and theological reflection on our part.

+ Laurie Bradwell


Archaeology and Faith, Dr Rupert Chapman

Losing Interest, The Rev'd John Richardson

Rituals for Food, The Rev'd Ivor Moody

Archaeology and Faith

Rupert Chapman

I. Greetings and Thanks for Invitation

First of all, I would like to thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today on a subject which I feel is very important for Christians. I would like to stress from the outset that I am an archaeologist, and neither a Biblical scholar nor a theologian. I will have more to say about this in a moment. I would also like to say that while the ideas and interpretations I will present are satisfactory to me, at least for the time being, what I hope to do is to give you an idea of the current thinking of archaeologists, wearing my archaeologist's hat, and my own ideas of how Christians can understand these findings in the light of their faith. It is not my aim to tell you what to think, but to give you some food for thought.

II. The Reliability of Archaeology

A. The limitations of archaeology

The great modern historian, E.H. Carr, said that, 'History consists of a hard core of interpretation surrounded by a soft pulp of disputable facts'. This observation also applies to archaeology. A good definition of archaeology is, 'Archaeology is the study of artefacts'. An artefact is anything which has been made or modified by human beings. The aim of archaeology is to recover a reliable record of human behaviour in the past. Archaeology is, of course, limited by the nature of the artefacts which survive, and by our ability to understand their significance. For the biblical period, as for any other, this means that for the most part we have no remains of any organic materials, everyday items such as clothing survive only insofar as they had fasteners or ornaments, such as brooches, of inorganic materials such as bone or metal. Furniture survives only insofar as it had elements made of materials such as, for example, bone or ivory inlay, or, of course, if it was held together with metal fittings (which most furniture in archaeology is anonymous. While writing was invented long before the period of the Hebrew kingdoms, the main subject of the Old Testament, the early writing systems, cuneiform in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and hieroglyphics in Egypt, were very complex indeed, using around 800 signs, and literacy was confined to an elite class of scribes. Around 2000 B.C. the alphabet was invented by the Canaanites, as a simple system which anyone could learn, and this much more democratic writing system ultimately replaced the earlier systems throughout the world except for China and Japan. By the time of the emergence of the Israelites in the 13th century B.C. we know that ordinary villagers and skilled workmen such as masons were literate. Unfortunately for us, the technology of writing in Canaan and Israel involved ink on either vellum or papyrus, and, very occasionally potsherds or other more durable materials, which, in the highly seasonal climate of the ancient Levant, simply do not survive. In Mesopotamia, cuneiform was written on clay tablets with a stylus and on monumental stone stele and sculpture, while in Egypt the dry climate without seasonal changes preserved vast numbers of documents on papyrus in addition to the monumental inscriptions on stone. As a result, we have no historical records from Canaan at all before c. 1340 B.C., and few after that period, and only a handful of documents from the Hebrew kingdoms. Because of this, in an example I like to use, I could excavate the campsite of Abraham, date and describe it, decipher the activities which were carried out in the different areas of the camp, the shape of the tents, and all the details of daily life, but I would never know that it was Abraham's camp.

Finally, archaeology is limited by our ability to understand the significance of the artefacts. At its most basic level, this means understanding what the artefacts were, and what they were used for. A salutary lesson for archaeologists lies in the excavation of steamboats sunk on the Missouri River in the middle of the 19th century. Numerous such vessels have been excavated, their contents perfectly preserved by having been underwater since they were lost. The cargos of the outbound vessels consisted of tools and equipment being sent from the industrial East upriver to the farmers of the Great Plains. Bearing in mind that this is a fully historical period, in which many of the manufacturers' catalogues of tools and equipment survive, not to mention the patent records of tools and equipment beyond those which were actually produced, it is humbling to realise that there were numerous bits of gear recovered whose identification and purpose completely baffled the archaeologists and historical researchers. For archaeologists dealing with periods of greater antiquity there are standard terms for such unidentifiable artefacts of mysterious purpose. They are usually known as 'ritual objects', and I sometimes call them 'shu hathas', 'shu hatha' being an Arabic phrase meaning, 'What is it?', or whatsit.

In light of these facts, I will say to you, as I do to the evening classes I teach, that any archaeologist who has all the answers is wrong, and that you should take what any archaeologist says not with a pinch, but with a shovel full of salt.

B. The Bible as History

The earliest surviving copies of the Bible which we possess are the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1948 in the Jordan Valley, and still in the course of publication. These documents contain copies, partial or complete, of every book of the Hebrew Bible except for Ruth, and show that by the date at which they were copied, beginning in the second, or perhaps third, century B.C. these books had, in the course of a complex process of revision and editing, reached essentially their present form. Biblical scholars, in the course of critical study over the last two hundred years, have concluded that most of the books of the Hebrew Bible were composed, often using much older material, during or after the Babylonian Exile, and that they may have reached their final form early in the Hellenistic period, that is to say, after the conquests of Alexander the Great, in the fourth or third centuries B.C. This would fit in with a pattern which is seen throughout the Near East, most notably in Mesopotamia, where a priest named Berossus compiled a history of Mesopotamia from the earliest times until his own day using the vast archives of cuneiform texts which were still available to him, and in Egypt another priest, named Manetho, compiled a similarly vast history of Egypt, using the hieroglyphic texts available to him. In Phoenicia a similar history of Tyre was also written. These histories survive only as extended quotes in the works of other, more recent, but still ancient, scholars, because none of them ever became the basic texts for a religion - they remained primarily nationalistic, political, statements of the origin and glorious history of the peoples from which they sprung. The Hebrew Bible fits very well into this general pattern in most respects, except, of course, that it is primarily a religious text. I hope to show that this is of fundamental importance.

C. The development of archaeological thinking

One of the topics of which I have made a particular study is the development of archaeological thinking, which, it can be shown, has followed a similar pattern in the many and various regions of the Europe which have been studied - the Americas are different, for purely accidental historical reasons. Archaeology as such begins in the early years of the 19th century in Denmark. It arises out of what is known as antiquarianism, which was the study of the surviving remains of antiquity in light of the surviving writings of the ancients themselves, and particularly the ancient historians. For the antiquaries, who believed, like Archbishop Usher, who lived and wrote in the 17th century, in a date for the Creation of 4004 B.C., there was only a short time between the beginning of the world and the beginning of recorded history. Consequently, ancient historians who wrote before the time of Jesus were authoritative on the history from the earliest times down to their own. It was believed, too, that these historians, who included the writers of the Biblical accounts, had given us all the information that we could, or could want, to know about antiquity, and that their information was completely reliable. In consequence of these assumptions, the antiquaries investigated the surviving remains of the ancient past solely to find illustrations for the accounts of the ancient historians. Using the accounts of the Classical historians, in particular, as templates, they sought to fit all of the archaeological remains into the framework provided by these accounts. By the late 18th century this framework had begun to unravel, as remains were found which could not be fitted into it without the most severe strain on the credulity of the scholars who studied them. In 1819 Christian Jurgenson Thompson developed the modern 'Three Ages System', comprising the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages, based on the material from which cutting tools were made, and isolated the material from each of these periods on the basis of items found together in archaeological excavations. From this time on archaeologists began to derive information about the past from the archaeological remains, completely independent of the Classical texts, and, ultimately, in contradiction to what they found in these texts.

Similarly, Near Eastern archaeology in general, and the archaeology of the Holy Land, the land of Canaan and Israel, in particular, arose out of the interest of Europeans in the Bible. The Bible was seen, from the beginning of the Reformation, at least, not only as a source of spiritual and theological knowledge, but as the prime source of knowledge about ancient history, not only because of the wealth of detailed accounts which it contained, but also because, as the inspired word of God, it must be completely accurate. Over the last two hundred years, as scholars have examined the biblical accounts, and more especially as increasing amounts of archaeological and historical evidence have emerged, contradictions between different parts of the biblical accounts themselves, and between the biblical accounts and the archaeological and historical evidence have also emerged. Because the archaeological evidence, whatever its gaps and ambiguities, is at least direct evidence of what happened in the past, and the contemporary textual records remain contemporary records, whatever the suspect motives for which some of them were written, and propaganda is not a modern invention, any more than 'spin', and because the biblical accounts were not written down until well after the fall of the Hebrew kingdoms and cannot be taken as contemporary records for the centuries before they were written, scholars have had increasing doubts as to the reliability of the biblical accounts as a source of knowledge about the past. The biblical accounts are, however, a clear source of knowledge about what their authors believed they knew about the past, and how they wished their readers to view this 'knowledge'.

III. Archaeology and the Bible: Recent Developments

A. The Patriarchs

About thirty years ago a book was published which so scandalised the American archaeological establishment that its author was driven out of academia and spent a decade painting houses for a living. The book was The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives, and the scholar was Thomas Thompson, now a professor at Copenhagen. In his book he argued that if the Patriarchs ever existed we could learn nothing about them from the biblical account, which was compiled centuries, if not millennia, after the events recounted. These events could neither be dated nor linked to any archaeological remains. These conclusions are now so thoroughly accepted that even the most conservative scholars no longer argue for the historicity of these narratives, however cherished they may be as stories. This is in total contrast to the situation at the time my own studies in archaeology began, when mainstream scholars believed that these narratives could be precisely dated, the routes of the various journeys mapped out, and parallels in ancient texts, contemporary with the biblical stories, could be pointed out.

B. The Exodus and Conquest

The Exodus and Conquest have always been among the most dramatic, and inspirational parts of the story of the ancient Hebrews. One of the most important goals of the archaeology of the Holy Land was the recovery of the physical evidence of these events, which is of precisely the type which should be most obvious archaeologically, namely, the violent destruction of specific towns. Repeatedly, down the years of the 20th century, archaeologists proclaimed that they had found concrete evidence of , for example, Noah's Flood at Ur, and the walls of Jericho which fell at the sound of the trumpets of Joshua and the Israelites. In virtually every case the claim has later been shown to be false, the result of wishful thinking and over excitement. In the case of the walls of Jericho, they were shown, as long ago as the early 1950s, to have fallen, indeed, but a thousand years before Joshua is thought to have lived, if one accepts that he lived at all. Today only a few scholars would still claim to have found archaeological evidence of the Conquest, in fact, only one site is still put forward for this claim, Hazor, and the claim is not taken seriously by the majority of archaeologists. As for the Exodus, the passage through the desert of Sinai of , at most, a few thousand people, living as any other group of travellers, in tents without any inscriptions or other distinctive features would leave no traces which archaeology could discover in any event.

C. The Hebrew Kingdoms

Only when we reach the period of the Hebrew kingdoms do we find archaeological evidence which can be linked directly to the biblical account, and even here we are not out of the woods. One of the greatest moments of my life came when, as the newly appointed Executive Secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund, I stood in the storerooms of the Fund and held in my hands the ivory inlays which had been referred to in the Bible when it spoke of Ahab having built for himself a house of ivory (1 Kings 22:39), meaning a house whose walls were panelled with cedar and inlaid with ivory. I could reel off for you a considerable list of examples in which archaeological excavations have revealed the precise details of what the Bible has described concerning the Hebrew kingdoms. I will content myself with a few examples. In 1867 a large stone stela, resembling an outsized gravestone, was found at Dibon, in what is now Jordan. This stela was carved and set up in a public place by Mesha, King of Moab, to commemorate his victories in the wars against Omri, King of Israel and his son Ahab. The correspondence between the text on this monument and the biblical account is so close that it has even been suggested that the biblical version might have been copied from the stela. In the excavations at Babylon clay tablets were discovered whose cuneiform texts recorded the issue of rations to Jehoiachin, the captive king of Judah, at the court of Nebuchadrezzar. Beginning with Ahab, several kings of Israel are mentioned in Assyrian texts, and likewise beginning with Hezekiah several kings of Judah are mentioned in Assyrian and Babylonian texts. Because these references are datable in terms of the reigns of the Assyrian and Babylonian rulers, it is possible to test whether the intervals between these rulers in the list of Hebrew kings agrees with the intervals between them in terms of the list of Assyrian and Babylonian kings. What has emerged from the study of the issues concerned confirms the accuracy of the biblical king lists. In the account of the fall of the kingdom of Judah to the attack of Nebuchadrezzar the bible mentions that the cities of Lachish and Azekah were the last cities other than Jerusalem to hold out against the Babylonian army. In the politics of the period leading up to this rebellion and the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah, the prominent anti-rebellion, pro-Babylonian role of the prophet Jeremiah, the archetypal prophet of disaster, is also well known. The excavations at Lachish in the 1930s not only provided clear evidence of the siege and destruction of the city, but yielded texts, known as the Lachish Letters, in one of which the writer says, 'We are watching for the fire-signals of Lachish according to all the signs which my lord arranged, for we no longer can see the signals of Azekah', while another refers to a troublesome prophet, unnamed, who predicts disaster. More recently, excavations in Jerusalem have revealed clay seals, or bullae, bearing the name of Baruch, all that survives of papyrus documents, in the debris of the destruction of the city by Nebuchadrezzar. It is generally agreed that this Baruch was probably the same man who was the scribe who worked with Jeremiah.

But the picture is not a simple one. From the beginning of archaeology in the Holy Land archaeologists operated within an antiquarian framework, excavating to reveal the realia to illustrate the biblical account, which was taken as a comprehensive, accurate given which told us most of what we could ever wish to know about the history and archaeology of the land and the people of the Bible. But puzzles began to emerge. As early as the 1940s it was apparent, from the excavations carried out at Samaria on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund by John Crowfoot and a very young Kathleen Kenyon, that there were problems. Samaria was founded by Omri, father of Ahab. Contemporary extra-biblical references guaranteed the existence of Ahab and fixed his dates, dates which, when taken with contemporary extra-biblical references to other, later, kings of Israel and Judah, confirmed the chronological framework given in the biblical king lists. But the remains identified as those of the buildings of Solomon at sites such as Megiddo were associated with pottery which , at Samaria, was associated with the work of Omri and Ahab, who lived a century after Solomon. Strenuous efforts were made, most notably by the great American scholar W.F. Albright and his pupils, to explain away the pottery of Samaria, and the similarity between the 'Solomonic' masonry at Megiddo to the masonry which even they agreed must be attributed to the reigns of Omri and Ahab at Samaria. None of these explanations was wholly convincing, or indeed convincing at all, to scholars outside the Albrightian circle, and the problem was complicated when pottery imported from other regions of the eastern Mediterranean world was considered. A particular type of pottery from Cyprus, called 'Black on Red Ware', imported to the Holy Land in large quantities in the archaeological period known as Iron Age II A, was manufactured in Cyprus between 900 and 800 B.C., and was most popular in the Holy Land between 1000 and 900 B.C., a century before it was made. Clearly this could not be right. As time, and the work of the archaeologists went on, more and more of these problems began to appear. Most devastating of all was the simple fact that, having identified the archaeological horizon which dated to the period of Solomon, that is, between 960 and 920 B.C., no remains of the period, neither architecture nor pottery, neither in situ nor re-deposited by erosion, destruction, or any other process, natural or human, have been found in Jerusalem, the splendid and opulent capital of the great kingdom. Nor are there any extra-biblical references to the kingdom of Solomon, either contemporary or later. Nothing. What are we to make of this? Increasingly, archaeologists are coming to the conclusion that the United Kingdom of David and Solomon is a myth, a projection into the past of Judah of the glories of the Kingdom of Israel, a process probably begun in the reign of Josiah, who sought, in the aftermath of the collapse of Assyria, to bring the territory of the former Kingdom of Israel, now only a fading memory which had ceased to exist more that one hundred and twenty years earlier, under his sway. There is even a possibility, suggested some thirty years ago, that there was, at one point, a single united kingdom, but under the rule of Joram, who, as the last king of the Omrid dynasty, ruled from 850-842 B.C., and as Jehoram, (the long version of the same name, rather like Tom and Thomas), king of Judah, ruled from 851-843 B.C. What is crystal clear is that, although there was certainly a Jerusalem in the 10th century B.C., it was no more than the capital of a small local feudal barony, whose territory extended for no more than ten miles in any direction, too insignificant to be noticed by any of the literate great powers of the day. In contrast, Ahab of Israel was a member of a coalition of princes, mainly from Syria, who opposed the expansion of the Assyrians under Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C., at which he fielded the largest contingent of chariots of any of the allied princes, some 2,000 according to the account of Shalmanezer on the Kurk Stela (which may now be seen in the Great Court of the British Museum). Archaeologically, it is clear that Jerusalem only became a true city, as opposed to an administrative centre, after the fall of the Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.; the first great king of Judah was, thus, not Solomon, but Hezekiah.

These problems, and the resolution of them, with the resultant adjustment of the dating of the archaeological remains, many of which are now thought to be a century younger than was the case even a decade ago, are the hottest topics in the archaeology of the Holy Land at present. In terms of the development of the archaeology of the region, they represent the break with antiquarianism, the shift from deriving our information about the past primarily from the biblical text accepted uncritically as history, to deriving our information about the past primarily from the archaeology, and then seeing what bearing the conclusions reached as a result might have on our understanding of the biblical account. Because these are the developments which are happening at this very moment, and also because emotions are running so high that libellous accusations are flying thick and fast, it is not yet possible to say that a new consensus has emerged, but I think that it is possible to say that one is emerging, at least among archaeologists. The results of this argument, and the implications of the conclusions reached will take at least another decade to be fully incorporated into the work of the archaeologist, who may then be said to have caught up with the textual, biblical scholars, and many of the less conservative theologians. Nevertheless, even though I am qualified in neither of these fields, I do feel that as a Christian I must take off my archaeological hat, and put on my Christian one, although perhaps not in church, and give thought to what these findings mean for me, and others, as a Christian.

IV. The Implications for the Thinking Christian

To go straight to the heart of the problem, in the late 19th century a group of American evangelical ministers met at Niagara Falls to agree a list of the 'fundamentals' of the Christian faith. One of these 'fundamentals' was, simply put, biblical inerrancy, that is, the belief that, because the Bible is the inspired Word of God, it cannot be fallible, even in the smallest detail. From this it follows that where the Bible appears to be giving us an historical account of a sequence of events, that history must be, quite literally, true. If one takes this point of view, then to prove that so much as a single passage in the Bible is not literally historically true would mean that none of it was true, in any sense whatever. This is giving a hostage to fortune, and is, in my view, far too extreme. This view, when confronted with cases in which the Bible is either internally contradictory or externally disproved have chosen one of two responses, either they refuse to recognise the validity of the evidence, explaining it away by a convoluted ad hoc argument, or simply dismissing it out of hand, or suffering a crisis, and in some case a total abandonment, of faith. Of course, this belief in biblical inerrancy reflects a further, and prior, belief in the particular significance of the phrase 'inspired Word of God', and what it implies about the very nature of inspiration and the composition of the Bible. Insofar as I understand Islamic doctrine concerning the Koran, the role of Mohammed in the compilation of the Koran was to take dictation from the Angel who delivered the words of God. Mohammed himself had no role other than that. He simply wrote down the words he was given. The traditional Christian view of the composition of the Bible, by contrast, has always been that while the various biblical authors received revelations from God, they passed on these messages to their fellow humans in their own words - hence the all too frequent complaints of the prophets at their calling that they were no good with words, or expressions to that effect. This way of looking at the Bible, of course, can then be used to explain away anything one doesn't like or agree with. On the other hand, provided one is prepared to reject the dogma of biblical inerrancy, at least in the absolutist sense which includes historical accuracy along with spiritual accuracy, and accept the results of empirical research as regards historical accuracy, then one is taking a truly scientific approach, since the hypothesis of historical accuracy, either of a specific biblical account, or of a particular interpretation of a specific biblical account, is definitely falsifiable on the basis of empirical evidence. As the great philosopher of science, Karl Popper, has proven, no theory can be scientific unless it is vulnerable to falsification.

What is clear is that in most, but not all, cases the biblical writers certainly believed that what they wrote was history. One of the most interesting cases in which the author of a biblical book may, and indeed, must, not have believed that he was writing history is the Book of Jonah. There is one reference to an historical prophet Jonah, as having prophesied in the reign of Jehoash of Israel (798-783 B.C.)(2 Kings 14:25). The story of Jonah is one of the best known in the Bible, and I won't repeat it here, but will only look at one detail, which is subject to proof or disproof on the basis of contemporary historical evidence. When Jonah eventually gives way to the command of the Lord and preaches repentance to the city of Nineveh, the people of Nineveh repent and turn to Yahweh, thus earning forgiveness, and, much to Jonah's disgust, turning aside the wrath of God and the usual fire and brimstone. The city of Nineveh, modern Mosul in northern Iraq, has been extensively, and repeatedly, excavated by various scholars since 1840, and has yielded one of the largest collections of texts ever found at any site in that country of innumerable texts. From these texts it is clear that at no point in its history, from its foundation until its destruction (as an Assyrian city) in 614 B.C., did the people of Nineveh deviate from their polytheistic religion. The repentance and turn to Yahweh simply never happened. How, then should we understand this story? Quite simply, it is a parable. And like any parable, if we seek the meaning of the story in the historical account it appears to give, then we have missed the point completely. If, confronted with the parable of the Sower, we take the truth of the story to consist in the account of a farmer sowing seed on a field, a particular farmer, whose name is unfortunately lost, on a particular field, which, if we had but the location could be specified in terms of its length and breadth, height above sea level, soil type, etc., then we have, like the disciples, who required an explanation of the meaning of the story, failed to grasp the message it was intended to convey. The Bible is not, and was never intended to be, a history textbook. In this it differs from all of the other great Hellenistic historical projects. Although Berossus and Manetho were priests, their works were not religious works, but nationalist histories. What, then, was the purpose of the Bible?

The latest thinking of the Biblical scholars is that during the Babylonian Exile or shortly after the Return of the Exiles to Judea a great work of historical composition was undertaken, known as the Deuteronomistic History. This work, in its entirety, comprises the books of Genesis through 2 Kings, and its purpose was to set out the understanding of the religious leaders of the Judaean community of their own history and its significance. Whatever the nature of Judaite and Israelite religion before the fall of Jerusalem, and evidence is slowly emerging that it was not as monotheistic as later portrayed, it does appear that the people of Judaea held the belief that their God would protect them, that the mighty Assyrian Empire would be humbled by Yahweh, who would act either through, or on behalf of, their armies. When this did not happen, the Judaean Exiles, in their new homes in Mesopotamia, set out to rethink their entire theology, to try to understand how, and why, this catastrophe could have happened to them. The explanation they came up with was that they had failed in their worship, had followed false gods, had not kept the commandments of the one true God, and that they had, therefore, been punished by God, who had used the agency of the king of Assyria to chastise his people. The significance of this understanding of Judaean religion, and of the great composition which its leaders produced, is that the point of the Deuternomistic History is not to set forth the history of the people of Israel and Judah, but to set forth a theology. While the history in the Deuteronomistic History may have more in common with 1066 and All That than the Cambridge Ancient History or the work of Herodotus, the theological message is that there is one God, that He makes certain requirements of His people, and that He acts in history in certain ways, is one which transcends the failures of the ancient biblical writers as historians. If I may make a comparison, I not long ago read The Origin of Species, a book which compares in sheer readability with Leviticus. When he wrote his greatest work, Charles Darwin knew nothing of genes (the word hadn't yet been invented), and understood nothing of the mechanism of inheritance, except that characteristics were inherited, and natural selection operated on the different characteristics of individuals in a population in such a way that those individuals whose characteristics made them best suited to the world in which they lived were most likely to pass on their characteristics to future generations. No biologist would now take Darwin seriously as a source of knowledge concerning inheritance and genetics; no biologist would now dispute Darwin's significance for our understanding of the way in which species change through time. In the same way, the failures of the biblical writers as historians cannot invalidate their insights into the nature of God, the requirements He makes of us, or the way He acts in history.

I would like to close with a little discourse on a sentence which has haunted me since childhood, and which I think has a bearing on our view of the Bible and the issues surrounding its historical accuracy. The sentence is, 'The Bible contains the Word of God'. On the face of it this sentence is completely unobjectionable. My problem with it arises from the images conjured up in my mind by the word 'contains'. For me, this evokes an image of 'God in a box', an image of limits and boundaries imposed on the God whom I believe to be unlimited; in the old phrase, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, all powerful, all knowing, or all wise, and everywhere (and everywhen) present. Such a God can no more be contained in a book of human words, in whatever language, than he can live in a house made with human hands (Isaiah 66:1-2; Acts 7:48). I would prefer a different image, still involving a box and containment, only in this image it is we who are inside the box, and the Bible is the window through which we are enabled to see out into the surrounding, enfolding glory of God. This is an image which I believe may have occurred to Paul, who wrote that we now see 'through a glass, darkly' (1 Corinthians 13:12). And just as a man-made window has flaws, but nevertheless allows light to come into a room, and the people in the room to see out, so the Bible allows us to see out of our limited world, beyond our limited understanding. And just as experience and experiment has enabled us to make glass which has fewer flaws, so researches into the archaeology and history about which the biblical writers were writing should allow us to see more clearly the spiritual message they were trying to convey unobstructed, or at least less obstructed, by our own, and their, misunderstandings of the material world in which we live and its history.

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Losing Interest

The Revd John Richardson

It is a commonplace observation that Anglicans today accept many practices which were the cause of controversy to earlier generations. Artificial contraception, for example, was the subject of heated debates even quite recently, yet is almost entirely accepted by Anglicans now.

Another quoted example of a formerly controverted practice is that of usury - the lending of money at interest. The received understanding is that the Church once opposed this, but that increasing economic pressures forced a change of heart, as a result of which European economies were released from medieval restraint and enabled to become the prosperous societies we see today. Thus, we are told, the Church was shown to be as hopeless on the economic front as it was on the scientific. The persecution of Galileo and the handicapping of Western economics belong in the same, unenlightened, boat.

Yet we see around us now a world of individuals and societies crippled with debts incurring the constant repayment of interest. And in the theology of the Middle Ages we find opposition to usury rooted not in a wooden adherence to the letter of Scripture, but in a deep concern for social justice. It is therefore, I would suggest, time for us to think again about the 'wisdom' of our denomination's current stance.


The immediate cause of the Church's original ban on usury was, of course, the strictures of Old Testament Law:

You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is [customarily] lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deut 23:19-20)

Our difficulty, however, is that there are many parts of the Law which we ignore. We wear clothing woven from different kinds of cloth and eat prawns, for example. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there are other parts of the Law which we still uphold as binding. We do not permit murder or adultery, we do not tolerate sex with animals or incest, and so on.

I have argued elsewhere1 that the key to the Law from a Christian perspective is its fulfilment in Christ. He has delivered us entirely from the Law, not only in its ceremonial prescriptions but its moral impact. However, the Law remains effective as Scripture, provided we understand the implications both of the laws themselves and their fulfilment. Some, such as the laws which established the division between Jew and Gentile, have been entirely subsumed in Christ. Others - those on murder or adultery for example - give way to the more demanding ethic of the New Testament, exemplified in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. Matt 5:21-30).


Sometimes, however, the New Covenant implications for an Old Covenant Law are not entirely clear. Homosexuality is the current bête noir, but what about usury? Was this simply a 'boundary marker' between Jew and Gentile? The permission to levy interest on a foreigner might suggest so. But other Old Testament references imply a powerful moral dimension to this issue:

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He ... who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. (Psalm 15)

To the Psalmist, usury and bribery belong together as instances of injustice. Or what about Ezekiel's description of the evil son?

... who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbour's wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, lends at interest, and takes profit (Ezek 18:11-13)

The NIV here, incidentally, reflects the later assumption that taking interest per se is not the issue:

He does detestable things. He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. (vv 12-13)

But a glance back at Leviticus 25:35-37 confirms the ESV's rendering:

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. ... You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.

What Ezekiel condemns is taking any interest from the needy or profiting from their misfortune.

After the restoration, Nehemiah also evidently feels this to be a moral issue, hence his fury against the Jewish nobles and officials who are taking advantage of the poor returnees:

Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them. (Neh 5:10-11)

In the Old Testament, then, usury is clearly a moral issue, particularly when it applies to the poor.


Jesus also takes an oblique swipe at the extracting of interest in the parable of the talents. The third man, who simply kept his master's money wrapped in a hanky, justifies it on the grounds that:

... you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow. (Lk 19:21)

To which his master replies,

Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest? (Lk 19:22-23)

This is often taken as a statement of the minimal effort the servant should have made: if he would not trade, he could at least invest. But Luke's 'bank' is the money lender's table - the trapedza2 - and the irony is biting: 'You know I take out what I haven't put in and gain where I've made no effort? Then you should have lent my money to the money-lenders. Then I would at least have had some profit compatible with my character!'

Admittedly the rest of the New Testament is silent on the subject. Yet is this because (as has been argued about other matters) it was of no importance, or is it not rather more likely (given the evidence) that it was due to universal agreement? Certainly the early Church Fathers felt the latter, and thus, until the end of the Middle Ages, usury was regarded as immoral and therefore illegal under Canon Law.


Here, I must admit I am not a student of economics, much less the economics of medieval Europe. However, I have made a theologian's study of some of the period, and am struck by Martin Luther's stance on usury, particularly as it gives us some insights into the various practices of the time.

Luther was opposed to all forms of usury, especially an arrangement known as zinsskauf - the purchasing of an asset with a fixed 'rent'. Significantly, not everyone shared his view. Indeed the very existence of zinsskauf is testimony to the fact that there were various casuistical ways of overcoming the legal prohibitions and moral strictures against usury. One could, for example, arrange to make a 'gift' upon the repayment of a debt - not strictly interest, but nevertheless a real gain to the creditor. Still it was more or less universally agreed that usury was wrong.

However, whilst there were doubtless some who took this position on the grounds that 'the Bible says so', others, Luther amongst them, regarded the biblical injunctions as reflecting wider principles consistent with the whole thrust of Scripture. Specifically, the charging of interest contravened the command to love your neighbour:

Such lenders love themselves alone and seek only their own; they do not love and look out for their neighbour with the same fidelity as they love and look out for themselves.3

On the contrary, Luther says, Christ's command means that,

... we should willingly and gladly lend without charge or zinss. Of this our Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 5, 'From him who would borrow from you, turn not away'; that is, do not refuse him.4

But, he continues, most people avoid this obligation:

For all the doctors agree in this, that borrowing and lending shall be free, without charge or burden; though they do not all agree on the question to whom we ought to lend. For ... here too there are many who gladly lend to the rich or to good friends, more to seek their favour or because they are related to them than because God has commanded it [...]. But there is always trouble and labour about those to whom God's command points; to them no one wants to lend [...].5

First and foremost, then, Luther is concerned to defend the poor, and he lays the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount on all Christians as an obligation, specifically rejecting the notion that they are a 'counsel of perfection' applying only to the 'saintly' minority.

But Luther is not an unthinking literalist. There is no problem in taking a profit based on a loan, provided one shares the risk. Even zinss would be acceptable if the seller of zinss shared the risks of the purchaser who, in a bad year, could turn round and say,

This year I owe you nothing, for I sold you my toil and effort for the production of income from such and such property; I have not succeeded. The loss is yours, not mine; for if you want to have an interest in my profits you must also have an interest in my losses, as the nature of every transaction requires.6

Clearly, therefore, Luther's theology would not prohibit investment. What he will not brook is the charging of a fixed return, regardless of the borrower's circumstances or fortune. This, he insists, is contrary to justice, contrary to nature and contrary to a true theology. In the real world there are risks corresponding to the fortunes visited on us by God. But that, Luther observes, is life. Indeed on the basis of his wider theology, we may infer that the attempt to shield oneself from risk is, in Luther's eyes, a self-defeating attempt to avoid encountering the God who tries our faith through the difficult circumstances of the real world. Who can have faith in a good God who never experiences loss or hazard? The person who simply rakes in their percentage regardless is living in a world of delusion whilst fleecing the neighbour they have been commanded to love.

Of course, Luther recognises, this makes the lending business less attractive to some:

Perhaps you will say, 'If it were to be done this way, who would ever contract for zinss?' See there! I knew perfectly well that human nature would turn up its nose at doing what is right. Now it comes out that in this zinss contract nothing is sought but security, greed, and usury.7

Luther is satisfied provided, in the words of many an advertisement, 'the value of your investment can go down as well as up'. Trade and commerce are not prohibited (though Luther was convinced it was difficult to practice them Christianly), only practices which take advantage of other people who remain exposed to risk, whilst seeking to protect oneself from any such risks in the process of taking their money.

The present

Yet, as is well-known, the Churches of Europe gradually abandoned their opposition to usury, such that today virtually all Christians have literally 'bought into' the present system. And this, it is frequently alleged, is an example of modern enlightenment overcoming ignorant prejudice.

But what is the real effect of the change? One contemporary advertisement by a credit-card company depicts the alternative companies as a vampire sucking blood out of the hapless debtor. 'Change to us,' is the message, 'And your problems will be solved.' Yet the blood will still be sucked, albeit hopefully in smaller volumes!

Or what about that biggest of all loans, the mortgage? How bizarre is it that the rocketing price of a basic need, namely shelter, is greeted as a sign of a healthy economy? If the same were happening regarding food, there would be a revolution. But because a mortgage is seen as 'normal' and a house as an 'investment', people eagerly saddle themselves with massive debt-repayments, even if, as is often the case, it means two people in a household working just to manage.

In fact, of course, the price of houses has not gone up, only the cost of servicing the debt of money-lenders like the Halifax and Nationwide. And, in itself, a house is no more an investment than is a pair of shoes. (You can't sell what you're using!) But those who can afford it have swallowed the prosperity myth and in the process force the poorer members of society into crippling debt or out of the market altogether.

In June this year, individual Britons borrowed £10 billion. This is roughly £2,000 per annum for every man, woman and child in the country. On a 'modest' 15% interest rate, the repayment figure would be £2,300 - but of course people do not generally repay all the loan. Instead, they incur interest, and hence interest on the interest itself, so that a £2,000 loan can easily become a £3,000 repayment, of which £1,000 buys literally nothing. Thus although the credit system is not always directed at the poor, it certainly impoverishes the borrower.

And this is not to mention loan sharks or Third World Debt, about which latter the Church of England has been very vocal whilst saying comparatively little about the appalling debt in this country. Of course some individuals and countries might have been wiser in their borrowing. There have, no doubt, been cases of greed as well as need. But who, in the long term, is the greedier - the foolish debtor, or the leech-like creditor who, having been repaid several times over, still cries 'Give, give'?


Of course, many will say it is being unrealistic to challenge the existing financial order. But if it can be demonstrated that the present system is oppressive to the less-well-off, deceptive to the financially unwise and damaging to all, then surely it is not wrong to question? The real problem is how to challenge the present system and how to avoid becoming embroiled in it. Frankly, I don't know what to do on the macro-economic scale. That is for the experts to consider. In the meantime, however, here are some bits of practical advice for consideration by individuals:

v      You may need a credit card for some payments, but always pay it off every month.

v      Cancel your deposit account at the bank. The money you are making is money the bank is taking from others.

v      Invest by all means, but only where the value can go down as well as up. OK, you may lose out, but 'better to be poor with God than rich with the devil'. If in doubt, stick to a current account.

v      If you want to buy a house, use one of the banks currently making special arrangements for Muslims.

v      Call on the Church of England's finance officers to look at their investment portfolios.

v      Challenge not just Third World Debt but First and Second World lending.

v      Remember, however, loans are not the issue. Risk-free, fixed-interest money lending is the issue.

v      Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.


1.      What God has Made Clean, The Good Book Company, 2003

2.      Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, & Bauer, A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)

3.      'Trade and Usury', 1524, LW 45, 293

4.      Ibid 289

5.      Ibid 289-290

6.      Ibid 303

7.      Ibid 304

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Rituals for Food

Extracts from the Rev'd Ivor Moody's Dissertation

(Reproduced with the permission of Anglia Polytechnic University)

It is no coincidence that the offering of free food represents a large part of Chaplaincy's activities within the University. An invitation to a meal helps Chaplaincy in its task of 'addressing human need and challenging current socio-economic thinking,' by inviting fellowship in the face of a culture which, in its love affair with 'fast food', builds on the legacy of technology and consumerism by encouraging food to be consumed quickly and alone. By offering a commodity free in the face of a culture that is so price orientated, even some students who do accept Chaplaincy's hospitality ask 'What's the catch?!' Kenith David makes the interesting observation that 'The breakdown of community in many parts of the world can be traced to the point at which food ceased to be for sustenance alone and became a commodity to be traded for profit'.

The choice of food as an effective medium of communication between Chaplaincy and the University is indicative of Chaplaincy's task to use symbols common to the universal experience of women and men, which address human existence in a secular, post-modern world. It is easy to make a simple sacramental link between food and the Eucharist, but to do so would be to put a definition of sacrament firmly within ecclesial boundaries, narrowing and restricting it in a way identified at the beginning of chapter two as counter productive to the quest to uncover a sacred language for a secular University. Elizabeth Morse points out that 'We have somehow spiritualised the Eucharist so much that we have lost the context of the meal'.

She argues that 'The physical incarnate the spiritual' and that the real 'sacrament' of food consists in the hospitality it engenders: 'The blistered 'sole' is also the aching 'soul'; both are weighed down and both must be meditated on'. She describes this as a 'conduit' linking the ordinary and the divine. It is important to remember that the food shared between the two Emmaus disciples and Jesus was not a Eucharist; it was an evening meal. Supper after a long tiring day, a seven mile walk from Jerusalem which had no doubt left them with blistered soles; 'Stay with us; for it is toward evening and the day is far spent'. Their hospitality allowed Jesus' sacramental actions when he took bread, blessed and broke it, and was integral to their recognition of him as the Messiah.

Just as Rowan Williams argued for a signmaking made sacramental because of its action in the creation, deconstruction and re-making of form, (see below page 22) so Chaplaincy in its food 'rituals', by seeking to care 'holistically'' for those who come to its table, provides a focus for food as a visible sign of an invisible grace 'Which not only make(s) the connection but which integrate(s) the sacred and the ordinary matter of the everyday.' This integration of body and soul is a powerful reminder of William Temple's definition of a sacrament as 'An instance of a very definite and special relationship of spirit and matter', and Chaplaincy's 'ministry' through the gift of free food endorses the claim for an incarnational model of sacrament because the gift of God's Son is the ultimate union of matter and spirit implicit in the quest to break and re-mould human history.

The New Age movement, itself a revolt against a postmodernism which has privatised and compartmentalised sacred and secular concerns, has in its ritual and spirituality sought to re-locate and re-unite spirit and matter. Michael Northcott says of New Age that it 'Represents a resacralisation of human life ... and offers ritual means for re-discovering the sacred in everyday life'. Caution is needed, because many of its rituals, pagan and cosmological as they are, imply a new relation between spirit and matter which the incarnation refutes. The birth of Jesus Christ was not spirit entering into matter; Rowan Williams makes the point that creation has its own integrity and independence to which Christ surrendered himself rather than seeking to apply 'unilateral divine control'. It was the Creator entering into humanity so binding together indissolubly and equally matter and spirit. Nevertheless, Northcott makes the valid point that New Age has provided a wake up call to religion not to detach itself from the world of matter in the face of a secularism which has offered a different language with which to understand the world and human experience and, in the face of postmodernism, 'To re-engage with the cosmic and the natural ... with matter and spirit ... realising the ritual power of Christian ceremony to transform human life'. For Chaplaincy rites and events on campus, taking place as they do without the confines of a Church building, this observation is important, not only because it highlights the need to build up what Christopher Knight calls an 'incarnational consciousness' which brings liturgy into the world as much as the world into liturgy, but to do so by exploring alternative, non-traditional rites and events that speak to human existence and experience, of which the sharing and consumption of free food is one.

Outside the refectory on campus is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the University. It is at a crossroads of a corridor and stairs, next to the Student Union shop and reception and adjacent to the Student Employment Office, and in the course of a day the majority of students on campus will probably pass through there. Once, Chaplaincy set up a Christian Aid stall outside the refectory displaying leaflets and showing a video about the charity's work in the developing world, and handing out little pots of food and rice provided by a local Indian restaurant. The stall was placed there to be visible to the maximum number of students; but situated where it was outside the refectory it became a sign to those who came to the stall and shared a morsel of food that the sustenance they were about to purchase over the counter suddenly took on far more significance than merely their 'snack' or lunch. It was in fact a precious commodity, denied to millions who that day would go without.

One Easter, Chaplaincy visited the art department in the School of Education and chose fourteen paintings from a collection produced by some second year students. They were secular in nature, a collection of images depicting various aspects of the human 'condition'. They were carefully sorted and each apportioned a sentence of scripture drawn from the Passion Narrative. The paintings were put up in sequence along the wall of a corridor normally frequented by nursing students who came to read a series of noticeboards detailing their coursework and placements. The paintings, numbered with their scriptural interpretations, became at once 'The Stations of the Cross' and 'signs' which made the corridor no longer merely a passageway but a contemporary via dolorosa. Both of these events contained signs which were 'made and not found'; they spoke of 'the “flesh and blood” experience of humanity' and they were sacramental, taking forward and remoulding the horizons of understanding, enabling 'a divine meaning – a sacredness' – to emerge as part of the natural 'language' of an ordinary day on campus at APU with all its frustrations and brokenness.

Rituals for bereavement

If occasional 'rites' such as these enable Chaplaincy to bring liturgical action into unfamiliar places in the life of the University, then through them it is able to focus on a sacramental language which seeks to interpret the post-modern restlessness and searching of the institution as a reflection of that ceaseless human activity of signmaking which is dedicated to the transformation of the environment and the development of human meaning. Whether they be occasions for joy or sadness, they are events and times within University culture and experience which are 'deepened and sustained by specific, corporate celebration'. In an economy-driven, knowledge-obsessed culture it is often difficult for those in HE to articulate what they believe is happening; there are policies and procedures for almost everything, except when the human soul or the corporate heart is challenged or bereaved. The day after the twin towers of the world trade centre were destroyed by terrorist action in September 2001, Chaplaincy held a short memorial service on the terrace by the river which runs adjacent to the Rivermead campus. Scores of staff and students left offices and lectures to attend, and the truly memorable aspect of the event was the intense silence after the closing prayer. It was a silence completely unplanned which kept people where they stood long after the service had finished, and at that moment it became something which trans-signified all the grief, shock and despair, not only into a corporate sense of 'belonging' but, despite all faiths and none which were represented there, an acknowledgement that all of us were in the presence of something greater than our combined bereavement.

The discovery of brokenness as a universal common symbol allows the marrying of an ancient Christian language with a modern secular world. It is one that is centred in divine experience and activity incarnated in Jesus Christ, and which speaks to the endless, human quest for the re-making and superseding of form, itself incarnated in a University obsessed with a desire to transform the future and a deep need not just to 'know' but to 'understand'. It is a need which Chaplaincy through its activities and ceremonies interprets holistically in the treasuring of the 'whole' person and not merely their ability to succeed, upholding the Gospel imperative to 'Love one another, just as I have loved you'.

This theology does not pander either to what Peter Kerr calls the 'ark approach', seeking to create a society within a society, or the 'leaven approach', which sees the Church as so submerged in society that its role is merely one of 'anonymous service'. A sacramental theology of brokenness which implies uncertainty and insecurity allows a tentativeness which clings nevertheless to a belief that the truth is out there and is waiting to be discovered, and maintains an ambivalence which is nonetheless central to the Church's claim to 'understand'. These few examples of Chaplaincy's ministry to the institution demonstrate an indelibly Christian 'language' which still has power to 'speak' to people in the challenge and fragmentation of their lives.

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