The Walls of Jerusalem

The rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, argued Nehemiah, would demonstrate God’s blessing upon His people. Thus, Nehemiah, having been put in charge of Jerusalem, understood that he bore a responsibility to God to rebuild the wall.


Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem ca 443 BC

By the end of Chapter 3, the wall had been completed. According to the narrative, God led Nehemiah to work on the walls, no less than he had led Ezra to work on the temple.  We learn from this that both the sacred and the secular were necessary to fulfill God’s plan to restore the nation of Israel. If the walls were unfinished, the temple would have never been finished. Both were necessary.

The reason for this is easy to understand. Without a wall, no city in the ancient Near East was safe from bandits, gangs and wild animals – even though the empire might be at peace. The more economically and culturally developed a city was, the greater the value of things in the city, and the greater the need for the wall. The temple, with its rich decorations, would have been particularly at risk. Practically speaking, no wall means no city, and no city means no temple.

In Leviticus 19:34, God commands that

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

This verse is often cited by Christians who would advocate for open borders. But, that’s not the end of the story. First of all, foreigners who lived with the Israelites or within Israelite communities were required to live as their hosts lived, including participating in the Israelite ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations. In other words, to remain within the community and be treated as a native, the alien must adopt and live by Israeli values. In other words, only the alien who is willing to live by their host’s customs were to be permitted to dwell within the community (Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 24:16, 22).

The biblical argument for the U.S. to open her borders is compelling only insofar as the immigrants agree to adopt American values. Yes, they can retain the customs of their culture but only so long as those customs are not opposed to American values.

The Pope and other open-border advocates are insisting that we accept aliens who are unwilling to abide by our laws AND behave according to our customs. Were we to accommodate aliens to enter the country and not abide by our laws, as the Pope and other open-border Christians advocate, we would be breaking faith with the biblical narrative.

Now, go and study


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The Expulsion of Adam and Eve


The article at this link (PDF File) presents an argument against the most widely accepted reason for the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, i.e., the disobeyed God and we punished by exile from Eden.

Truth be told, the scriptural evidence for this conclusion is pretty sparse. A better understanding arises from intertextual references for “the knowledge of good and bad” (hadda’at tov vara) that reveal that this phrase is a figure of speech symbolizing the sexual awareness acquired at the onset of puberty. Used in this way, hadda’at tov vara is seen as a plot device to show that the expulsion was necessary because the existence of procreative immortal beings within the confines of the Garden would result in disastrous overpopulation.

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Language Fluency

Here’s an interesting article about myths of language fluency.

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Being Human

right-v-wrongGenesis 2:7 is rightly famous for revealing that the human was created from the dust of the earth. But, there is so much more that I never realized until I was rereading the text in preparation for next week’s class.  Specifically, I noticed what I initially thought was a “misspelling” (which I’ll get to shortly) of a key word which, as it turns out, is a very clever literary device. Who knew?

In checking the various commentaries I learned that the “misspelling” was a deliberate act by the author and it is fascinating on all kinds of levels.  Basically, the author uses the “misspelling” of the verb meaning “to form” (vayyitzer, as in “form from the dust of the ground”) in order to convey a fundamental difference between mankind and animals. To this end, he spells vayyitzer differently depending on whether the human is being formed or animals are being formed. Note the two spellings below – the one on the left is used in verse 2:19 when God “formed” the animals. The one on the right is used in this verse, 2:7, when God “formed” the human:

וַיִּיצֶר     וַיִּצֶר

Both words are transcribed identically as vayyitzer. Now, the word on the left is the spelling used in verse 2:19 when God “forms” the animals from the ground. The word on the right is the spelling used when God “forms” the human from the ground. Look closely. Do you see the difference between the two? The one on the left is spelled with a single yod (י) whereas the one on the right is spelled with two yods (יי)1)The yod (י) is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet..

What’s going on here?

Biblical era scholars postulated that the two yods were used by the author to symbolize the ancient Hebraic view that mankind possessed a dual nature. In this understanding, the human is endowed with two opposing inclinations (symbolized by יי ); the first is the tendency to do good (called the yetzer ha’tov) and the second is the tendency to do evil (called the yetzer ha’ra). Animals, by contrast are possessed of a single nature (symbolized by י) – a nature that is neither good nor bad and so are unable to make moral distinctions and therefore to experience moral conflict. The animal nature is to behave … naturally. Animals surely make choices, but those choices are ordered to the exigencies of life – breeding, eating, seeking shelter, and so forth.  And like the animals we also possess the animalistic yod but also are in possession of the divine yod, the yetzer ha’tov. Put in more modern terms, both animals and man are possessed of an atavistic impulse. The Bible acknowledges this, but then advances the idea that only the human possesses the divinely imposed inclination to do good.

Why did the ancient author use this device? A number of scholars (including the ancient Rabbis) point to the double yod (יי) as the ineffable name of God. By incorporating the double yod into the verb creating the human, the author is making the connection between the nature of man with that aspect of God2)See, for example, chapter 6 in Ira Stone’s, Mesillat Yesharim, and especially pp. 87-88. Link here. Also, Wikipedia has an informative description here. Also, the author of Genesis 8  reflects this latent duality in 6:8 – “…every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually”. that enables making distinctions. The second creation story, then, is about becoming fully human by choosing between two or more competing alternatives. Humanity is making distinctions above that of the next meal and where will we lay our heads tonight. Were the Tree of Knowledge absent from Eden, mankind could never achieve its full humanity.

Because the author juxtaposed the Tree of Knowledge with the Tree of Life, the story becomes one of choosing between the benign immortality of Eden and the roller-coaster ride of triumph and tragedy that is the mortal life. In this verse, the author, by using the double yod, foreshadows what is to come.

Now, for some background.

To fully appreciate the nature of man as depicted in the Bible, we need to take a look at the Greek culture that surrounded the ancient Hebrews (and other Semitic cultures of those days). The Greeks, unlike the cultures of the Ancient Near East, viewed the essence of man to be based on a single unitary principle –  the principle of reason. In the Greek view, the power of reason reigned supreme.  Man is human because he is able to reason.  Reason, the Greek philosophers argue, is what makes us human.

This assumption permeates the Western view of mankind3)And often gets in the way of understanding the biblical text..  It is the basis of our penchant for scientific exploration and explanation.  It was the genesis of the enlightenment movement in the 1800s. Rationale man is the bedrock of our view of government and law, economic policy and our desire for worldwide agreement.  But it is not the biblical point-of-view expressed by God.

In the Hebraic world, reason is a means to an end – a tool to be used to control choice.  Reason is an instrument for, not the source of man’s humanity.  In the second creation account, we learn that the source of man’s humanity is the ability to choose between two different outcomes – one symbolized by eating from the Tree of Life the other symbolized by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. In the biblical view, the fundamental conscienceconstituent of the human person is the duality expressed by the yetzer ha’ra and the yetzer ha’tov. In other words, our humanity is manifested by the choices we make.

As stated earlier, the double yod  (יי) associated with the creation of the human is meant to symbolize this duality. Mankind was created with both inclinations.  Not so the animals. In the absence of both inclinations, we would cease to be human. We would be as animals unencumbered by moral conflict.

What does this tell us about our day-to-day life?

One implication is that it places a boundary on what we ought to pray for. Specifically, efforts to remove the yetzer ha’ra are doomed to failure.  A being without yetzer ha’ra is no longer human, but rather a lobotomized creature subject only to its native, atavistic impulses. A creature without these two natures is an animal and prayers asking God to remove one’s tendency toward evil is to misunderstand human nature. We are not to pray for the removal of the evil inclination within us for that would dehumanize us. Rather, we are to pray for the strength to choose rightly.To do otherwise is to ask God to rescue us from our humanity.

Our choices are who we are!  What we pray for is the strength to make the right choice.  Praying for reason alone is insufficient because knowing what is right is not enough to resist the temptation. Reasonable men can still make evil choices.  Contra the Greek philosophers, reason will not save us.  Once we know what is right, we need the strength to make, and to live by, that choice.

References   [ + ]

1. The yod (י) is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
2. See, for example, chapter 6 in Ira Stone’s, Mesillat Yesharim, and especially pp. 87-88. Link here. Also, Wikipedia has an informative description here. Also, the author of Genesis 8  reflects this latent duality in 6:8 – “…every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually”.
3. And often gets in the way of understanding the biblical text.
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