Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Numbers 31-32 and Origen's De Principiis: Book One - 6-7

Numbers 31 - Twelve thousand men, 1000 from each of the tribes, are sent out by Moses to attack the Midianites and execute vengeance upon them in the name of the Lord.  Phinehas is the priest of the campaign. 

Every male is killed, plus five kings, and Balaam--women and children are taken captive along with other booty.  They are taken to Moses at his camp on the plains of Moab.  Moses becomes angry with the officers for their having spared the lives of the women, “the very ones who on Balaam’s advice prompted the unfaithfulness of the Israelites toward the Lord in the Peor affair, which began the slaughter of the Lord’s community” (31:16). As a result, all the male children and all women not virgins are also slain. It doesn’t get much grimmer than this in the Old Testament narrative.

Then the Israelites are instructed on purifying themselves, their clothes and all their tools, weapons etc.  Whatever can stand the fire is to be purified in the fire.  Whatever cannot be purified by burning is purified in lustral water.  These are the constant modes of purification throughout the scriptures. The booty is divided and a tax levied on the warriors’ share.  One out of every 500 people, beasts, oxen, etc. are offered to Eleazar as a contribution to God.

Numbers 32 - In this chapter, the Gadites and Reubenites request Moses to permit them to stay on the east side of the Jordan where the grazing land is good. [They were shepherds] At first Moses rebukes them for discouraging the people from going over into the land God has given them.  But then it is proposed that they just leave their families here but the men will continue on to help the people as a whole claim the land and they promise not to return until all the Israelites are in possession of the promised land.  So Moses agrees.

Origen (185-254 AD)
De Principiis (First Principles)
Book One
6 – Origen makes another comparison. “Our eyes frequently cannot look upon the nature of the light itself—that is, upon the substance of the sun; but when we behold his splendor or his rays pouring in, perhaps, through windows or some small openings to admit the light, we can reflect how great is the supply and source of the light of the body. So, in like manner, the works of Divine Providence and the plan of this whole world are a sort of ray, as it were, of the nature of God, in comparison with His real substance and being. As, therefore, our understanding is unable of itself to behold God Himself as He is, it knows the Father of the world from the beauty of His works and the comeliness of His creatures. God, therefore, in not to be thought of as being either a body or as existing in a body, but as an uncompounded intellectual nature . . . mind, for its movements or operations, needs no physical space, nor sensible magnitude, nor bodily shape, nor color, nor any other of those adjuncts which are the properties of body or matter.”

He refers to the “simplicity of the divine nature” – uncomplicated by any mix of matter or components of any kind.

7 – Origen delves thoroughly into his analysis of the nature of “the mind.”  We are still at a loss to explain the powers and special qualities of the human mind. It will be very interesting to see what comes of the recent initiative to study the human brain in a manner as thorough as our study of human DNA. Origen would have a problem embedding “mind” in the brain; but my sense of its rootedness in the brain is not something that will undermine the tenets of Christianity as I see them. Christ’s incarnation itself is a testimony to the union of physical and divine.

“I wish [those who see mind and soul as somehow “bodily”] would tell me . . . how it receives reasons and assertions on subjects of such importance—of such difficulty and such subtlety? Whence does it derive the power of memory? And whence comes the contemplation of invisible things? How does the body possess the faculty of understanding incorporeal existences? . . . How is it able to perceive and understand divine truths, which are manifestly incorporeal?”

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