Thursday, August 29, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 1-2 and Augustine's Treatise on the Profit of Believing 11

So yesterday, we finished with the July readings I added to the last month of posts so that we could catch up to the readings we are on for the rest of the year. We are back on the scheduled readings.

2 Chronicles 1 – Solomon summons the people or at least the leaders—commanders, judges, heads of families (1:2), and takes them to the “high place” at Gibeon. On the bronze altar that Bezalel had made there for it, Solomon offers a thousand burnt offerings. It is following this, at night that God appears to Solomon and tells him to ask for a gift God can give him.  Solomon says, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?” (1:10)

And God responds “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, . . .wisdom and knowledge are granted to you” (1:12).

But Solomon also has great power—1,400 chariots (each worth 600 shekels of silver), 12,000 horses at 150 shekels each from Egypt and Kue); silver and gold was made “as common in Jerusalem as stone” (1:15) and cedar was plentiful as well.
2 Chronicles 2 - Here in Chronicles, it is Solomon who “decides” to build a temple along with a royal palace for himself (2:1). He conscripts 70,000 laborers and 80,000 stonecutters with 3,600 overseers. King Huram [Hiram in the New Living Translation] of Tyre helps Solomon as he previously helped David. There is an echo of the reservation David had to deal with in the following passage: “But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him” Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him?” (2:6) He asks Huram for an artisan who can work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics and in engraving.  He also asks for cedar, cypress and algum timber from Lebanon.  He, Solomon, will provide them with food and wine and oil (2:10).
In response Huram sends Huram-abi, son of a Danite woman and a Tyrian father. The timber will be sent by raft to Joppa, from whence it will be carted to Jerusalem (2:16).
Solomon takes a census of the aliens in Israel:153,600 - 70,000 laborers, 80,000 stonecutters, and 3,600 overseers. It seems as if these are men sent, not just men already there who are made to do this work.  But it isn’t clear.

Augustine (354-439)
On the Profit or Benefit of Believing
11 - And, this being so, hear also just so many conditions and differences of the same Scriptures. For it must be that just so many meet us. For either any one [someone] has written profitably accurately/wisely], and is not profitably understood by someone [another]: or both take place unprofitably: or the reader understands profitably, whereas he, who is read, has written contrariwise. When Augustine uses this word in Latin, and it is translated “profitably” or “unprofitably” it is confusing. He seems to be combining TWO meanings in the word: one, that it is accurate or correct or truth as God wants us to know it AND it also carries the meaning “for our benefit” or “not to our benefit.”

Of these the first I blame not [when the reader simply doesn’t understand what the author meant], the last I regard not [where the reader extracts something good from the writing but the writer didn’t actually mean what the reader thinks he did]. For neither can I blame the man [author], who without any fault of his own has been ill understood; nor can I be distressed at any one being read, who has failed to see the truth, when I see that the readers are no way injured.

There is then one kind most approved, and as it were most cleansed, when both the things written are well [good/accurate], and are taken in a good sense by the readers. And yet that also is still further divided into two: for it does not altogether shut out error. For it generally comes to pass, that, when a writer has held a good sense, the reader also holds a good sense; still other than he, and often better, often worse, yet profitably.

But when both we hold the same sense as he whom we read, and that is every way suited to right conduct of life, there is the fullest possible measure of truth, and there is no place opened for error from any other quarter. And this kind is altogether very rare, when what we read is matter of extreme obscurity: nor can it, in my opinion, be clearly known, but only believed. For by what proofs shall I so gather the will of a man who is absent or dead, as that I can swear to it: when, even if he were questioned being present, there might be many things, which, if he were no ill man, he would most carefully hide? But I think that it has nothing to do towards learning the matter of fact, of what character the writer was; yet is he most fairly believed good, whose writings have benefited the human race and posterity.

This has nothing to do with the content of what Augustine is saying here, but I read yesterday a good piece that explains the “common core” approach to evaluating student’s readiness for college. They are hoping to push schools to revving up students’ grasp of complex readings: readings with multiple layers of meaning, readings with more complex vocabulary and sentence structure. I feel challenged in these areas with Augustine every day – maybe he should be in the curriculum!

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