Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 2, 2012



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Gender differences, not apparent in an English translation, are fairly clearly shown in the Hebrew text. Some English translations, such as the REB, indicate who is speaking. [NJBC]

1:1: “The Song of Songs”: This is a Hebrew idiom for the greatest song. Scholars believe that this book was written after the exile, but that some portions are much earlier. [NJBC]

1:2-4a: The bride speaks.

1:4b: The “daughters of Jerusalem” (v. 5) speak.

1:5-7: The bride speaks.

1:6: Her swarthiness is because of her labour in the vineyard. Her labour there was imposed by her brothers, but she is the true vineyard, given to her lover. [NJBC]

1:7: She asks for a meeting at noon. [NJBC]

1:8-10: The bridegroom speaks.

1:8: He replies, in a way that teases her: “follow the tracks of the flock”. [NJBC]

1:9-10: He tells her his true feelings about her; her beauty is like that of “Pharaoh’s chariots”. (This kind of poetry is also found in Egypt.) [NJBC]

1:11: The daughters of Jerusalem speak.

1:12-14: The bride speaks. She responds by praising the intimacy and charm which his presence (symbolized by “henna” and “myrrh”) brings to her. [NJBC] Henna is used to make a red dye. It was used as body paint. Some uses of myrrh were as a perfume for garments (see Psalm 45:8), for a lover’s couch (see Proverbs 7:17). It was part of the cosmetic treatment used to purify young girls for the king’s bed (see Esther 2:12-13). [HBD]

1:14: “En-gedi”: This was an oasis, with fresh water and hot springs, on the western shore of the Dead Sea, near its centre. Archeological evidence is that it was first settled in the time of Josiah, ca. 639 BC. Thus this book is attributed to Solomon rather than being literally of Solomon. [HBD]

1:15: The bridegroom speaks.

1:16a: The bride speaks.

1:16b-17: The bridegroom speaks.

2:1: The bride speaks. “Sharon” was a fertile area bordered by an impenetrable forest and marshes. The “rose of Sharon” is a kind of crocus. [HBD]

2:2: The bridegroom speaks.

2:3-6: The bride speaks.

2:3: “With great delight ...”: She develops the metaphor of the apple tree, in order to show the delights of his love (“shadow”, “fruit”). [NJBC]

2:4-5: She proclaims her love-sickness. Paradoxically, what causes it is also its cure. [NJBC]

2:7: The bridegroom speaks.

2:7: “gazelles”: See Comment on 2:9. The “daughters of Jerusalem” are commanded solemnly by an oath, sworn on “the gazelles or the wild does”. [NJBC]

2:7: “ do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!”: Love is not artificial or calculated: it has its own time. [NJBC]

2:8-13: REB says that the bride speaks all these verses, but NJBC says that 2:10-13 are spoken by the bridegroom.

2:9: JBC notes that the word translated “gazelle” is saba’ot, which is also the word for [Lord of] hosts.

2:10-13: NJBC says that the bridegroom’s invitation to the bride includes celebration of the changes she has made in him, which are compared to the change in the seasons.

Comments: his darling (in another translation): The translation is the REB.

2:11-13: The description of Spring has been called the most beautiful song to nature in the Old Testament. [NJBC]

2:14: The bridegroom speaks.

2:14: “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff”: REB translates the Hebrew as My dove, that hides in holes in the cliffs or in crannies on the terraced hillside. “Cleft” and “covert” are sexual symbols, as are the muzzles of the foxes (in v. 15). [NJBC]

2:15: REB says that the daughters of Jerusalem speak, but NJBC says that the bride speaks: The woman answers his request with a saucy reply, a tease. [NJBC]

2:16-17: The bride speaks.

2:16: The words are almost a formula to express mutual possession. 6:3 says “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies” and 7:11 “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages”. [NJBC]

2:16: “the lilies”: i.e. the delights he finds in her person. [JBC]

2:17: She invites him to be like a “gazelle” (v. 9) on the “mountains”, i.e. herself. [NJBC] 4:5-6 says “Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.”

Psalm 45:1-2,7-10

Superscription: “Of the Korahites”: The Korahites were the Levitical group responsible for singing in the Temple: see 2 Chronicles 20:19. They are also mentioned in the superscriptions of Psalms 42; 44; 46-49; 84; 85; 87-88. [CAB]

This psalm is extremely old. Some of the Hebrew is obscure. [NJBC]

Verse 6: “Your throne, O God”: The king seems to be addressed as God. Kings were seen as divine in other nations in the ancient Near East. This is the only possible occurrence of this notion in the Bible. This verse is quoted in Hebrews 1:8. [NOAB]

Verse 6: “God”: The Hebrew word is elohim, which usually means God but can mean superhuman being. In 2 Samuel 7:14ff, David is compared to a messenger of elohim; Zechariah 12:8 compares David’s “house” to elohim. Members of the heavenly court were called sons of elohim. Elohim connotes a realm of being higher than that of an ordinary mortal. Because the king was anointed and had a special relationship with Yahweh, he was considered a sacral being, something divine. Some have attempted to translate the phrase as your throne is a divine one. [JBC]

Verse 7: “God, your God”: JBC considers that before this psalm was northernized, this read Yahweh, your God.

Verse 8: “ivory palaces”: 1 Kings 22:39 speaks of the “house” King Ahab built as being an “ivory house”. Amos 3:15, in predicting the downfall of the king, says “the houses of ivory shall perish”.

Verse 9: “Ophir”: 1 Kings 10:11 speaks of “gold” and “almug wood and precious stones” from Ophir being gifts from the queen of Sheba to Solomon. [JBC]

Verse 10: “daughter”: It seems that the scribe is sufficiently distinguished that he can call the bride “daughter”. [JBC]

Verse 12: The bride may be from Tyre (see also v. 10), or (the Hebrew being obscure), a gift to her may be Tyrian linen. [NJBC]

James 1:17-27

I think James is related to Old Testament wisdom in many ways. What matters in one's lifestyle is “right living”, “right action” (orthopraxy) in relation to the rest of the community (including those outside the church, presumably). This is to live the gospel as an agent of God's mercy to the world. Caring for widows and orphans is “true religion”.

There is perhaps an echo of Isaiah 55:11 here, too. “My word ... shall not return empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The gospel as word is not simply to be heard but to be enacted, so that the word may accomplish God's purpose.

I think there is a distinction between acting on one's own in response to the command of God, and acting as an agent of God's word, by God's strength. V. 17 makes this clear. “Every generous act of giving ... is from above.” In other words, it is not us who give but God (in us, or through us).

Luther considered James a “straw epistle”, mainly I suspect because it deals so much with orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy. Luther's emphasis was on justification by grace through faith, but James says (rightly I think) “show me your works, and I will see your faith.”. [Alan Perry]

Verse 17: “Father of lights”: Two documents from the first century speak of the “prince of lights”: 1QS (Rule of the Community) 3:20 and CD (Damascus Document) 5:18. 1QS 3:20 says: “In the hands of the Prince of Lights is dominion over all the sons of justice; they walk on paths of light.” CD 5:17-18 says: “... For in ancient times there arose Moses and Aaron, by the hand of the prince of lights ...”

Verses 18-19: These verses depend on a baptismal liturgy. See also 1 Peter 1:22-2:2.

Verse 18: “In fulfilment of his own purpose”: Unlike the blind forces that give birth to sin. V. 14 says: “one is tempted by one’s own desire, being enticed and lured by it.”

Verse 18: “first fruits”: The first part of the harvest was to be offered to God: see Leviticus 23:10; Numbers 15:21; Deuteronomy 18:4. Paul uses “first fruits” in two senses:

  • in referring to pioneer converts (see Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:15, where the NRSV translates the Greek as “first convert(s)”), and
  • gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:23).

In James, it appears that the author and his readers have already experienced divine birth, which is ultimately destined for all humans.

Verse 19: “quick to ... slow to anger”: These admonitions are common in the Old Testament and in the Qumran Literature: see Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Proverbs 14:29; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3; Sirach 5:11-13; 20:5-8; 1QH (Qumran Hymns) 9:34-37 (Vermes: 1:34-37). [NJBC]

Verse 22: NJBC says that this verse is a summary of the book. It is like Romans 2:13. Christianity as a religion of deeds is characteristic of James. For this notion in the gospels, see Matthew 7:24-27 (and parallels); Luke 8:21; 11:28. For the Old Testament background, see Deuteronomy 4:5-6, 13-15; Ezekiel 33:31-32. [NJBC]

Verse 25: “law”: James lacks the distinction between law and gospel; rather he qualifies the word law when he uses it. This is like the spirit of Matthew 5:17-19 (the Sermon on the Mount). “Perfect law” is usually a Jewish description of Mosaic law, but here the term is applied to the gospel. [NOAB]

Verse 25: “blessed”: The happiness of the person who does God’s will. Psalm 1:1-2 says: “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD ...”. See also Matthew 5:3-11 (the Beatitudes). [NOAB]

Verses 26-27: See Matthew 25:35-36. [NOAB]

Verse 27: “Father”: Psalm 68:5 speaks of God’s fatherly care of widows and orphans. [JBC]

Verse 27: “orphans and widows”: They are the natural objects of charity in the community. See Deuteronomy 27:19; Sirach 4:10; Acts 6:1. [JBC]

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

The parallel is Matthew 15:1-20.

This passage stresses the central importance of the purity of food and food containers for all Jews, but especially for Pharisees (meaning “pure ones”) and scribes, i.e. those responsible for showing the relevance and specific requirements of Mosaic law. Jesus appeals to Isaiah to show that what matters most is personal dedication to God and his will, rather than formal – often evasive – conformity to legal precepts. The real sources of evil are not ritual pollution from without, but corruption within the human heart – the seat of will, and not merely of emotions (as we think today). [CAB]

Verse 2: “defiled”: The issue is not one of hygiene, but rather failure to follow traditional Jewish practices of ritual purification. [NJBC]

Verse 3: “tradition of the elders”: The Pharisees claimed traditions in which the great leaders of Israel formed a chain back to Moses, i.e. unwritten law, aural torah (later recorded in the Mishnah, the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud.) [JBC]

Verse 4: In Matthew 23:25, Jesus warns: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence”. See also Luke 11:39. [NOAB]

Verse 5: In Galatians 1:14, Paul tells us of his early zealousness for the Law. [NOAB]

Verses 6-7: The quotation is from the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 29:13: This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men, [BLXX] but note that there are differences. NOAB hypothesizes that Mark used a collection of (inexact) quotations from the Septuagint. [NOAB]

Verse 8: “human tradition”: The Pharisees and scribes would have argued that they were making practical and concrete teachings that were not clear in the law. [NJBC] Also, the aural torah formed a protective wrapper round Mosaic law, thus making it most unlikely that a Jew would commit a serious sin by transgressing the Law itself.

Verses 9-13: Jesus illustrates his point by speaking of “Corban” (Greek: korban). A child could, per the aural torah, declare possessions to be korban, i.e. an offering to God. He still enjoyed the use of them. At that time, the Commandment to “Honour your father and mother” was interpreted as giving parents a right to a child’s possessions. Making possessions korban circumvented a child’s obligations to his parents under the Law. Some later Jewish teachers agreed with Jesus. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “defile”: Defilement rendered one unfit to share in public worship. See also Acts 10:14-15 (Peter’s vision) and 1 Timothy 4:3.

Verse 16: Most important manuscripts omit this verse.

Verse 19: “Thus he declared all foods clean”: “Clean” here means ritually clean. The question arises: if Jesus was so clear about food laws, why was the issue debated in the early Church? See Galatians 2:11-14 (Paul rebukes Peter at Antioch); Romans 14:14-20; Colossians 2:20-23; Acts 10:14-15. [NJBC]

The answer, I think, is that the comment “thus he declared” is Mark's commentary on Jesus' statement. Given that Mark was written after the events recorded in Acts (notably Peter's vision), perhaps Mark is here finding in the words of Jesus justification of the ultimate decision to relax the dietary laws.

Oddly enough, if that is the case, then Mark is acting in the way the Pharisees operated! In other words, he is establishing in the new oral tradition (i.e. the words of Jesus) that there is a teaching validating a new interpretation of the written Law. The Pharisees believed in a two-fold Law, one written and the other oral. This latter law is chiefly what separated them from the Sadducees. [Alan Perry]

Verses 21-23: For other such lists of vices, see Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 1:29-31; 1 Peter 4:3; Wisdom 14:25-26. Many of the elements were common in the Greco-Roman world and in Judaism. See 1QS (Qumran Rule of the Community) 4:9-11. [NJBC]

1QS 4:9-11 says:

“... to the spirit of deceit belong greed, frailty of hands in the service of justice, irreverence, deceit, pride and haughtiness of heart, dishonesty, trickery, cruelty, much insincerity, impatience, much insanity, zealousness about wrong things, appalling acts performed in a lustful passion, filthy paths for indecent purposes, blasphemous tongue, blindness of eyes, hardness of hearing, stiffness of neck, hardness of heart in order to walk in all the paths of darkness and evil cunning. ...” [Martinez]
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