My Born Again Experience, Part 3
Essay #3 opens Book 2 of James Alison’s series and its title is “Who’s afraid of the big bad book? – Part 1”. It plunges on into the question of what the Scriptures reveal when Jesus is our True North, and what adjustments need to be made in one’s thought patterns toward so-called “others” as a result of that revelation.
In the process of engaging in this great work, I discovered it’s one thing to simply get philosophical about having Jesus as my True North, but it’s something else to actually follow a map of the sacred landscape by that realization. I found the prospect of being set free indeed from past socially mimetic conditioning thrilling. I found new ways of being together with people whom I’d once considered “others” refreshing. And I found myself in harmonious resonance with how Abraham must have felt upon hearing from God at Genesis 12:1, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.'” And again at Genesis 13:14-15, “The Lord said to Abram, after Lot has separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward;(14) for all the land which you see I will give to you – and to your descendants for ever.”(15)
It already has been established that having Jesus as our True North means reading sacred text through the eyes of the victim; this sets the map of the sacred landscape properly, but admittedly, there are other options. Among them Alison sets out two alternatives often used by Christians, when they read sacred texts, or sacred “maps”. One is the alternative called a Marcionite reading; the other is called a Fundamentalist reading.
These two alternatives are mental mechanisms empower when dealing with a particularly rough and choppy aspect of the sacred landscape in which there appears to be a conflict between the description of God’s character in the Old Testament and God’s character in the New Testament.
The mechanisms are employed to resolve the conflicts:
Marconite reading – named for Marcion of Sinope, an early Christian interpreter of Scripture. Marcion resolved the conflicts in character that he saw in the texts by concluding that the God in the Old Testament must be a different god altogether than the God working in Jesus. Thus, Marcion ditched the Hebrew Scriptures as a work of a different god and pruned much of the New Testament, save the book of Luke and some other writings.
Fundamentalist reading – is a modern literalist reading of the Scriptures which insists that the words of the Old and New Testaments are from the same God, and all refer to Him in the same way. Fundamentalists resolve the conflicts by using a kind of mental gymnastics to maintain the mimetic rivalry dynamic in place by having God punish Jesus instead of us.
These alternative methods, these mental mechanisms, are not new inventions. They were employed even in the writing of the Old Testament Prophets when they found themselves faced with particularly difficult texts and tumultuous terrain.
One such example, highlighted in Alison’s essay, is the text of Exodus 22:29(b). It reads in full, “You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The first-born of your sons you shall give to me.“(29) (continuing in verse 30) “You shall do likewise with your oxen and with your sheep; seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.”(30)
Apart from the natural reflexes to employ our own interpretive keys to deal with this text, the phrase, “You shall do likewise“, means whatever happened to the oxen and the sheep also happened to the first-born sons. Horrific as those implications are.
This text is dealt with by two Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and they each take a different approach to deal with the issue of child sacrifice; which the people of Israel had taken up as a practice based on Exodus 22:29(b) command.
Jeremiah chooses the Marcionite method, as seen at Jeremiah 19:3-5,
You shall say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold, I am bringing such evil upon this place that the ears of every one who hears of it will tingle.(3)
“Because the people have forsaken me, and profaned this place by burning incense to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, (4) and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come to my mind.'” (5)
Jeremiah says it wasn’t the Lord of Hosts, it was Baal. And three times. I’ve got to push this home because I know you believe it was the Lord who said it “I did not command or decree, nor did it come to my mind.” Blame it on Baal.
Okay, fair enough, but there were those then, as there are today, who said, “But the Scripture clearly says God wants us to do it with our first-born sons likewise as we did/do to our oxen and sheep, and the “this place” that you’re claiming we have profaned is the altar in the temple where we carry out that command. Thank you very much!”
And in Chapter 20, verses one and two, Pashur the Priest and chief officer in the hour of the Lord beat Jeremiah up and threw him in jail for his Marcionism. (Jeremiah 20:1-2)
So, shortly thereafter, here comes Ezekiel, still needing to address this child sacrifice business. He, probably remembering what happened to Jeremiah, takes the Fundamentalist method at Ezekiel 20:23-26,
Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, because they had not executed my ordinances, but rejected my statutes and profaned my sabbaths and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. (23) Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life;(25) and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know I am the Lord.(26)
So either we are dealing with the wrong God, if Marcionism is your True North. Or we’re dealing with a God who is out to destroy us and horrify us with commands to sacrifice our children – and other statutes (plural) that are not good; and ordinances (plural) by which we cannot live, if Fundamentalism is your North.
Both of these positions lead to an additional problem: they’re both from the Old Testament and they contradict one another. While tackling this business of human sacrifice – That’s what’s wrong here – under no circumstances should any person in harmony with the heart of God have said anything other than – Absolutely Not!, regarding this, or any other statue that is not good. That is what it means to have Jesus as your True North.
Alison highlights this in the story of the death of A’chan in Joshua 7. Joshua is leading the people of Israel on their conquest of the land of Canaan. They’ve already defeated Jericho, and now they have set their eyes on the territory of Ai, a much smaller city than Jericho. That, plus their manifest destiny, should make this an easy victory. Joshua sends out 3,000 troops to take the city, but they are defeated, 36 soldiers of Israel lose their lives.
This is not supposed to happen, not to Israel – BECAUSE THEY’RE ISRAEL. This is the logic of the people, and of Joshua. So the people go to Joshua for answers. Chapter 7 lays out the answers they were given.
Somehow, Israel has broken faith with God because someone looted spoils from Jericho; spoils which Joshua told them were all devoted to destruction. So, to solve the problem, Joshua calls for a national lottery that narrows the people down from the tribe to the family to the house. This solution relieves the nation of any doubt the loss to Ai may have put in their minds about themselves, their mission, and the competence of their leader, Joshua. The lot falls, clearing them all from their perceived responsibility, until it fell on A’chan. The man who bears responsibility for the nation’s failure.
So, they all take up stones and torches, they stone A’chan to death, along with all of this household and livestock. All under the impression that this is what God has told them to do. And this belief is confirmed as the Israeli army, out in full force this time: 30,000 soldiers under Joshua’s personal command. They defeat Ai, wiping them out.
However, was the sacrifice of A’chan, or A’chan’s actions, really the answer? Or does it reveal the real problem with the human sacrifice business?
A’chan’s story may be the Sunday morning talking points, but it isn’t the truth.
- Joshua devoted ALL of Jericho’s spoils, not God. (Joshua 6:2-5 & 16-19) Notice we see a difference between what God said to Joshua and what Joshua said to the people.
- Deuteronomy 20:5-8 says that only a man who has built a new house and not dedicated it; a man who has planted a vineyard and not enjoyed its fruit; a man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her; and a man who is fearful and fainthearted – these are the only men who are to stay back from battles.
So Joshua’s decision to only send out 3,000 troops was the real cause of the defeat, as proven by the fact that Joshua sent out 30,000 troops the second time.
All of this gets lost when sacrifice becomes an option. No wonder we read in Hebrews 5:8 concerning Joshua, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day.”
With Jesus as our true North, the problem is resolved when we recognize that Jesus is revealed in the Joshua 7 text as A’chan, the victim. Jesus is out first-born son, a victim, and the idea is that no decent person would sacrifice their son – no one should – ever! With Jesus as our true North this becomes a point of revelation as we look around today and ask ourselves who are we sacrificing as a victim of a “Biblical” statute which “Is not good”?
The answer is revealed in many of the Sunday morning talking points we see today. And while it’s easy to point to the fact that Joshua’s political career started with talking points about a wall falling down — and much is made today about the notion of a wall going up — sacrifices are about the mental mechanisms we use to maintain our mimetic rivalries in whatever form they take.
As for our Old Testament Prophets, God bless them, but they didn’t know what it actually meant to have Jesus as their true North because they didn’t know it was he that they were talking about, not in full. It is we today who have the opportunity to experience this dynamic freedom and live with all, not “others”, delivered from a mimetically rivalristic mentality.
You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. – Let him who has eyes to see, SEE.
By this truth, my life continues to be transformed by the life, death, and post-resurrection accounts of the historical person named Jesus. I hope my story, my born again experience, continues to resonate with you, and you find the inspiration to take in the challenges presented in James Alison’s collection of essays, as I have. Share your own story. Until next time, and always, be in peace.
Dr. Chezeray M. Moore discovered mimetic theory through studying James Alison’s “Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice.” The truths expounded by Girard so profoundly effected Moore’s life that he declares Girard his guru. While Dr. Moore can only be reached by post, he would greatly welcome your correspondence. His address is Dr. Chezeray M. Moore, #B-54755, P.O. Box 1700, Galesburg, IL 61402.
Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice with James Alison is a product of the Raven Foundation with financial support from Imitatio. The essays are published by DOERS Publishing, LLC and are available in print, as e-books, and a video course at most booksellers.
Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.” Articles published do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the staff at the Raven Foundation, but are selected primarily because of the way they enhance the conversation around mimetic theory.