Death and the Curse in the Garden of Eden—and Beyond

A new online article that I wrote on the topic of death in the Garden of Eden has now been posted to the website of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.

Here is a summary of the article:

It has been a common (though not universal) assumption in the history of Christian thought that humans were created immortal, and only lost their immortality with the entrance of death as the consequence for sin. This is, however, a misreading of the biblical data, which suggests that humans were created mortal with the possibility of attaining eternal life—a possibility that was lost through sin and is now realized in Jesus Christ.

Were Humans Mortal before the Fall?

The article is published in an online journal of the Henry Center called Sapientia, in the Areopagite forum (the Aereopagus was the meeting place in Athens where Paul preached in Acts 17).

My piece is the first in a series of blog posts that were invited to respond to the question Were humans mortal before the fall? Each blog post will give a different author’s perspective on this issue.

The Creation Project

I’ve been involved for three years now with the Creation Project of the Henry Center, which has explored the themes of Reading Genesis (2016), the Doctrine of Creation (2017), and Theological Anthropology (2018).

Each summer (in June) the Creation Project has run a conference (called Dabar, Hebrew for “word”) on the topic for the year, held on the site of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, near Chicago.

At the first two Dabar conferences I gave paper responses, first to a paper on Genesis 1–11 (2016) and then to a paper on God as an Agent (2017).

Death, Immortality, and the Curse

This year (2018) I was invited to write a paper for the conference, which will have two respondents (one by a theologian, the other by a biblical scholar). I’ve been asked to give a brief response to my respondents.

My paper is entitled: “Death, Immortality, and the Curse: Interpreting Genesis 2–3 in the Context of the Biblical Worldview.”

It’s an expansion of the shorter Sapientia article, attempting to connect the discussion of death and mortality (from that article) with the broader “ecological” picture of how humans affect the non-human world for good or ill, which is first articulated by the “curse” on the ground because of human sin (Genesis 3:17).

The shorter article, entitled “Humans Created Mortal, with the Possibility of Eternal Life,” is available online.

My Ambiguous Relationship with Carl Henry

For those interested, you can check out the blog post I wrote in anticipation of attending the first Dabar conference (2016), where I recounted my initial (unpleasant) encounter with Carl Henry over twenty years before.

Luckily, my experience with the Henry Center has been much more positive than that early encounter. In my evaluation of the 2016 conference, I wrote:

“I found the atmosphere of the Dabar conference to be collegial and open. While the presenters, respondents, and other participants did not agree on everything, there was a welcoming hospitality between everyone, regardless of viewpoint.”

I later recounted my experience of the second Dabar conference (2017), where I was a respondent to philosopher Billy Abraham.

I’m very much looking forward to this year’s conference.

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Dominion: The Image of God and the Feminine Experience

Probably no other topic has engaged my interest as the imago Dei—what it means for humans to be made in God’s image.

My interest in the topic began as a personal exploration of my own identity and has blossomed over the years into a long-term research project. It turns out that there are more facets to the imago Dei than are dreamed of in our theology.

Besides my book The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos, 2005), I’ve written over a dozen journal articles, book chapters, encyclopedia entries, and blog posts on various aspects of the subject. And I am deepening my understanding of the imago Dei all the time.

The Image of God in the Ancient Near East and in the Modern World

I was recently interviewed on the subject of the image of God by Deb Gregory for the Betwixt podcast series.

The interview I participated in, which is fifth in a series on “The Image of God and the Feminine Experience,” addresses whether the so-called “functional” interpretation of the imago Dei, which involves human “rule” or “dominion” over the earth (a view that I have argued for in my writings), excludes women—either explicitly or implicitly.

Deb Gregory starts the podcast with an excellent overview of the ancient Near Eastern background to the functional view of the image of God, then raises the question of whether this includes women.

The thirty-five minute interview starts at about the ten minute mark, and is followed by Deb’s brilliant five-minute meditation on implications of the discussion.

You can listen to the podcast  on the Missio Alliance website or on Sound Cloud, which is the home for Betwixt podcasts.

Here is Deb’s description of the interview topic:

Near the end of the twentieth century, the Functional View of the image of God emerged with virtual consensus among Old Testament scholars. The discovery of ancient texts which used “image of God” language in reference to kings and cult images led scholars to recast the imago Dei in terms of how a king or priest functions as a royal representation of God.

The Functional View asserts that man was created to be God’s physical representation on earth and to function as his agent and vice-regent in exercising dominion. But what about women? Was Eve also made in the image of God or was she a derivation of the man from whom she was extracted? Did she also possess this royal dominion or was she created to submit under the authority of the man who acted alone as God’s royal representative?

In conversation with theologian J. Richard Middleton, Betwixt explores the Functional View along with questions it raises about dominion, power, gender, ecology, and politics.

The Betwixt Podcast Series on the “Image of God”

If you are interested, you can access all the podcasts on the “The Image of God and the Feminine Experience” on the Missio Alliance website.

1. Introduction to the Image of God & the Feminine Experience

2. Female Men of God & the Early Church

3. Are Women Rational? Let’s Ask Google!

4. Sex Difference & the Image of God

5. Dominion

Other Betwixt Podcasts (including interviews with Walter Brueggemann)

You can listen to other Betwixt podcasts here, including a couple of great conversations with Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.

Why “Betwixt”?

Here is the website explanation of what the Betwixt podcast tries to accomplish:

The Betwixt podcast is devoted to the betwixing space where faith and culture converge. This intersection, at once sacred and dangerous, sanctions the shedding of our past and the mantling of our becoming. Conversations with fascinating guests will coax us out of our ideological trenches with betwixting stories from the middle space.

 

Mortimer Planno, Bob Marley, and Rastafari Biblical Interpretation

In two previous blog posts I reported on the theology conference held at the Jamaica Theological Seminary in Kingston (where I did my formative theological studies many years ago) and the trip some of us took afterwards to two Rastafarian heritage sites.

One of our presenters at the theology conference, who was also on the trip, was a Canadian named Christopher Duncanson-Hales. As a Roman Catholic theologian, Duncanson-Hales may have seemed a bit out of place among a largely Protestant group; but he was very familiar with Jamaican culture, and especially with Rastafari.

From his initial visit to Jamaica as a teenager, when he arrived to work with Father Ho Lung’s ministry in Kingston (called the Missionaries of the Poor), he met up with Rastas and intentionally tried to understand their culture and doctrines.

Later, through an extended stay in Jamaica he was apprenticed to the respected Rastafarian elder Sydney DaSilva (president of the Rastafarian Centralization Organization). His many meetings with Ras DaSilva resulted in research notes that became the basis of his academic career focus on Rastafari.

Besides writing his B.A thesis and M.T.S. thesis on Rastafari, Duncanson-Hales addressed Rastafari in his Ph.D. thesis, entitled “The Full Has Never Been Told: Theology and the Encounter with Globalization” (2011, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada).

After completing his Ph.D., he attended the Rastafari Studies Conference and General Assembly Rastafari, held at the University of the West Indies, in Kingston (2013), where he presented a paper entitled “Naming Jah: Who do InI say InI am?” More recently, his article called “Dread Hermeneutics” was published in the journal Black Theology (2017).

A New Research Project on Rastafari

Duncanson-Hales’s next research project is called Echoes of the Memories: A Hermeneutical Investigation of Rastafari Ethnographic Material in the Smithsonian’s Simpson/Yawney Archives. This project will examine the notes of two important ethnographers, who had significant access to Rastafari “reasoning” sessions, with a view to incorporating their analysis into his own study of Rastafari “productive hermeneutics,” that is, how Rastafarians engage the Bible and the world of oppression to produce an alternative symbolic world of hope, at both the oral and visual levels.

The study will also engage in careful analysis of Ras Mortimer Planno’s famous 1969 handwritten treatise, “The Earth Most Strangest Man: The Rastafarian,” which is the first written Rastafari theological statement, almost 200 pages long (also in the Smithsonian archives).

Mortimer Planno (also known as Kumi) was perhaps the most famous Rastafarian elder throughout the history of the movement. Besides being the spiritual teacher of Bob Marley (both lived in Trench Town), Planno is known for having parted the crowd of Rastas who were dancing and drumming on the tarmac at the Kingston airport, in order to make a path for His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I to exit the plane on his historic visit to Jamaica on April 21, 1966.

My father, Jack Middleton, being at the time the head of Special Branch (in the Jamaica Constabulary Force), was in charge of security for Selassie’s visit. Since he knew that Planno was a respected Rasta elder, he asked him to make a path for His Majesty through the crowd of celebrants who had gathered to greet him.

But first he brought Planno up the steps of the plane to meet Selassie in person. After that Planno proceeded to part the crowd of thousands of Rastas so that Selassie could deplane safely.

Ever since, April 21 has been celebrated as Groundation Day by Rastafarians.

My Involvement in the Rastafari Research Project

Duncanson-Hales’s Rastafari projected research project will also involve analysis of the lyrics of Bob Marley’s songs, as they intersect with the Bible and with Planno’s theology.

Although I am not a formal expert on Rastafari, I had many discussions with Rastas on the streets of New Kingston, when I was a teenager. And I have published an essay on the theological vision of the songs of Bob Marley and the Wailers (many of these songs have contributed to the texture of my own spirituality). Also, whereas Duncanson-Hales is a systematic and historical theologian, I am a biblical scholar by training, and can bring my expertise in Old Testament studies to bear on the project.

Therefore I will be lending my expertise as a collaborator on the overall project and as a co-author for selected parts of the study, especially for a book on Rastafari biblical interpretation that would be part of the overall project (Semeia Studies has indicated interest in publishing this).

We are only just in the brainstorming and planning phases for the idea. Given my own prior commitments to book projects, this particular study may be a bit more far off in the future.

We shall see how it develops, Jah willing.