Friday, 28 November 2014

Studying Theology

“Theology is primarily speaking about God; but, since God is by definition not available for inspection as an object in the laboratory, this entails speaking about the imprint of God on human lives – and thus what humanity looks like when exposed to an active, intelligent transcendent reality. Many who study theology may not believe for sure that this sort of language describes a real state of affairs in the universe rather than just a state of affairs in the human mind; but they study because the images of humanity and its world that come from such language remain fertile, provocative and significant at many levels.

For those who do believe, for whom the biblical languages and the history of religious reflection and action still represent a world to inhabit, theology has the added excitement of being the exploration of a relationship more comprehensive and transforming for human beings than anything else.”

The Right Reverend Dr Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, in a letter dated 26th November 2009 commending the first issue of The Oxford Theologian. He expresses “the conviction that what is done here in the name of theology really has the capacity to help build that critical and creative spirit without which no culture can live – and, for those of us who do think it’s about a reality greater than the human mind alone, the capacity to open us further to a transfiguring grace, a worship of intellect and heart together.”

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Dreams in the Joseph Story

There are three sets of dreams in the Joseph narrative. Each set contains one dream relating to grain (bread/wheat) because the provision of food plays a key role in the story.

The first set are Joseph’s dreams. They foreshadow his eventual rule (cf. Genesis 37:8). The first dream has sheaves of grain bowing to Joseph's bundle of sheaves. Its duplicate reinforces the aspect of rule by featuring sun, moon and stars (cf. Genesis1:16; see also Psalm 136:8-9).

The second set of dreams belong to people who used to serve the king. The dreams feature bread and wine. Given that the dreamers used to be Pharaoh’s baker and chief cupbearer, this is not surprising. But bread and wine are significant in their own right (cf. Genesis 14:18). They speak of sustenance and gladness (cf. Psalm 104:15). There is arguably nothing in Biblical theology that encapsulates God’s provision for his people better than bread and wine.

Pharaoh’s dreams are the final set. They feature cows and grain. As with the previous set, grain/bread comes in the second position, as if to underline that the theme introduced in the very first dream of the narrative is the one towards which everything is heading. But why does its duplicate feature cows? Most likely because the Hebrew word for cow relates to the word for being fruitful (already used ten times in the book of Genesis; see also 41:52; 47:27; 48:4). The final use of the root in the book of Genesis is to describe Joseph as a fruitful vine (49:22, twice).

The dreams tell a fuller story than it might at first appear to the eye. Joseph’s dreams are not simply about him ruling over his siblings, let alone ruling it over them. The dreams speak of God’s provision being offered in leadership that is fruitful for others.

PS: "Pharaoh" comes from the Egyptian for "great house" but this designation of the king of Egypt sounds a little like the Hebrew for "fruitful".

NB: When the King gives life, he gives abundanlty (wine), hence the cupbearer is restored. When the King withdraws life, even the basics (bread) are gone, hence the baker is executed.