Monday, May 21, 2007

Temple Theology--Margaret Barker

I spent much of the last week devouring books by the Methodist English scholar Margaret Barker. Her web page here and viewable online writings of hers here. Her approach is called Temple Theology.

As I was saying I read basically all her books during the last week. There are only two other writers in recent memory where I have done this--taken all their books in a continuous string of sittings. Those two writers are Ken Wilber and Thomas Barnett. Meaning in other words, that Barker has radically and fundamentally changed my way of seeing the world, particularly Christian theology. Just as Wilber did philosophically and Barnett did politically.

In a sense I knew even when writing the beginning drafts of my first work (Mystical Theology) in Integral Christianity that something was missing. Not in the sense of the mystical theology itself, but in a larger frame of the Christian narrative. Which would be vol.2 anyway, on Biblical theology. Barker was that missing piece and in a sense I now feel my thinking on Integral Christianity has reached a kind of fulfillment. At least in the 3 main areas of my interest: mystical theology, Biblical theology, inter-religious dialogue, and ethics (including political). Where there is still work to be done is on the nature of the Church (ecclessiology) as well as mission (missiology) and evangelism.

There are so many layers to her argument, I'll be returning to this theme over and over again I assume for many a post to come. Particularly as I work out for myself the implications of her main theses.

The key argument concerns the First (and to a lesser degree Second) Temple in Jerusalem and the theology that grew up out of that context. Here called Temple but also known as Royal Theology.

A timeline here is valuable.

Kings David and Solomon (if they existed or someone[s] like them anyway) would have been around the year 1000-950 or so. We do have good reliable information that the united tribes split into two kingdoms: Judah (South) and Israel (North) by 900.

The Northern Israelite Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians in the year 721. But during the 9th century BCE the Northern Kingdom was the rich prosperous powerful one and Judah (with Jerusalem) was actually the backwater.

Judah hung around until the destruction of the Temple and the Exile by the Babylonians in the year 587 BCE.

Right before that destruction, during the reign of King Josiah, around the year 610 or so a major reform of Jewish religion was undertaken. This group we call today the Deutoronomists---from the Greek for "Second Law". The D writers crafted a history of Israel & Judah during the reigns of the Kings. This text known as the Deut. History (DH) consisted of the book of Deuteronomy, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, and possibly large sections of Joshua and Judges.

Their Reform consisted of a cleansing of elements of the older Temple Theology. [More on that later]. You can read the account of the finding of the Book of the Law in 2 Kings Ch.22. The priest Hilkiah claims to have discovered an ancient (and lost) Book of the Law in the Temple. This Book is undoubtedly the Book of Deuteronmy, which is included in the Five Books of Moses (Pentateuch). The work clearly was not written by Moses and is the work of the contemporary scribes.

Josiah thereby takes a major reform of the religion based on this text. This includes taking out an "Asherah" from the Temple (more on that as well) and tries to shut down cultic sites anywhere expect the Temple.

The DH makes clear that the religion of the agricultural majority involved not only worship of YHWH the God of the Israelites but his consort (usually Asherah). Interestingly the DH writer is strong in its emphasis on Moses and the Exodus Tradition.

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament for Christians) that we have today is largely the work of the editing of the Deuteronomists. Most of them went into the exile and returned under the edict of Persian King Cyrus the Great to rebuild the Temple. Especially under the leadership of the priest/governor figures of Nehemiah and Ezra. Ezra reads the Book of the Law to the people. The Torah was edited by the D authors in the exile (and they likely also edited to their own position the Prophet Jeremiah).

So the Bible we have today is largely a work that excluded the older (or at least contemporaneous) Royal-Temple Theology. Barker argues persuasively that Christianity takes over the Theology of the First Temple within years of the death/resurrection of Jesus.

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