[Milton-L] Re: where's the comfort? and other matters Attn: RS

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Mon Feb 22 14:42:28 EST 2010

Sanford Blackburn didn't write (because Carter Kaplan did):

"I might observe here that the motion of all open and free discussion will invariably move thinking people to positions of ever greater compassion, transparency, honesty, acceptance and understanding."

This hasn't been my experience of "open and free discussion" on the internet . . . or were you speaking ironically? Discussions constantly get hijacked by trolls, flamers, dementors, and similarly mythological-sounding creatures whose intent seems one of destroying all possibility of communicative reason.

Not on the Milton List, of course . . .

Jeffery Hodges

From: Carter Kaplan <carterkaplan at hotmail.com>
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
Sent: Tue, February 23, 2010 3:03:55 AM
Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Re: where's the comfort? and other matters Attn: RS

Dear Richard: 

First, allow me to apologize for the misunderstanding regarding my name. Sanford Blackburn is the name of an ancestor I've used in order to separate several hotmail accounts.  For the purposes of clarity, I've switched my Milton activities to this address, which will post on the list with my actual name, Carter Kaplan.

The King James version you paraphrase is close to the Torah in Exodus 34:7, which reads "--but does not cleanse completely, recalling the inequity of parents upon children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generations."  According to the commentary here, "God does not whitewash sin, for to do so would remove the distinction between good and evil, and would encourage evildoers to feel secure that they can act with impunity, for there will not be retribution."  And then there is a further comment concerning the infliction of punishment for the Golden Calf episode, which represented an exception to this policy.  Exceptions to God's policies, of course, seems to be the theme running through the commentary, and of course makes up much of the substance of the Talmud, but more about this general tenor below.

In the midst of the commentary on 34:7, a note refers the reader to the commentary to Exodus 20:5, which treats the meaning of God's jealous nature in regard to the worship of other beings, worship that is rightfully is due to him alone.  Commentary here shifts its focus to the sins of fathers upon children, and the theme here is rather historical or cultural in nature rather than divine; that is, the explanation of how sin affects generations is understood as rational historical process, which I gather is the point of the text itself.  God is simply observing the natural effects of "sin" upon communities, cultures and nations.  The commentary concludes here on the theme or tenor of moderation (indeed, reform) that is characteristic of the Talmudic discussion: "the sins of parents does not go beyond the fourth generation. However, the next verse states that Godshows kindness to thousands of generations, meaning for at least two thousand generations
 into the future. Thus, the reward of good deeds is five hundred times as great as the punishment for sin (Tosefta, Sotah 3.4)."

(Ezekiel 19 will disavow the passing down of sins from generation to generation--that theme of reform and movement to greater mercy, again?)

The commentary on Exodus 34:14 simply refers the reader again to 20:5.  In related commentary here on this page, the smashing of the Canaanites idols and so on is meant as a preventive measure to keep the people from being corrupted, and indeed much of the commentary here seems to insist that the people's corruption is inevitable, and indeed such was the historical "experience of succeeding Jewish generations in Eretz Yisrael that failed to expel the Canaanites." As the commentary suggests, the Canaanite idols and/or women would seduce the people.  One might assume that the idols were very amiable and the Canaanite women were very attractive.  Certainly that's what the commentary is indicating here.

There is one point here that is curious--perhaps this is the point of the passage and/or this is what is of most importance to the commentators, and that is that even if the Cannanites were amendable to having their alters smashed and accepted Noachide laws, they were still going to be a corrupting influence; that is, he Jewish people were going to be corrupted by the Canaanites. As follow up, it might be interesting to learn about the Canaanites religious system? And of course one wonders what their women must have looked like--said strictly out of anthropological and historical interest, of course.

Anyway, reading the commentaries and attending Torah study is illuminating in two ways--first, the "orthodox" reading of the Torah is seldom literal; that is to say, the language of the Torah is so fraught with archaic figures of speech, strange allegories and exotic metaphors that you can never really be to sure of the meaning, and it is necessary to speak with people who are deeply involved in the debate over meaning and significance. Second, the meaning and indeed the movement of the commentary is always towards rationality, reason, and logic; and the theological thrust of this rational discussion consistently moves the reader into a theological understanding of a god who is loving, merciful, reasonable, and forgiving. Indeed in this respects it perfectly patterns the movement in similar Christian discussion--indeed, it is hard to escape the impression that Judaism and Christianity really are expressions of the same religious aspiration. I might
 observe here that the motion of all open and free discussion will invariably move thinking people to positions of ever greater compassion, transparency, honesty, acceptance and understanding. The advantages to statecraft, science and economic development made possible by this open discussion are obvious.

Carter Kaplan


From: antinomian2 at hotmail.com
To: carterkaplan at hotmail.com
Subject: FW: [Milton-L] Re: where's the comfort? and other matters
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 2010 11:57:43 -0500

> From: rastrier at uchicago.edu
> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Re: where's the comfort? and other matters
> To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
> Date: Sun, 21 Feb 2010 21:09:29 -0600
> Dear Sanford (if I may),
> Thank you for your response. It is one of the few serious ones that I have 
> gotten. I have been slow to respond because I wanted to have time to go back 
> to the passage, as you rightly urge me to do.
> I think that you are right that the passage is about divine love and mercy. My 
> formulation might be a bit crude, since the negative implication is not in the 
> foreground here, but the assertion of absolute divine will is indeed present (and 
> the negative implication follows, logically though not rhetorically here). The 
> ground for His actions is His will (and the relationship with the Hebrews and 
> with Moses that He has chosen to constitute). The fact that the people are stiff-
> necked is brought up a couple of times, and is not directly forgiven. But this 
> passage is indeed one of the great covenantal moments. It is, of course, 
> amazing and beneficent to the relevant group, but I am struck by the jealous 
> God part of it (34:14) -- not good news for the inhabitants of Canaan, whose 
> altars and groves will be destroyed. I am also struck by the fact that the 
> comments on 34: 5-7 that you quote do not deal at all with the assertion that 
> (in the KJ version) God "will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of 
> the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third 
> and the fourth generation." Merciful there?
> Thank you for really providing some meat for discussion, some really rich and 
> complex material. I look forward to learning more.
> ---- Original message ----
> >Date: Fri, 19 Feb 2010 22:27:11 -0500
> >From: Sanford Blackburn <antinomian2 at hotmail.com> 
> >Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Re: where's the comfort? and other matters 
> >To: <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> >
> > Richard, 
> > This in reply to your "first point."
> > To say it is an "assertion of absolute divine power
> > and arbitrariness" is a misreading rooted in not
> > understanding the context in which God is saying
> > this. Further, to assert that God means "I will not
> > have mercy on those on whom I will not have mercy"
> > is a complete inversion of what God is actually
> > saying.
> > In this passage God is showing to Moses as much
> > Divine Goodness as humans can comprehend by
> > revealing His Attribute of Mercy. 
> > In the wake of the Golden Calf incident Moses has
> > come to God evoking the merits of the Patriarchs in
> > seeking forgiveness. Moses is cognizant of the
> > enormity of the sin committed by the people--it is
> > their error, their flaw. But God shows Moses that he
> > is wrong in this sense: the patriarchs may become
> > "depleted;" that is, their merit is finite; and so
> > God will reveal something greater than even the
> > merit of the patriarchs. He reveals to Moses that
> > God's store of mercy is infinite. The infinite mercy
> > is of course beyond human grasp. God will show Moses
> > all possible favor and mercy, though Moses would not
> > be able to grasp it all because of human
> > limitations, but not because of God's lack of
> > generosity (33:20).
> > Then in 34:6-7 God teaches Moses His thirteen
> > attributes, which most of the major commentators
> > list as follows:
> > 1 Hashem - God's name denotes mercy; first, with
> > foreknowledge even before a person sins.
> > 2 Hashem - God's name denotes mercy after someone
> > has sinned.
> > 3 God - This name denotes power, implying a degree
> > of mercy that surpasses even that indicated by the
> > name Hashem.
> > 4 Compassionate - God eases punishment, an does not
> > put people into extreme temptation--he helps people
> > avoid distress.
> > 5 And Gracious - God is gracious even to the
> > undeserving; and he saves people from distress once
> > it has overtaken them.
> > 6 Slow to Anger - with both the righteous and the
> > wicked. God is patient. He gives them time to
> > improve, reflect, and repent.
> > 7 An Abundant in Kindness - God is kind to all, even
> > those who lack personal merits. Also, if one's
> > behavior is evenly balanced between virtue and sin,
> > God tip the scales of judgement toward the good.
> > 8 And Truth - God always keeps his word to reward
> > those who serve Him.
> > 9 Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations
> > - Even though people are required by the Torah to
> > perform certain deeds, God regards these deeds as if
> > they are kindnesses done to Him. And He "preserves"
> > those deeds for the benefit of succeeding
> > generations, so that even less virtuous generations
> > can benefit from the work of their forebears
> > God forgives three categories of sin:
> > 10 Iniquity - i.e. intentional sin, which God
> > forgives if the sinner repents.
> > 11 Willful Sin - even a sin that is committed to
> > anger God can be forgiven, which God forgives if the
> > sinner repents.
> > 12 And Error - a sin committed out of apathy or
> > carelessness; also will be forgiven by god.
> > 13 And Who Cleanses - When someone repents God
> > cleanses his sin, so that the effects of the sin
> > vanishes. However, if a sinner does not repent, God
> > does not cleanse. According to Sfomo, God cleanses
> > fully those who repent out of love; those who repent
> > out of fear of retribution receive only partial
> > cleansing.
> > Richard, I submit to you that the God in Exodus
> > 33:19 is indeed most comforting: reasonable,
> > merciful, loving and forgiving.
> > Quoted or paraphrased from the commentary to the
> > Stone edition of The Chumash.
> > Carter Kaplan
> > www.carterkaplan.blogspot.com 
> >
> > > From: rastrier at uchicago.edu
> > > To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
> > > Date: Fri, 19 Feb 2010 15:34:02 -0600
> > > Subject: [Milton-L] Re: where's the comfort? and
> > other matters
> > >
> > > Three points:
> > >
> > > 1) I am puzzled as to where the comfort is in " "I
> > will be gracious to whom I will
> > > be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will
> > show mercy" (Exodus 33:19). It
> > > is an assertion of absolute divine power and
> > arbitrariness. Clearly it also implies
> > > that I will not have mercy on those on whom I will
> > not have mercy, etc.
> > >
> > >
> > > Cheers,
> > > RS
> > >
> > >
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------
> >
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