Choose a topic from Vol 5:

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

The Faith of Israel

The Faith of Israel

The Importance of Man

The Importance of Man

Origin of the Gospels

Origin of the Gospels

The Divine Redeemer

The Divine Redeemer

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church

The Papacy

The Papacy

The Biblical Tradition

The Biblical Tradition

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Liturgy and Sacraments

Liturgy and Sacraments

Moral Problems

Moral Problems

Final Realities

Final Realities

The Ecumenical Movement

The Problem of Disunity
Reactions Among Non-Catholics
Bewildered Catholics
Combined Unity Services
Mutual Bible Study
Prospects of Reunion

The Faith of Israel

18. What is meant by calling the Bible the inspired Word of God?

By biblical inspiration we mean that God so positively influenced the human authors of the different books in the Bible as to make those authors His instruments for committing to writing, each in his own contemporary style, precisely what God wanted to be written. God, therefore, is the principal Author of the books, the human agents only the secondary and instrumental authors. Of each of the books we can say: "Thus saith the Lord", knowing it to contain the Word of God.

19. Are inspiration and revelation one and the same thing?

Not necessarily; for a biblical writer may have been inspired by God to commit to writing things naturally known to him and not needing to be revealed to him. On the other hand, it could be that here and there in an author's inspired writings events may be described which could be due only to God's direct intervention or doctrines may be taught which could have been made known to him only by divine revelation. The Second Vatican Council, in its "Constitution on Divine Revelation", n.II (Nov. 18, 1965) said: "Since everything asserted by the inspired authors must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Holy Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." We have to ask ourselves, therefore, what each of the inspired human authors intended to assert for the sake of our religious welfare, whatever the literary forms he might use in which to do so; and, above all, where the Old Testament is concerned, we must remember that God manifested His plan for us only partially and progressively as a preparation for the coming of the fulness of the truth in Christ, the very Word of God made flesh in the Incarnation and put before us in the writings of the New Testament.

20. Why have Catholics 46 books in their Old Testament, whereas only 39 appear in Protestant editions?

Over a century before the appearance of Christianity the Jews had two forms of the Old Testament. One consisted of 39 books written in Hebrew and used mainly in Palestine. The other consisted of 46 books written in Greek by the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria in Egypt. This included the 39 Hebrew books translated into Greek, with seven other books added which were also regarded as divinely-inspired. This Alexandrian Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, was produced by Jews for Jews and was accepted by all Greek-speaking Jews even in Palestine. Christians from the very beginning adopted it, the New Testament authors who wrote in Greek basing some 300 of their references out of 350 on the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. In the 16th century A.D. the Protestant reformers decided to make their own translations from the Palestinian Hebrew text and this disposed them to limit themselves to the 39 books it contained. Many of their presentday scholars regret the omissions of the additional Greek Septuagint books and urge the restoration of them to their English versions of the Old Testament.

21. What was the historical origin of the Jews?

They trace themselves back to Abraham. Thus St. John the Baptist warned the Jews of his own day not to boast: "We have Abraham for our father" (Matt., 3:9), as if that provided themselves with a security of inherited blessings which could not be forfeited by any infidelity on their part. The word "Jew", however, comes from Juda, a great-grandson of Abraham, and meant originally a member of the tribe of Juda. Abraham had a son named Isaac, who in turn had a son named Jacob. Jacob's name was changed to "Israel" which can be interpreted as "God Rules" - and his twelve sons, one of them named Juda, became the founders or patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. Today all are called Jews who are derived from any of the twelve tribes of Israel and the term is not restricted to those who are descendants of the tribe of Juda only.

22. Do not the Jews look to Moses as their Lawgiver and Prophet?

Yes; but he too was a descendant of Abraham. As a matter of fact, the Jews see themselves as a people brought into existence by a whole series of extraordinary Acts of God. These began about 2000 B.C. in Mesopotamia with the conversion of Abraham from paganism and God's bidding him to migrate southwards, promising by a special covenant blessings upon both himself and his posterity, blessings to be mediated through that posterity to all nations. God's initial interventions reached their climax about 1300 B.C. when He commissioned Moses, who had been born of Israelite parents in Egypt, to liberate the children of Abraham from slavery under an oppressive Pharaoh there. Moses organised their exodus from Egypt across the Red Sea, reconstituted them as the "People of God" under the covenant of Mt. Sinai, and led them through the deserts of Arabia to a homeland of their own in Canaan. These events remained an indelible memory among the Israelites, a basic principle of cohesion as a people chosen by God to be recipients of His messages at the hands of their succession of prophets. In fact, they attained to a knowledge of God far superior to anything found among the Indians, Persians and Greeks, who were culturally much more gifted peoples. All this is a startling phenomenon of history, not only presupposing God's existence but indicating a revelation of His purposes for mankind. Benjamin Disraeli, England's Prime Minister 1874-1880, asked once for a proof of God's existence, replied simply: "The Jews". No other people, dispersed among the nations, has so preserved its identity and character as a nation through more than 4000 years. There is nothing in history like this single people held together by its succession of Old Testament prophets proclaiming God and the truth of His covenant with Abraham. Despite their rejection of the fulfilment of God's promises in Christianity, the Jews still have a unique mission as witnesses to the reality of God's covenant with Abraham.

23. Who wrote the biblical account of mankind's origin?

That account occurs in the book of Genesis which introduces the Pentateuch or first five books of the Old Testament. It was the general belief of the Jews and of Christians also for many centuries that Moses himself wrote the Pentateuch. From about the 17th century onwards, however, biblical scholars, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, questioned this assumption owing to a critical analysis of both the contents and the style of the books. It is now accepted that the books of the Pentateuch are composite works based on documents written by different inspired authors between the 9th and 5th centuries B.C., with various adjustments according to the religious conditions of their own times, but substantially embodying ancient oral traditions which went back to the time when Israel became a distinct people, that is, to the time of Moses. In that sense the Pentateuch can be called Mosaic in origin. This academic problem in no way, of course, affects its divine inspiration; nor does it hinder our popularly ascribing to Moses the teachings the books contain.

24. According to some recently discovered human fossils, man has existed on earth for some millions of years.

It has been reported that in 1959, Dr. Leakey, a British anthropologist, found a human skull at Olduvai, East Africa, which the potassium argon dating process showed to be 1,750,000 years old, nearly a million and a half years older than the fossil remains of Peking man who lived a mere 300,000 years ago. The item was of scientific interest, but not of any great importance in the light of modern biblical studies.

25. Whence came the idea that man was created only about 4,000 B.C.?

Jewish scholars of old thought they could calculate the age of mankind by adding up the ages of the generations mentioned in the book of Genesis between Adam and Abraham. In 1650 A.D. the Anglican Archbishop Ussher, working on similar lines, concluded that creation occurred on Saturday, October 22, 4004 B.C. The Masonic Calendar, adding 4000 to 1965, makes this the year 5965 after creation. But all biblical scholars today, Jewish, Christian and Masonic, admit that, in view of modern scientific discoveries, it was a mistake to imagine that the age of mankind could be calculated from the pages of the Bible.

26. Did not the writers of Genesis intend to give the history of mankind from Adam to Abraham?

Not precisely as we understand history. For Moses, who lived about 1300 B.C., the history of Israel as the Chosen People of God began with Abraham, who lived about 2000 B.C. That history commences in the twelfth chapter of Genesis. But God had revealed certain religious truths to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Jacob's descendants and above all to Moses himself progressively explaining that the particular calling of Israel was not for Israel's own sake but in order that they might hold a central place in God's plan for the salvation of all humanity. These religious truths included the fact that the God of Israel was the sole Creator of the whole universe and of the human race; that the first representatives of the human race had sinned by rebellion against Him but that He had promised a Redeemer to come; and that this Redeemer would arise from among the descendants of Abraham. The writers of Genesis, inspired to teach these religious truths, composed a kind of preface to history showing how the way was prepared for God's covenant with Abraham and for the emergence of Israel. This preface, given in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, was written in the largely symbolical style of those times, its main purpose being to embody in it an account of God's dealings with men and the continuity of His plan of salvation for them from the very beginning. To bridge the interval back from Abraham to Adam - Moses had no idea of how long that was - a custom of the Israelites was followed, namely, that of giving the genealogies of clans or tribes by listing prominent patriarchal names and assigning long eras to them without mentioning intermediate names. The arbitrary rather than the strictly historical nature of the lists given in Genesis is evident from the symmetrical division of ten generations between Adam and Noah, and another ten between Shem and Abraham. What was obviously intended was to bring out the connection of the whole human race with the first man, Adam. It should be noted that, although the first eleven chapters of Genesis are often spoken of as pre-historical, we are not justified in going to the extreme of dismissing them as simply unhistorical. The religious truths they contain are associated with God's intervention at various stages of mankind's development on the level of human historical experience. Naturally we cannot expect the account in Genesis to conform to our modern concept of "scientific history" with its demand for accurate documentation, exact chronologies and statistical detailed analysis, requirements dating only from Renaissance times in the 15th century A.D.

27. It seems that the biblical account leaves unsolved many problems about the creation of the universe and of man.

The realisation of that has long been overdue. The Bible was never intended to be a textbook of the natural sciences. We are left to our own resources where they are concerned. The writers of Genesis, in their day, had not our knowledge of the sciences of geology, archaeology, palaeontology and anthropology. They had no idea of how vast the period was that had elapsed between the first human beings and Abraham, and no merely historical kind of interest in that problem. Their interest was in declaring the religious inclusion of all humanity, reaching right back to the beginning, in the need of redemption from sin and God's plans for it.

28. Genesis tells us that all in this universe is due to creation by God, whereas science says all is due to evolution which is not mentioned in the Bible.

Evolution is a term indicating a process, which in turn supposes something evolving. To account for the "something" which has the innate power of developing in various ways we have to say that God created it. Charles Darwin, who popularised the theory of evolution in his book "The Origin of Species", published in 1859, concluded it by attributing the whole evolutionary process to God, saying: "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or one . . . endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful being evolved." Going far beyond Darwin's intentions, however, atheistic materialists exaggerated his theories and used them in their efforts to discredit the Bible and undermine religion altogether. Christian defenders of religion reacted by upholding a far too literal interpretation of Genesis which their own later biblical studies have shown to have been quite unwarranted. But anything like that 19th century's head-on conflict between science and religion is a thing of the past. Science, philosophy and religion are better aware of their respective fields of work. As for evolution, Pope Pius XII said in his Encyclical "Humani Generis", 1950, that the Church leaves even the development of the human body from lower forms of life an open question provided one admits at least the direct creation of each human soul by God.

29. Were not the books of Father Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. forbidden by the Church in 1957,1962,1965 and 1967 because he made man the product of an evolutionary process?

The Church has never issued a general prohibition of any of Teilhard de Chardin's published writings. The dates mentioned refer to a series of warnings to teachers to safeguard their students against grave philosophical and theological errors in his books. Teilhard de Chardin had the best of intentions. Where men had claimed that there was an antithesis or conflict between science and religion, he claimed that a total view of all reality could result in a single synthesis of both science and religion. So he attempted to blend a scientific evolutionary philosophy with a Christ-centred doctrine of man and man's eternal destiny. His main work in this regard was his book "The Phenomenon of Man." Close examination of the book, however, reveals many ambiguities and many positive difficulties, scientific, philosophical and theological. Teilhard himself realised that he sometimes gave rein to a fertile and unbridled imagination. "People", he wrote, "will wonder whether I have led them on a conducted tour through facts, metaphysics or dreams." He had good grounds for such misgivings. This is not to say that his general idea of a magnificent synthesis of the whole cosmic phenomenon does not open up new lines of thought; but his suggestions need to be worked out and corrected at almost every step along the way, as he himself often admitted.

30. Are we to believe we are members of a fallen human race owing to a sin committed by our first parents, Adam and Eve?

The words "Adam" and "Eve" as first used in Scripture meant simply "the man" and "the woman", only later being regarded as proper names. We have to believe in a first couple from whom all later human beings have descended. Moses knew by divine revelation at least the facts that God had created all things good and that the first man's initial good relationships with God had been disrupted by a sin affecting not only himself but all his posterity. However, he also knew that, on the occasion of that first sin, God in His mercy had promised a future Redeemer. In order to perpetuate this information he embodied it in the vivid and really wonderful story of Adam and Eve, a skilful and dramatic narrative a child could understand and which so catches the imagination of men that once heard it becomes unforgettable. In the form in which the story is told it can be likened to a parable, not all the details of which are to be taken literally.

31. Where was the Garden of Eden?

In the imagination of the writer of Genesis, just as "Utopia" was in the imagination of St. Thomas More as a name for the ideal country he wanted to portray. Genesis tried to illustrate in a concrete and picturesque way the conditions of perfect earthly well-being God had provided for man before sin disrupted relationships with Him.

32. What was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat?

As no tree can literally convey knowledge, the tree in question was obviously symbolical imagery, intended to signify that the first sin was some kind of rebellion against a commandment given by God. As long as they were obedient to God our first parents would know only what was good; but revolt would bring with it the bitter experience of evil also.

33. Were Adam and Eve themselves actual persons?

There are some biblical scholars who profess to believe in original sin and in mankind's fallen state, yet think these need not be anchored to any first two actual persons. But Pope Pius XII, in his Encyclical "Humani Generis", 1950, declared the only authorised Catholic position to be that "original sin proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam." St. Paul, taking the biblical account for granted, wrote to the Romans: "As by one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, so death passed on to all men . . . by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners." Rom., 5:12, 19. Scholars proposing the new theory of polygenism (that is, the evolutionary emergence of primitive groups of human beings) instead of monogenism (that is, the creation of a primitive couple, Adam and Eve) admit their theory to be no more than a possibility only and one involving many difficulties, apart from the fact that, owing to the immense expanse of time, it can in no way be verified by scientific investigation. Father A. M. Dubarle, O.P., who favours the polygenist theory, says in his book "The Biblical Doctrine of Original Sin" that further study may show the fall of two actual first parents and humanity's strict unity of descent from them to be so bound up with biblical teachings and the doctrine of the Church taken as a whole that the new theories will have to be rejected, however plausible supporters thought them to be.

34. Were Cain and Abel genuinely historical figures?

There would be no good reason for doubting that. But here we must recall the nature of the book of Genesis. It is a kind of anthology of the religious traditions of Israel which reached its final form about the 5th century B.C. Some of these traditions had been committed to writing probably as early as the reign of David, about 1000 B.C.; but the different inspired writers based their work substantially on oral traditions and possibly surviving written fragments handed down from Moses who lived about 1300 B.C. and who, as did Abraham (2000 B.C.), belonged to the Neolithic or Later Stone Age in which pastoral and agricultural pursuits were predominant. Such pursuits were quite a late development in human history. Moses himself, as we know, was a shepherd and was in fact tending a flock of sheep when the voice of the Lord called to him from the burning bush, telling him he was to lead the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt. Significantly, Moses described Abel as a shepherd and Cain as a tiller of the soil, occupations proper to his own period in history, yet transferred his references to both of them for his own purposes back into prehistoric times.

35. If Cain and Abel were the only children of Adam and Eve, and Cain killed Abel, where did Cain get his wife?

Gallons of ink have been wasted on that imagined problem. The account in Genesis as it stands makes it clear that Cain and Abel are not even depicted as Adam and Eve's only children. It goes on to say that there were other "sons and daughters". Moreover, that the account takes for granted an already populated world is clear from Cain's fear of death at the hands of his fellow men. In any case, although for the sake of the story, Cain and Abel are described as being the immediate sons of Adam and Eve, in reality such could not have been the case.

36. Why did Cain murder Abel?

Probably, at the time of Moses, there was current among the Israelites a traditional account of a particularly shocking murder within their own remembered past history. An evil-living farmer named Cain felt as a reproach of his own perverse ways the good life of a shepherd named Abel. Yielding to resentment and hatred, he ended by murdering Abel. This would mean that Cain and Abel were at least within the range of the accessible annals of human history, as Adam and Eve were not. No human being was present when God created the world and when our first parents came into existence. There were no natural means of bridging the enormous gap of millions of years between those first events and the earliest periods of human history as we, understand it. This does not mean that Adam and Eve were not actual and real people; it means only that the account of them shows that they belonged to pre-historical times and that the reference to them and to their significance was in order to teach the divinely-revealed truth of mankind's original lapse into sin and of God's promise of a Redeemer to come.

37. Why did Genesis introduce such a story of bloodshed?

Moses was dealing with a primitive Semitic people who, not historically- minded as we are, asked of any story told to them: "What does it mean?" If he linked the story of Cain and Abel with that of our first parents, it was not in order to teach any immediate blood-relationship with our first parents, which would be an anachronism; not that that would trouble people then. Knowing their love for vivid and concrete imagery, he used the Cain and Abel incident as an artificial and literary device, after having described the fall of our first parents, to show the connection of their first and original sin with the sins of all later generations of men, its inherited contagion poisoning, not only men's relationships with God, but their relationships with one another as well. That religious lesson and the explanation of the historical condition in which humanity found itself the people of the time found it easy to grasp. They were just not interested in dissecting the story as regards its various details. The central truth put before them was enough for them. We, of a later age and brought up with a very different mentality, do not see things as they did; but also, very often, we do not see the wood for the trees, nor the real lesson being put before us.

38. Was there any factual basis for the story of the Flood and of Noah and the Ark?

Very similar stories to that contained in Genesis existed in the ancient East, inscribed on tablets much older than the biblical writings. In one of the accounts, the Babylonian "Gilgamesh Epic", an individual who survived a great flood in a vessel of some kind is called "Utnapishtim". The Babylonians dressed up their story with many fanciful details, explaining the flood as due to a mere whim of one of their mythological gods who chose "Utnapishtim" for survival, no longer as a mere man, but as one of the gods like themselves. Disregarding these embellishments, there is little doubt that in the far remote past an immense flood had happened which an individual family had survived, multiplying after the floodwaters had receded. Abraham probably brought the story with him from Mesopotamia, enabling it to be told and re-told among his descendants. Moses, 700 years after Abraham's time, made use of the story for his own religious purposes, eliminating all elements in it unworthy of the true God and emphasising the evil of sin, the divine judgment on corrupt humanity, and the covenanted mercies of God upon which we should still rely with confidence.

39. Could Moses have thought of the Flood merely as one of the dreadful consequences of the Ice Age?

Moses (and later editors of Genesis) had nothing to work on except the various Mesopotamian traditions of an immense flood in the remote past. Modern scientists have argued that if such a flood occurred in fact archaeology should be able to find geological traces of it. Sir Leonard Woolley, about 1930, found in the region of the Euphrates deposits of clay about eleven feet thick, with evidences of habitation beneath them. These clay deposits proved that a great flood must have occurred about 3000 B.C., long before the time of Moses who lived about 1300 B.C. At first Sir Leonard Woolley's find was hailed as evidence of the biblical flood; but it was not ancient nor widespread enough to fit in with Babylonian, Sumerian and Accadian traditions which dated from a much earlier period. Professor W. F. Albright, in his book "History, Archaeology and Christian Humanism" (1965) says on p. 95 that the flood story "is being connected more and more with the floods which devastated south-western Asia about the end of the last Glacial Age, about 9000 B.C. (radiocarbon dating)." The liquidation of vast masses of ice at the end of the last Glacial Period, therefore, could account for the flood around which the various traditions had been built. But a knowledge of the ending of an Ice Age about 9000 B.C. would not be possible in the pre-scientific times of the biblical writers who were not geological experts and knew nothing of radiocarbon dating!

40. Is it true that the remains of Noah's Ark have in fact been found on Mt. Ararat, in Armenia?

During the past 200 years rumours have spread from the small Armenian village of Bayzit, at the foot of Mt. Ararat that something like part of a ship has been seen projecting from one of the glaciers near the mountain top. In 1892 an Armenian explorer, Dr. Nouri, claimed to have inspected it and said that it was a boat-shaped object, covered with a thin layer of lava. After World War II, Russian and American fliers, as a result of aerial observations, said there was "something there" which might be the remains of a ship. In 1960, an American scientific team found the object at an altitude of 6000 feet and discovered from blasting tests that there was nothing under the lava-coating except solid rock. What was supposed to be "Noah's Ark" was only a boat-shaped projection of mountain-side which appeared from time to time as the snow and ice receded and which from a distance impressed people predisposed by persistent rumours to believe it possible that the remains of the Ark were still there. The very idea that there might be surviving relics of the Ark is based on an over-literal interpretation of Genesis. There was a flood. But the "Noah's Ark" story in Genesis was based on lingering traditions of that flood thousands of years afterwards and was intended, not as literal history, but as a kind of religious parable to stress the corruption of men and the justice and mercy of God. No relies of the "Ark" exist anywhere.

41. Is there any truth in the story of the Tower of Babel?

All that we can say is that it illustrates a profound truth. The author of the story took as a symbol of men's ambition and pride one of the huge stepped towers or "ziggurats" - we would call them "skyscrapers" - which were a feature of many Mesopotamian cities. He described those building them as saying to one another: "Let us make a name for ourselves." The lesson is that the efforts of men to build a civilisation without reference to God, one in which they themselves will be supreme and independent of God, are doomed to failure owing to their own inherent sinfulness and perversity. What men need is a salvation from themselves, a salvation of which they are incapable. We must keep in mind that the first eleven chapters of Genesis constituted a prologue to the definite history of Israel. It is in the twelfth chapter that we read of the call of Abraham to be the father and founder of a chosen people of God who were to be privileged and burdened with so leading a part in God's plan of salvation. The prologue had dwelt on the persistence and growth of evil, ruling out hopes of mankind's improvement by its own unaided efforts. What more fitting conclusion of it could there be than the magnificent parable of the Tower of Babel as an introduction to God's historical choice of a people who would provide, not only a long series of prophets to prepare the way of the Lord, but to supply the very lineage from which would be derived mankind's promised Redeemer Himself.

42. Whose leadership do the Jews regard as the more important, that of Abraham or that of Moses?

Undoubtedly, as regards leadership, that of Moses. But the Israelites knew that the leadership itself of Moses was one of the covenanted blessings God had promised to the descendants of Abraham whom they revered as their father and patriarch. Certain it is that the Jews have always regarded their exodus or liberation from captivity in Egypt as one of the most important events in their history, enabling them to survive as a nation instead of being submerged among the Egyptians. Like a refrain remembered ever afterwards, their very definition of God was of the One who had brought them "out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." God chose them, a weak and dispirited people in a condition of slavery, to confound the strong and mighty rulers of Egypt; and they never tired of recalling the power He had exercised on their behalf and the goodness and mercy He had shown them.

43. Was the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea when escaping from the Egyptians miraculous or due to natural agencies?

The Israelites did not cross the present-day Red Sea. At the head of the Gulf of Suez there were fairly shallow reaches of water leading up to the Bitter Lakes. The Hebrew word for these shallow reaches meant the "Sea of Reeds", because of the Papyrus reeds which were plentiful there. Exodus 14:21 tells us that when the Israelites arrived on the scene a "strong wind" drove the waters back, probably towards the Lakes. An out-sized ebb-tide could also have drained other waters south towards the Gulf of Suez. The Israelites were able to cross on the exposed land; but the Egyptians following them were trapped as the waters returned, deep enough to drown them. The Israelites certainly saw in this a manifestation of God's special providence on their behalf. The call of Moses, his commission to lead the people of Israel out of captivity, and the drastic way in which Pharaoh was compelled to let them go - these elements were not natural events; and the Jews have ever since rightly celebrated their exodus or deliverance as miraculous. They would be quite unmoved by any references to the partial intervention of merely natural factors and would simply ask why these should have become operative at that particular time, in that particular way, and with such results.

44. Why did not Moses lead the Israelites by the shorter coastal route to Palestine instead of taking them southwards into the deserts of Arabia?

Egyptian forts and garrisons would be an obstacle to following the shorter route, usually taken by traders. But God had a purpose in directing them by the longer route. It was to be more than a way to the Promised Land. It was to be a sojourn in the wilderness for forty years. Often, of course, they were in waterless deserts. Exodus 17:6 tells us of Moses providing water from a rock to avert danger of dying from thirst. It has ever been Israelite conviction that God's providence led their forefathers through the long desert journey in order to form them into the "People of God". There they were trained to look to Him as their Ruler and Provider. The Covenant He made with them on Mt. Sinai gave them a sense of special relationship with Him, of love and adoption on His side; of trust, obedience and loyalty on theirs.

45. It has been denied that there is any foundation for the Old Testament story that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

There is no sound basis for such a denial. The Israelites knew their own history and that their liberation from Egypt was that they might be formed into a holy "People of God." They knew that God had made a special Covenant with them through Moses on Mt. Sinai and that He also gave them the Ten Commandments through Moses, telling them how they should live as God's people. They thought of themselves as the "People of the Covenant", with which the Commandments given by God through Moses were always associated. There is no room for reasonable doubt that Moses had a tremendous religious experience on Mt. Sinai, and that the Commandments he taught the people gave them a consciousness of a new kind of obligation quite different from anything similar to be found among other peoples outside Israel.

46. The Babylonian Hammurabi formulated a similar code of ethical laws three centuries before Moses was born.

There are some similarities between the two codes, but the differences are far more striking than the likenesses. The similarities are restricted to those basic and natural ethical principles most human beings could be expected to discover for themselves. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi was discovered in 1901. In 1916, the Sumerian Code, containing the same basic principles, but dating from some six centuries before Hammurabi's time, was brought to light by archaeologists. When we put aside the common inheritance of natural ethnical principles and turn to the contrasts between the Code of Hammurabi and that of Moses we find immense differences in religion, spirit and character. The Hebrews were strict monotheists, believing in one supreme and Personal God, Creator of all things. The Babylonians were Polytheists, with a whole galaxy of humanly-invented gods and goddesses. The force of law in the Ten Commandments as given through Moses derives from the fact that they are grounded in the Will of the Supreme and Personal God; and they begin expressly with man's religious duties towards God. The peremptory form "Thou shalt not", occurring throughout the Commandments, is absolutely unique. Moreover, God imposed the obligation of observing the Ten Commandments upon the Jews under threat of cancelling the Divine Covenant with them. In other words, there was no necessary connection between God and Israel as His chosen people. If they abandoned the Commandments, He would abandon them. There is nothing like this in Hammurabi's "Babylonian Code". Divergencies in the subject-matter, and divergencies in detail where there do appear to be similarities, exclude the theory of any direct borrowing by Moses from the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.

47. Was the manna provided by God as food for the Israelites in the wilderness miraculously produced by God, or was it some natural fruit or vegetable?

The only conclusion that fully accords with the account in the Bible is that God created a special kind of food, the nature of which is unknown to us. Some biblical scholars have thought to identify the manna with a natural and nourishing substance which falls to the ground from tamarisk trees in parts of Arabia during the months of May, June and July. But difficulties arise at once. Firstly, the quantity would have to be miraculously multiplied since there would certainly not be enough of this material to provide for all the migrants. Secondly, the biblical account does not limit the supply of manna to the months of May, June and July; and it declares that a double supply was provided on the eve of each Sabbath so that none would have to be gathered on the Sabbath Day itself. Moreover, if the manna had been a natural product the Israelites would have been familiar with it; yet Israel is told, in Deut., 8:3, that God "gave you manna for your food which neither you nor your fathers knew."

48. What part of Palestine today represents the Promised Land at the time of Moses?

Practically all of it, from the valley of the River Jordan in the east down to the Mediterranean coast in the west; from the Lebanese Mountains in the north to a southern boundary between the lower end of the Dead Sea to the shores of the Mediterranean. In all, there were about 10,000 square miles of land which Joshua divided by lot between the federated tribes of Israel, two of them, Reuben and Gad, preferring Transjordan land east of the River, the other ten tribes balloting for selections of Canaanite territory. Moses himself did not enter the Promised Land. He had led the Israelites during their forty years of pilgrimage through the wilderness. Throughout those forty years he had instructed them and formed them as the "People of God", becoming their unique law-giver and building up for them a religion the characteristic features of which persisted throughout all their later history - a religion which in fact became known after him as the "Mosaic Dispensation". But Moses had completed the work assigned to him by God with the end of the journeyings of the Israelites. They arrived at Mt. Nebo, 2600 feet high and some fifteen miles east of the river Jordan, from the summit of which the Promised Land of Canaan could be seen. They ascended the mountain and there on the mountain-top, after having gazed upon the inheritance awaiting his people, Moses died. (It should be noted that in the New Testament account of the Transfiguration of Christ, Moses and Elias - representing the "Law" and the "Prophets" - appeared with Him, Moses having had his share in preparing the way for the coming and ultimate triumph of the Redeemer of all mankind.)

49. The Book of Joshua tells us that, when he led the Israelites into Canaan, the "sun stood still" in order to give him extra time to defeat the Amorites.

Few texts from the Old Testament are more frequently quoted than that one! As regards its interpretation, there are some modern biblical scholars who, without believing that the sun moves round the earth or that the earth's rotation could have been halted for twenty-four hours, think that the biblical account implies a great and unique nature miracle of some kind. So they suggest such possibilities as that of a miraculous refraction of the sun's rays through the earth's atmosphere producing the phenomenon of continued daylight, which gave the Israelites the impression that the sun stood still. It should be noted, however, that Joshua 10:13 introduces into the account a quotation from the "Book of Jashar", which was a collection of epic poems describing the exploits of Israel's early heroes. This book was compiled long before our present biblical writings. A second quotation from it occurs in David's lamentation for Jonathan, in 2 Samuel, l:17f. In such epic compositions we allow for poetic licence or highly imaginative imagery. A modern poet has written: "Stars climb the darkening blue", meaning that night is setting in. No sensible person objects that stars don't climb! There are times when an excessive literalism can lead only to absurdity. What the biblical writers did was to attribute to Joshua the highly figurative and poetical passage they remembered from the Book of Jashar and which they thought to be a most apt illustration of God's protection of Israel's cause. In Joshua 10:14 they give a more prosaic summary of what they wanted to stress: "There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel." In other words, Joshua prayed for victory and, as a religious man, credited God with having enabled him to achieve it. Efforts to preserve a literal interpretation of "the sun stood still" are not only unnecessary, but also are insufficiently in accordance with our knowledge of the sources and structure of the Book of Joshua, and of the sublimity of the poetry in which the ancient Hebrews felt that the more striking interventions of God could alone be worthily recorded.

50. When one thinks of the atrocities during the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan, the God of the Old Testament seems very different from the loving, merciful God manifested by Jesus in the New Testament.

Jesus himself did not think so; for it was the God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, whom He had come to manifest. "It is my Father who glorifies me", He told the Jews, "of whom you say that He is your God. . . . Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad." Jn., 8:54-56. Also St. James, in the New Testament, tells us that in God "there is no change nor shadow of alteration." Ja., 1:17. God, however, changeless in Himself, can will changes among men according to their slowly changing and developing cultural stages. God had promised His people a land of their own and chose Canaan for them, a land in the midst of warring nations, Assyrians, Persians and marauding lesser tribes of the ancient East. The inhabitants of Canaan at the time were particularly corrupt, both religiously and morally. There can be no doubt that in the sight of God they deserved to forfeit their territory and have it assigned to others who were prepared to serve God as they should. The Israelites were told that this was the reason for the bestowal of the land upon them. Exodus 12:25, after saying: "When you come to the land which the Lord your God will give you as He has promised", goes on to explain that it is in order that they may serve Him there, establishing Him as their Ruler. To occupy the land the Israelites had to invade it and overcome the resistance of the previous inhabitants. They were, of course, only too human and liable to the temptation of interpreting their own self-interest as God's cause justifying almost anything they did, with innumerable resultant abuses. Of such abuses we are not called upon to approve; but the lessons of history right down to our own times should give us some understanding of them.

51. The difficulty is to associate such things with a "Chosen People of God".

The Israelites never proved really worthy of the mission for which God had chosen them although, despite their infidelities, the essential purpose for which He chose them was duly fulfilled. That purpose was the fulfilment through them of God's promise to Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. For from among the descendants of Abraham, that is, from among the people of Israel, the Messiah and Redeemer was to emerge who was to be the one hope of salvation for all mankind, not only of Israel but of the Gentiles as well. That mysterious fulfilment, of course, lay in the very remote future as Moses led his woebegone fugitives from their slavery under the Egyptians and, during their forty years' trek through the wilderness, tried to correct the wrong ideas and bad habits they had learned from their pagan oppressors; to instil a collective consciousness of a Covenant relationship with the true God the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob; to awaken an idea of themselves as a nation "holy to the Lord"; and to teach them rules for prayer and public worship together with laws regulating their moral conduct. After their settlement in Canaan, and building on this Mosaic basis, a long series of prophets taught the people gradually and progressively ever higher spiritual ideals. The eighthcentury prophet Micah wrote movingly: "He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah, 6:8. At all stages of their history there were outstanding individual examples of virtue among the Israelites. As a nation, however, Israel in general failed to fulfil her obligations and her prophets repeatedly denounced her infidelities and open rebellions against God's will, her alliances with heathen nations, and the toleration of idolatrous practices within her own ranks. Israel's history, at times, seems as much one of punishments and disasters inflicted upon her by God as of anything else; and Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, saw no hope of averting utter ruin except in a surviving faithful remnant from which the promised Messiah would eventually emerge. A century after the time of Isaiah another prophet, Jeremiah, declared: "Behold the days are coming, saith the Lord, when I will make a new Covenant with the house of Israel, not like the Covenant I made with their fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, my Covenant which they broke." Jer., 31:31. Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, Himself of the house of Israel, established that New Covenant. He declared that (as far as His personal missionary work on earth was concerned) He was not sent but to the house of Israel (Matt., 15:24). His twelve apostles and His first disciples were all of the house of Israel. They were the "faithful remnant" of Isaiah's Israel to whom the fulfilment of God's plan should be offered for prior acceptance; and it was only after Christ's death and resurrection, the official leaders of Israel of old having had their opportunity and rejected it, that He gave the apostles their great and universal commission: "Go; make disciples of all nations." (Matt., 28:19). Israel of old, according to St. Paul (Romans, 11:28-31), beloved for the sake of their forefathers, will eventually also in God's mercy find their way to inclusion among the new People of God.

52. Are we to believe the Bible when it tells us that the prophet Jonah was swallowed by a whale?

Neither the Jonah nor the whale mentioned in the Book of Jonah ever existed. About 400 B.C. an author whose name is not known to us was inspired by God to impress upon his fellow Israelites that in Abraham not only they themselves but all nations were to be blessed, and that any exclusiveness which tended to regard the heathen as outside the pale of God's love and mercy was quite wrong. That was the lesson the author had to teach and he did so in his own way by writing a parable, wrapping the story around the name of a prophet called Jonah whom he recalled as having lived over three centuries earlier. With his vivid imagination he drove home the lesson he had to convey by constructing a series of striking and fantastic incidents, a form of teaching in which people of those times delighted and the point of which they quite easily grasped.

53. The whole account seems very far-fetched to me.

The whole account seems very far-fetched to me. The Book of Jonah is a sermon in story form. The details of the story are not important; the lesson is. We know how Christ taught charity towards a stranger in distress by His detailed parable of the Good Samaritan. In a similar way, our Old Testament author puts before us a fictitious character whom he called the prophet Jonah for no particular reason except that he happened to recall the name. Jonah is told by God - in the story - to preach repentance to the heathens of Nineveh, notorious for their wickedness, under pain of utter destruction. Jonah was shocked, for he did not think the Gentiles of Nineveh were entitled to God's forgiveness, whether they repented or not. Afraid they might repent and that God in a weak moment might spare them, Jonah ran away to sea. A violent storm arose. Jonah was thrown overboard. The Lord sent a great fish to swallow him, rush him back to land and disgorge him there so that he could carry out the mission given him. Jonah preached to the pagan Ninevites. They repented, and to Jonah's disgust God spared them. The story ends with the Lord rebuking Jonah's anger, pointing out that the poor pagans of Nineveh scarcely knew right from wrong, and that in any case He does not reserve His mercy for Jonah's people, inflicting only judgments without mercy on others. This story made a profound impression which has lasted to our own times, although not always for the right reasons; but it does illustrate an important aspect of religious truth for both Jews and Christians.

54. An item entitled "Like Jonah", in an Australian newspaper last January (1965), said that in 1891 an English sailor named James Bartley fell overboard from a whaling ship and was swallowed by a whale which was later caught and cut open, James Bartley being released after twelve hours in the whale's stomach.

Those given to an extreme literalism in their interpretation of the Bible have frequently published that story; but it is not authentic. The incident is said to have occurred in February, 1891, when the English whaler "Star of the East", under Captain Killam, was near the Falkland Islands, off the coast of South America. The story was first published in the following October by the English newspaper "Great Yarmouth Mercury". It created a sensation and was reprinted in many other papers and magazines. In 1906 an Anglican clergyman named Canon Williams wrote to Captain Killam for confirmation of it, but received a letter from the Captain's wife, dated November 24, 1906, saying: "There is not one word of truth in the whole story. I was with my husband all the years he was in the "Star of the East". There was never a man lost overboard while my husband was in her. The sailor has told a great sea yarn." Unaware of that denial, Sir Francis Fox, in 1924, included the story in his book: "Sixty-three Years of Engineering, Scientific and Social Work". In 1927, the U.S.A. "Princeton Theological Review" retold it. The London Jesuit periodical "The Month", February, 1929, in an effort to prevent further diffusion of such fiction as fact, republished Mrs. Killam's letter to Canon Williams. The "James Bartley" story will continue to be repeated by people who have never heard of its refutation; which makes it useful from time to time for the refutation itself to be repeated.

55. Were the Jews off old aware that their real prophets spoke in the name of God, not only to denounce current abuses, but also to predict the future?

The Book of Jonah, although written in the form of a parable, was a genuinely prophetic book foreshadowing the application of the promises to Abraham to all nations, although the Jews, interpreting them in a narrow nationalistic sense, thought foreigners excluded from them. So Pope Pius XI, denouncing anti-semitism, reminded Christians that "Abraham is our father also". But you have in mind such prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah and others who actually lived and who claimed that God was proclaiming His message to the people through their lips. Now it has been the fashion with many modern biblical scholars to play down the predictive role of the Old Testament prophets and to suggest that their God-given task was not so much to foretell anything in the future as to tell forth in the here and now God's will for His people. It would be quite wrong, however, to limit the utterances of the prophets to a kind of forth-telling preaching, with the element of fore-telling excluded altogether. At times the prophets devoted themselves to enkindling the highest ideals and urging fidelity to them. At other times their discourses were definitely predictive. For example, when with one and the same "Thus saith the Lord" they condemned the nation's misconduct and declared the punishment God authorised them to proclaim as its inevitable consequence if it did not cease, they were truly foretelling what would be the result of such continued perversity; and only too often, after the event, the people who had not heeded their prophets realised how right their predictions had been. As a matter of fact, in the predictive sense of the word, there is a prophetic strain throughout the whole of the Old Testament like an underground stream which intermittently breaks through to the surface, and which shows that the concept of a Messiah or Redeemer to come was central to the thought of Judaism. This theme of expectation pervades the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls which belonged to a Jewish sect at Qumran, near Jerusalem, in pre-Christian times. And the Rabbi Brasch, of Sydney, N.S.W., says in his book "The Eternal Flame" (1958), p. 14: "Looking forward is the Jew's mainspring of life. To him there exists a Golden Age, not in the far distant past, but only in the days to come . . . his thoughts do not centre on a 'Paradise Lost' but on the Messianic Age. His innate optimism makes the Jew feel that the future is always something worth waiting for, working for, and even suffering for." What the Jews do not realise is that the Messiah for whom they are still waiting came in the Person of Christ in whom we Christians believe.

56. If, as Christians say, the Old Testament prophecies of Christ were so clear, why had the Jews themselves so little understanding of them?

The prophetic nature of their religion in general was clear enough for the Jews to realise that it was essentially messianic; that is, just as they had been delivered from slavery at the time of their exodus from Egypt and from captivity in Babylon when in 536 B.C. Cyrus the Persian allowed them to return to Palestine, so a future messiah or deliverer would arise who would permanently provide a "Golden Age" for them. But when we turn from the general trend of the prophecies to particular applications of each taken singly, we do not hold that the individual predictions are so clear as to leave no room for misunderstanding. From this aspect much in them is admittedly obscure. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, God gave His revelation gradually and progressively, the Jews having to live by faith in His promises as they were given by different prophets at different times, and to the extent in which they were given. We must not be surprised if earlier prophecies seem less meaningful than later ones. Secondly, the prophets often saw in a complex single vision both present and future things, describing the whole vision in a highly symbolical and poetical language, making it difficult to discern the strictly predictive elements. St. Ambrose said that "Christ is the solution of the enigmas of the prophets." In other words, seeing what has actually been fulfilled in Him, we know what was in fact predicted of Him. It is much easier to be wise after a predicted event than before it. This means that the prophecies, while a help towards faith in Christ, cannot of themselves give it. It was after His disciples had attained to faith in Him that Christ said to them: "These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then, St. Luke 24:45 tells us: "He opened their minds to understand the scriptures." It is evident that the prophecies in question concerned the Person of Christ Himself, those, namely, which answered the inquiry addressed to Him on a former occasion by the followers of John the Baptist: "Are you he who is to come, or are we to look for another?" Lk., 7:20. That the disciples of Christ, despite their faith in Him and the interpretations of some prophecies which He personally had given them, were still in need of instructions concerning the nature of the messianic kingdom is clear from the question they put to Him on the very eve of the ascension: "Lord", they said to Him, "will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" His reply was: "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witness in Jerusalem . . . and to the end of the earth." Acts, 1:6-9. He thus rebuked their impatience, by-passed their inadequate ideas of an earthly messianic kingdom limited to Israel, and bade them wait until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would bestow upon them the power to fulfil a new mission on His behalf, a mission universal in its scope, extending to all mankind even to the very ends of the earth.

57. Why, in your opinion, have the Jews returned to their ancient homeland in Palestine as an independent nation?

It cannot be said without qualification that the Jews have returned to Palestine. The total world-Jewish population is about sixteen millions. Over six millions of these live in the United States of America and prefer to retain their American nationality. No doubt some American Jews have migrated to Palestine, but far more Jews there have been drawn from other countries. The history of the origin of the new and independent State of Israel needs keeping in mind. A Hungarian Jew named Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), distressed by the sad lot of Jewish minorities hounded into ghettos in European countries such as Russia, Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere, began to urge publicly that Jews should be given a country of their own where they could lead their lives peacefully in their own way. Herzl was not a religious man. He was actuated solely by humanitarian motives; and when, in 1903, England offered ample healthy and fertile territory for a Jewish State in British East Africa, he was eager to accept it. He felt no religious ties with Palestine. But the Zionist Committee rejected the offer. Herzl died in 1904, carrying with him to the grave a deep sense of frustration. In 1917, however, Palestine having been wrested from the Turks by the British armies, the country was entrusted to Great Britain as mandated territory. The British Government, in the "Balfour Declaration", announced that a future national home for Jewish people could be established there. Jewish refugees flocked in. On May 14, 1948, the British Mandate ended and the Independent State of Israel was proclaimed as a Jewish Republic.

58. Is there any biblical significance in the return of the Jews to Palestine?

The vast majority of Jews have not returned to Palestine and have no wish to do so. Those settled there are mostly Jewish refugees from countries where they were oppressed who have found freedom in a land of their own. Some people have imagined the new Jewish State to be a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy that a remnant of the Jewish people would return with joy to the Holy Land. But that prophecy was concerned with and fulfilled by the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon, about 536 B.C. As earlier stated, Theodor Herzl himself attached no religious significance to the establishing of a politically-free Jewish State. In Israel today only about 20% are orthodox practising Jews; the other 80% are more or less religiously indifferent. As the Jewish writer Ascher Ginzberg has said, what is needed is not a return to any promised land, but a return to Judaism. For him, the important thing is to get Jews to take their religion seriously, wherever they may be. But that is a matter for the Jews themselves. The establishing of the Jewish State of Israel in Palestine itself certainly has no biblical significance.

NEXT TOPIC »

MORE FROM VOLUME 5

"QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK
ABOUT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH" - Book Title