Over on the Catholica forum, Dr Ian Elmer has replied to my earlier criticism:
Thanks for your reponse. It is always good to hear from someone who is willing to discuss issues without resorting to personal, anti-intellectual comments. So I will ignore your final paragrah…LOL!
I would like to make a couple of points. First, I would challenge the implied distinction between prophets and priests. To suggest that the impulse towards reform was merely a prophetic one belies the fact that most of the prophets were either priests or functionaries of the Temple. Isaiah and Ezekel were both priests. Hosea was also connected to the Temple in some fashion. Jeremiah was one of the architects of the Josian reform. Moreover they were all men. In short, the prophets who were the most vocal in their defense of monotheism and the Temple cult were part of the emerging male-dominated priestly or aristocratic elite.
Secondly, recognising that much of the emerging cultus in the years leading up to the Exile served the agenda of such men does not equate with wanting to restore the age-old pagan belief in a female deity; and it is certainly not out of any “misguided feministic concern” that I raise the issue. It is merely one of historical interest, and it served to introduce for discussion the question of orthodoxy with which I ended the commentary.
I’m sure you would agee with Rahner’s observations about the salvific effect of faith regradless of the level of orthodoxy therein – something which nuns at my old convent school regularly pointed out by telling us that the Protestants would get to heaven before us because the were blessedly ignorant of the true faith and, therefore, could not be held accountable for their misguided actions.
I suspect that you have missed the point – although you did recognize the fact that monotheism developed in ancient Israel. I would, however, point out that the persistence of asherah worship was not confined Canaanite folk religion, as you say, but was also pervasive throughout Israelite folk religion – which brings me back to my first point. The “Book” religion propagated by prophets, priests and kings represented the educated, literate, male elite and not the folk religion of the masses; which is as true today in Catholicism as it was then in the YHWH cult of ancient Israel.
Ian, like Kyle in the comments on the previous post, has correctly pointed out that I “missed the point” of his essay, which is, essentially, that ““Book” religion propagated by prophets, priests and kings represented the educated, literate, male elite and not the folk religion of the masses; which is as true today in Catholicism as it was then in the YHWH cult of ancient Israel.”
But I still object to the way in which the suggestion is that because later Israelite orthodoxy was driven by an “educated, literate, male elite” (which is, as Kyle points out, a pejorative way of putting it to say the least) its value as authentic and authoritative revelation is, for some reason, to be questioned.
I am reminded of Richard Dawkins’ comment that “the book of Genesis, after all, was not written by any philosopher or scientist of any great wisdom. The book of Genesis was written by tribesmen who had no privileged information at all.”
For Dawkins – who, like Dr Elmer, is a member of an “educated, literate, male, elite” – the fact that Genesis was written by “tribesmen who had no privileged information” (a point which itself is seriously to be questioned) is a reason for not taking the Genesis stories seriously. Dawkins and Elmer may be using different standards, but they are using the same method to question the authenticity of the Scriptures as authoritative revelation.
Which brings me to ask another question: Why, by either Dawkins’ or Elmer’s standards, should we accept the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as authentic and authoritative revelation?
After all, a good case can be made either for the fact that Jesus was a peasant “who had no privileged information” OR for the fact that Jesus was a member of a “educated, literate, male” who was (if we take his mother’s side of the family) was also a member of the priestly clan centred on Jerusalem. On this last point it is interesting to note, as an aside, that though Jesus critiqued both the Pharisees and the priests, he was, in a way, a member of both.
In any case, why should Jesus be taken any more seriously than the author of Genesis or the authors of the later Jewish scriptures?
The answer, as we all know, is because Jesus was “sent by the Father” and his words are “Spirit and Truth”. In other words, as the Gospel of John testifies with its lists of witnesses to Jesus, Jesus had authority to teach in the name of his Father.
For the same reason, the apostles – who were either, depending on who you are talking about, illiterate fisherman (eg. Peter) or Jerusalem educated literary elites (eg. Paul) – also taught authoritatively because they were sent by Christ who was sent by the Father and were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
By extension, today’s ecclesiastical magisterium (who, I think, are the real targets of Elmer’s critique) are also an “educated, elite, literate, male, priestly” class (although some of them had their origins in tribal and peasant communities too!). But does this in any way invalidate the authenticity of their teaching? Certainly not. The only question that matters is: are they authorised to teach their “orthodoxy” in the name of God?