Moby Dick as an anti-Leviticus

My book club just read through Moby Dick, a fascinating novel that operates on many levels below the surface narrative of the hunt for a whale. James Jordan offers a unique take on the book which I wish someone would expand on and dig into further in an old newsletter. He writes:

Ishmael is the narrator of Melville’s fantasy-romance Moby Dick. Melville takes up the traditional view of Ishmael as a wayward son of Abraham, driven out solely because of the Divine “caprice” of election, an angry man with his hand raised against all other men. He is a fitting “anti-hero,” or at least “anti-character,” in a book full of inversions.

Melville objected to calling Moby Dick a novel. He knew that the persons on board the Pequod are anything but real people — they are symbols much more than characters — and that the situation he describes is fantastic. Moby Dick is a fantasy-narrative like Homer’s Odyssey and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Ahab, carrying the name of Israel’s wicked king, is an anti-Christ. Like Jacob (Israel), Ahab has the messianic foot-wound, but he has no interest in submitting to God. Rather, he wants to kill God, the “vengeful,” “predestinating,” and capitalized White Whale. The whiteness of the whale is both the whiteness of God’s holy throne and the whiteness of leprosy. The long exposition of how to kill a whale in the many chapters on whaling is a kind of anti-Leviticus: Instead of rituals showing us how to kill ourselves and submit to God, Melville gives us a long survey of the rites by which to act titanically and kill “god.” The White Whale wins in the end, but only because He is all-powerful, not because He is good or fair. Ahab, his “Satan”-like ship, and his crew of pagans and estranged New Englanders is drowned in the ancient flood.

Ahab rages against New England’s Calvinistic God, the God of Melville’s rejected Dutch Reformed upbringing. The Antichrist Ahab had lain “like dead for three days and nights” in his great crisis, and now “resurrected” he gathers his anti-church with anti-rituals and leads them in an attempt to kill the “god” who put him through his “crucifixion.” Ishmael is part of this anti-church.

This would be a great project to take on as an investigation: the Levitical themes of the book.

Thank you to Leonard’s Books

I had a couple fairly cheap Bibles that were in bad shape. Neither were terribly old, and both text blocks were in pretty good condition, but the covers were in shambles and one was disintegrating. The first was a Crossway ESV Thinline Edition that I purchased in 2005 and carried around for a few years. The text was fine but the cover was scratched, falling apart and in poor shape. The second Bible was a New American Standard Ultra Thin Reference Edition published by Broadman & Holman that I bought my wife in 1997. It was basically unusable due to falling apart. Although the text block was OK, maps were falling out and endpapers were not in good shape.

I decided to send both of these Bibles to Leonard’s Books after reading such glowing reviews of their work and seeing pictures of it too. Today, our Bibles came back in the mail, and Leonard’s did delightful work! Here are some “after” pictures though, and I hope they show you how Leonard’s took some average, cheap Bibles that did not last very long at all and turned them into really solid books that should last for many, many decades to come. Thanks Leonard’s!

The ESV Thinline
The NAS before the rebind
The NAS was in bad shape!
Both Bibles showing the yap and ribbons, which are original
How the NAS opens
Both texts open, NAS on top, ESV on the bottom
Both texts open, NAS on top, ESV on the bottom
For comparison, the Leonard's rebinds on the bottom with the ESV Reader's edition from Crossway, and the ESV Clarion Reference edition from Cambridge
For comparison, the Leonard’s rebinds on the bottom with the ESV Reader’s edition from Crossway, and the ESV Clarion Reference edition from Cambridge

Reads, 2013

Refutation of the Koran, Riccoldo of Monte Croce
The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Dr. Li Zhisui
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt
Submergence, J.M. Ledgard
Pascal, Thoughts
Going Clear, Lawrence Wright
The Coming of the Rain, Katharine Makower
Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks
The Age of Sacred Terror, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon
No Man Knows My History, Fawn Brodie
Brigham Young, Pioneer Prophet, John Turner
Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith, Robert D. Anderson
The New Mormon Challenge, Beckwith, Mosser, Owen
Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, David Cook
Anglican Communion in Crisis, Miranda K. Hassett
Genocide in Rwanda, Complicity of the Churches? Ed. Carol Rittner, John K. Roth and Wendy Whitworth
Committed to Conflict, Laurent Mbanda
Citizens, Simon Schama
The Trial of Socrates, I.F. Stone
The Shadow of the Antichrist, Stephen N. Williams
On Marriage and Family Life, St. John Chrysostom
Pagans and Christians, Robin Lane Fox

Michael O’Brien’s Advice to Artists and Writers

I just received Michael O’Brien’s Voyage to Alpha Centauri and look forward to reading it. In an interview related to the book, O’Brien repeats advice that he has given before to authors and artists:

You’re a prolific novelist as well as a prolific painter—what is your creative process like?
Prayer and self-discipline are the foundation of everything I do. Most often, the origins of a novel or a painting will appear during prayer, sometimes while I’m praying before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I ponder it in the heart, listening interiorly, thinking about it too. Then if there is a strong peace and an inner sense of “rightness”, I begin giving a form to the essential “word” or logos that came with the light or grace. One can call it inspiration or the muses. But it is, I believe, the phenomenon of co-creation, grace and nature working together to bring into the world something that hasn’t been seen before. God-willing, it will be a work of truth and beauty. Thus the need to be constantly praying and at the same time working hard to develop the skills of writing and painting—all within the understanding that it is a vocation, a gift, not my personal possession. In terms of the process itself, for me a novel or a painting usually just pours out onto page or canvas as the first stage. Then comes the long painstaking work of editing, revising, pruning, listening carefully to feedback from discerning readers of my manuscript, and always self-honesty. It may take me a year to write a first draft of a novel, followed by years of editing. In some of my books, it has taken two or three years. With The Father’s Tale, for example, I began writing it in 1998, and was still refining it ten years later. With Voyage to Alpha Centauri, the process has taken three or four years.
We have some aspiring writers reading this blog. If you had one piece of advice for them, what would that be?
O’Brien: Pray every day to the Holy Spirit, asking for the grace of docility to His inspirations. And continue to pray as you work, pray for the good of the art you are creating and its fruitfulness in the lives of others. Work hard, with self-discipline, to perfect your talent. And avoid any ambition or impulse to manipulate your own “success” in the world—it is absolute poison. Let grace work with your nature, and trust in this. Above all, trust!

A Great Black Ship

And we lived in a world that was evil. A world that was like a great black ship pulling away from the shore of sanity and civilization, roaring its black horn in the night, taking two billion people with it, whether they wanted to go or not, to death, to fall over the edge of the earth and the sea into radioactive flame and madness.

– Ray Bradbury, The Fox and the Forest


Yesterday I went to the library and bought several books that they had on sale. Amongst those books was one called “World Within Walls” by Donald Keene. It’s about Japanese literature of the pre-modern era. I’m not really sure why I bought it. I paid no attention to who the author was.
This morning, I was looking at the NY Times online, and I saw a headline about an author who is becoming a Japanese citizen, despite being American. He is an old and noted scholar of Japan. His name is Donald Keene! I wasn’t sure when I read the name if it was the author of my book, but I came down to the library, and sure enough, it is. I’m not sure what that means, if anything, but I find it very intriguing.

Mosser on Scholarship

Several years ago Prof. Carl Mosser wrote a definition of scholarship that I found helpful.

Scholarship is the product of a certain kind of activity.  This activity can be done poorly or well, with varying degrees of precision and exhaustiveness, and by minds of varying cognitive abilities.  This results in qualitative differences in scholarship so that one can speak in terms of a continuum of bad, mediocre, good and excellent scholarship.

Pseudo-scholarship is the product of different kinds of activity but gives the impression that it is the product of scholarly activity.  Admittedly, drawing sharp lines of demarcation between poor scholarship and pseudo-scholarship can be difficult.  But this is no more a good reason for rejecting the distinction than evening and morning are good reasons for rejecting the distinction between day and night.

What is scholarly activity?  I don’t think anything like a list of necessary and sufficient conditions can be given.  Perhaps a basic working definition is that doing scholarship is to “openly study some issue or set of issues.”  This open study is characterized by such things as: investigation of evidence pertaining to specific issues to see what knowledge can be gained about those issues, a careful and controlled analysis of the evidence, a realization that evidence is sometimes ambiguous and open to multiple plausible interpretations that need to be considered, entering a critical but charitable dialogue with others who have investigated the same issues (past or present) to gain insights and correct errors, and constructing plausible hypotheses and cogent arguments.

Furthermore, this activity is requires one to reject epistemological dogmatism.  He/she recognizes that the results of the investigation cannot be determined before the evidence has actually been looked at and analyzed.  He/she recognizes that his/her preferred theories and positions must be adjusted in light of the full body of evidence and argumentation. He/she is committed to fairly representing and responsibly engaging the views of others.  He/she seeks to handle the primary and secondary literature in a responsible and critical manner.

The academic community has developed a number of practices designed to safeguard the integrity of the scholarly activity.  Most noticeably, this results in the use of precise technical terminology and the following of certain conventions when research is published.  For example, quoting authorities in a field, including bibliographical footnotes to the relevant literature one has consulted, using precise technical terminology are designed to help ensure that an author has engaged in the scholarly activity at some level (even if poorly).  However, the presence of these trappings of scholarship do not guarantee that this has in fact occurred. Thus, behind the scenes publishing houses employ editors and editorial boards that review the material they publish, journals have recognized scholars review articles being considered for publication, etc.

Pseudo-scholarship is what we get when somebody employs (usually quite heavily) the trappings of scholarship–quotations, footnotes, technical terms, etc.–without really having engaged in the scholarly activity.  I suspect that it could be a product of several different activities, some malicious and others entirely well-meaning.

The person who produces pseudo-scholarship confuses the trappings of scholarship with scholarship.  And they produce things that on the surface look like scholarship but really are not.  To do this requires that a kind of superficial research is done–one has to look up books in the library, consult lexicons, look up references to ancient texts, etc.  But the writer has not really investigated the issues being discussed in anything approaching a responsible manner.  The issues haven’t really been studied and considered–the answers were all known at the beginning.

One of the most common signs of pseudo-scholarship is that primary and secondary literature is not handled responsibly or critically.  For the most part literature is simply culled for quotations that appear to bolster one’s polemical claims.  There is an evident inability to discern qualitative differences between sources.  There is a lack of critical engagement with the sources–everything that appears to favor one’s point is taken as reliable.

Lastly, it should be noted that doing scholarship does not depend on having academic degrees.  Someone with a very limited education can learn to engage in the scholarly activity and even to do it well.  Most people without a formal education cannot achieve this on their own, but it can and is done by a few.  Formal education is a process whereby one is given instruction, resources, opportunities to practice and correction.  It is right to assume that the person who has made it through this process will have some capacity to do scholarship (especially if they have earned graduate degrees).  But the process cannot guarantee the outcome and the having of degrees does not guarantee that one is capable of doing scholarship or doing it well.

Leithart on Austen’s Anglicanism

Peter Leithart reviews Laura Mooneyham White’s Jane Austen’s Anglicanism here. Leithart says:

To today’s readers, Austen’s characters rarely pray or engage in overt religious activities, but that is partly an illusion. Because of her thorough knowledge of eighteenth-century Anglicanism, White is attuned to the religious overtones of Austen’s language. From the time of William Law’s Serious Call to the Devout Life (1729), the word “serious” had religious connotations. When she records that Emma Woodhouse is “very serious in her thankfulness” for Harriet Smith’s engagement to Robert Martin, Austen is telling us that Emma offered prayers of thanks. Similarly, apparently general words like “exertion,” “principle,” and “duty” are all religious terms in Austen’s world. Plus, more obvious religious ideas like sin, evil, atonement, fall, temptation, repentance, and contrition are present throughout her work. Even Austen’s restrained unmetaphorical style reflects the theologically-grounded neo-classicism of her time. Add to this the pervasive evidence that Austen shared common Anglican convictions about nature and the “chain of being,” it becomes clear that her novels are “imprinted” everywhere with her religious values.

Reads in 2011

I forgot to post my list of books read for the past year, so here it is:

The New Charismatics, Richard Quebedeaux

The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini

The Life of Dr. Donne, Izaak Walton

The Life of George Herbert, Izaak Walton

John Calvin and Roman Catholics, Randall Zachman

Defending Constantine, Peter Leithart

Faithful Reason, John Haldane

Conquest, Hugh Thomas

Rabbit Redux, John Updike

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, Piers Brendon

Deep Comedy, Peter Leithart

From Silence to Song, Peter Leithart

The Foundations of Social Order, R.J. Rushdoony

A Fury for God, Malise Ruthven

The Reformation, Diarmaid Mucculloch

Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson

Count to a Trillion, John C. Wright

Predestination, Policy and Polemic, Peter White

The Sociology of the Church, James B. Jordan

Not as many as I would have hoped for, but of course I start scores more and will finish them later. Also, I read far too many articles and junk.

Predestination, Policy and Polemic

I have just finished reading Peter White’s book, Predestination, Policy and Polemic, Conflict and consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civil War. It is a masterful summary of the topic throughout a varied landscape of Church politics, belief systems, and changing theologies.

…the model of a theological dichotomy between ‘Calvinism’ and ‘Arminianism’ is simply inadequate for understanding either the overall development of doctrine in the Reformation period, or of personal allegiances within it. This is by no means to deny the existence of polarities, but rather to suggest that they were concurrent and evolutionary rather than abruptly linear, that there was development within a continuing spectrum, a development to which theologians of contrasting churchmanship contributed, in spite of their indulgence from time to time in the language of polemic against each other.

White gives us an interesting quote from Arminius himself on his view of Calvin:

…after the reading of Scripture, which I strenuously inculcate, and more than any other (as the whole Academy, yea the conscience of my colleagues will testify) I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read, whom I extol in higher terms than Helmichius himself, as he owned to me, ever did. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed down to us in the Bibliotheca of the Fathers; so much so, that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above all others, above most, yea above all. His Institutes, so far as respects Commonplaces, I give out to be read after the Catechism, as a more extended explanation. But here I add – with , as the writing of all men ought to be read.

Bishop John Hooper summarized early Anglican beliefs on the subject by saying:

It is not a christian man’s part to attribute his salvation to his own free-will, with the Pelagian, and extenuate original sin; nor to make God the author of ill and our damnation, with the Manichee; nor yet to say, God hath written fatal laws, as the Stoic, and with necessity of destiny violently pulleth one by the hair into heaven, and thrusteth the other headlong into hell.

Bishop Latimer outlined what was to become a common theme within Anglicanism regarding predestination – that discussing the subject outside learned circles would only produce chaos and division:

Latimer warned his hearers not to trouble themselves with ‘curious questions of the predestination of God’. In particular, he condemned a ‘lewd opinion of predestination’ based on Acts xiii (‘as many as were ordained to life everlasting believed’) that ‘therefore it is no matter whatsoever we do; for if we be chosen to everlasting life, we shall have it’.

The common target in injunctions like Latimer’s is antinomianism, which was a very legitimate problem in the Church (and still is). White’s book traces the influences of Bucer and Peter Martyr on the emerging Anglican consensus:

Although Bucer and Martyr have much in common which provides an obvious contrast with Hooper and Latimer, there were significant differences between them. There was a spectrum of opinion on the doctrine of predestination in the Edwardian Church which cannot be neatly categorized into indigenous and continental, or ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Lutheran’ influences.

White discusses the view of Cranmer and the early divines as expressed in the Articles of Religion and the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum on the subjects of free will and grace. White says that “There is compelling evidence of a consensus among Edwardian Protestants that divine grace may be spurned and rejected, that it is not irresistible; human free will must play its part, first to accept or reject, to obey or not to obey, and having obeyed, then to co-operate. The concern of the Reformatio was to refute those who placed such confidence in human free will that they believed that ‘by it alone, without any special grace of Christ’, man could live uprightly.” This view was in synch with that of Erasmus, and indeed his Paraphrases were ordered by the King to be “provided in every parish.”

White discusses John Jewel and highlights his belief that Christ died for all men. White says:

The reprobate for Jewel are those ‘who have refused the word of reconciliation’, for ‘though God be patient and long-suffering, because he would have all men come to repentance; yet, in whom his mercy taketh no place to work their amendment, upon them  he poureth out his wrath and indignation to the utmost’.

White’s contention throughout is that the early Anglicans represented an early Reformed consensus that was not equal to later hardening of doctrine (double decrees, one to life, one to damnation) on the part of Beza and others who responded to Arminius. When various factions would veer, some to the side of totalizing free will, others to the side of a decree to damnation from before the world’s creation, the Crown and Bishops would reel them in to the teaching of the Articles or Religion, which are essentially a Bucerian, early Reformed consensus. Davenant again reflects this consensus in a letter he prepared at the Synod of Dort:

…we do hold that our blessed Saviour by God’s appointment did offer himself up to the Blessed Trinity for the redemption of mankind, and by this oblation once made, did found, confirm and ratify the Evangelical Covenant, which may and ought seriously to be preached to all mankind without exception…consequently we hold, that the whole merit of Christ is not confined to the Elect only, as some here do hold…

I will not weary you with the writings of Richard Hooker, King James I and others. White is very exhaustive in covering this ground, and unless you are into Anglican history, this book may weary you with several very obtuse points of doctrine finely argued. One common refrain throughout the book is the ultimate inability to know with finality about the doctrines discussed. Many of the best divines offered up an argument, but rested on the fact that they could not know. Bishop Laud put it this way: “somewhat about these controversies is unmasterable in this life.”