Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Manna & Mercy: A Critical Evaluation Part 1

Daniel Erlander’s course entitled “Manna and Mercy” presents itself as an overview of the entire Bible. It is user-friendly in its presentation and includes many of Erlander’s (often humorous) line drawings.

It is inevitably something of a whistle-stop tour and clearly some things have to be left out, but as one is whisked past well known landmarks one often thinks, “Hey what about this?” The reply seems to be, “O that, yes but what you really need to see is this.”
Take for example Noah and the Flood: Perhaps because the overall theme of the course is God’s mercy, Erlander reasons that God would not, could not, should  not do such a thing as wipe out nearly all of humankind even though they were behaving incredibly badly (Gen 6. 5-8). With that he takes his censor’s scissors and excises Genesis 6. 7 to Genesis 8. 22 from the Biblical record. Feeling that this leaves a bit of a hole in the narrative, instead of God saying, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land …” (Gen. 6. 7), he has him saying after considering the destruction of the human race, “I will not! Can a mother destroy her child, her delight, her joy. (see M & M p 3.)The reference given is Gen. 9. 11 which bears no relation to the preceding statement. In fact the reference to mother and child is lifted out of context from Isaiah 49. 15 where, referring to Israel in exile the Lord says,
 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast, and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.”

Erlander makes no secret of the fact that his view of Scripture is strongly influenced by Liberation Theologians.

This accounts for his racing through the book of Genesis without a mention of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob nor yet of the twelve tribes of Israel.
To be fair they do get a mention in a throwaway line at the start of the section dealing with the Exodus. (M & M p 4.)
Exodus however, does have a liberation motif which is both strong and clear. Erlander teases this out over the next three chapters (M&M pgs. 4-15)
However, the Biblical record of the conquest of Canaan presents a problem to Erlander: with the exception of Rahab and her household, Joshua’s strategy is to put to death everyone, men, women and children, in the towns and cities which he conquers (Joshua Chs. 6 through 11)
It is always going to be hard to discover motifs of mercy and liberation in accounts such as this. Erlander’s solution to this difficulty is as bold as it is inventive: He decides to re-write the book of Joshua.
In the Revised Erlander Version (R.E.V.) “…victory came when Joshua’s army attacked from the outside while oppressed slaves revolted from the inside. When the cities fell, these collaborators then became full members of the people of Israel. ” (M & M p 17)
So then it was only the ‘big deals’ who were killed.
Any serious student of the Bible should continuously be asking three questions which in turn constitute three steps:
1.                 What does the text say?
2.                 Using sound hermeneutic principles how do we interpret the text?
3.                 Taking due note of the interpretation, how does the text apply to our context

There is usually scope for a range of interpretations in steps 2. and 3., but because Erlander tampers with the source data at step 1., it renders any attempt to answer the questions in steps 2. and 3., futile.
In addition to Erlander’s propensity to excise and revise texts he also has a marked tendency to trivialize key texts. Take for example the Passover (Exodus Chapter 12) This is alluded to in the following sentence: “Before they left, the slaves ate a special dinner called Passover.” (M & M p 4.)
There is no mention of the blood of an unblemished lamb being applied to the doorposts and lintel of each dwelling so that death would not befall the firstborn of the children of Israel – this a clear prefiguring of Christ’s death on the cross, the Lamb of God shedding His blood that we might have life.
A special meal? Yes indeed! A very special meal!

There can be little doubt that the overall tenor of Erlander’s Manna and Mercy manual is one of eisegesis rather than exegesis. (see our post entitled “Exegesis versus Eisegesis” of Aug 4, 2016) He has certain points he wants to make, (some of them valid) and he is prepared to excise, revise and trivialize texts in order to enlist the support of Scripture in making these points.

All the above begs the question as to whether one who approaches Scripture in such a careless and cavalier fashion can be considered trustworthy to conduct us through it’s pages.

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