Spanking Children: The Bible Tells Me So?

The indictment of NFL player Adrian Peterson by a Texas grand jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child has generated an extensive discussion in the media on the topic of disciplining children by “spanking,” or corporeal punishment, as commonly practiced in our society. Recent polls indicate that up to 70% of Americans, both Black and White, approve of some form of corporeal punishment of children–with Evangelical Christians coming in at over 85%. 19 States in the USA allow some form of “paddling” in public schools, see a listing here–with Texas leading the pack, having recorded a total of 49,000 incidents in a recent report–and a new kind of “red State” map here.

Max Ernst Virgin Spanking

Max Ernst, Virgin Spanking the Christ Child with three Witnesses 1926

The Peterson case is, of course, extreme–but not necessarily uncommon. He used a “switch,” a slim, leafless tree branch, to beat his 4-year-old son, raising welts on the youngster’s legs, buttocks and scrotum, but millions of Americans–by far the majority of the over-40 generations–can testify to being “spanked,” or in some cases “beaten,” with belts, switches, cords, and other objects that left their markings on legs and buttocks.

Spanking in one form or another is as American as apple pie–and the practice is deeply rooted in, and most often defended by, a reading of traditional translations of the English Bible. The oft-quoted quip “Spare the rod and spoil the child” never appears in the Bible but in the book of Proverbs one finds a string of passages that seem not only to condone spanking, but also direly warn parents that unless they use the “rod” on their children they will utterly fail in their upbringing. Here are the quotations in the traditional King James Version translation:

Prov 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him often.” Prov 19:18: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” Prov 22:15: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Prov 23:13-14: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (i.e. death).” Prov 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

These six verses in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, as well as a single passage in the New Testament, that speaks of God’s disciplining of us as a father disciplines his son (Hebrew 12:6-7), have become the flimsy foundation for justifying a world of harm and abuse to children over our 300 year cultural history–often with lifelong detrimental consequences, see for example here. Sincere parents, who love their children, but are stuck with a literal reading of badly translated verses taken out of context, are utterly convinced they are doing the right thing.

On the one hand we have testimonials from the majority of us who were “spanked” or disciplined with corporeal punishment growing up, with seemingly no psychological damage, and on the other hand Christian Evangelical preachers and teachers regularly assure parents that spanking will not harm a child, it is positively commanded by God! This Christian reinforcement of “spanking,” based on a misreading of these verses of the Bible, is undoubtedly what continues to convince parents of the younger generations, who might have more of a cultural aversion to such practices, that they are carrying out God’s will. Here are the cautious instructions on the popular the Focus on the Family web site:

When you spank, use a wooden spoon or some other appropri­ately sized paddle and flick your wrist. That’s all the force you need. It ought to hurt — an especially difficult goal for mothers to accept —  and it’s okay if it produces a few tears and sniffles. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really discipline, and ultimately it isn’t very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child’s behavior. Have the child lean over his bed and make sure you apply the discipline with a quick flick of the wrist to the fatty tissue of the buttocks, where a sting can occur without doing any damage to the body. You want to be calm, in control, and focused as you firmly spank your child, being very careful to respect his body.

spanking_1-620x320Presumably this “calm” and “loving” beating of a child is to be administered to the naked buttocks of a child–which surely raises some other issues in terms of shame, dignity, and personal respect. Accordingly parents are told that such a practice should not be carried into the pre-teen-aged years!

The fact is these very verses in Proverbs have not only been poorly translated but they have been irresponsibly read out of their historical context and misapplied. For example, the word translated “rod,” that might have inspired an Adrian Peterson, or perhaps my grandmother, to go outside and “cut a switch” off a tree in the backyard, is used by King David in an entirely different way in Psalm 23–The LORD is my Shepherd–where we have the line: “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…” (v. 4). The Hebrew word translated “rod” (Shevet) clearly does not have to refer to physical beating but can be a metaphor for general discipline and “leading,” as with sheep and a shepherd. It is also the word that refers to a tribal leader–who carries a staff or sceptre of leadership–not to beat his fellow clan members, but to lead and direct them. It is used over 180 times in the Hebrew Bible–never with the connotation of beating. These and other verses, as well as the overall teaching about disciplining children in the Bible is ably discussed by Jerusalem-based Christian biblical scholar Samuel Martin, who has produced a wonderful book, Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy, available as a free PDF download here with no cost or obligation. Martin has been joined by a significant number of other informed Christian scholars and commentators who are questioning the both the traditional translation and interpretation of these overly quoted verses from the book of Proverbs, see for example, here. I recommend Martin’s work for those biblically oriented folk out there who have wondered about what the Bible really says regarding using corporeal punishment of any kind to discipline children–or for that matter anyone who wants to be more informed on this controversial topic.

Rosh Hashanah: The Day of the Blast

Ever since I first began studying Judaism seriously as a young man, I have felt that there is something not quite right about Rosh Hashanah. In particular, there seems to be a complete disconnect between the holiday described in the Torah and the holiday as understood by most Jews. I had been taught that Rosh Hashanah was the Jewish New Year, the anniversary of the creation of the world, and a day of judgment. But the Torah itself mentions none of those three reasons for celebrating the holiday—and does not even call it Rosh Hashanah. Still more perplexing, in contrast to the other seasonal holidays on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah seems to commemorate no important moment in the national history of the Jewish people. Rabbi Nathan Laufer

Today on the Jewish calendar is the holiday called Rosh Hashanah–literally “the head of the year.” Jews wish one another “a sweet, peaceful, and prosperous” New Year and even the non-Jewish world has caught onto the day as the “Jewish New Year.”

ShofarWeb.jpg

In contrast Christians (and thus our “secular culture”) begin the New Year in the dead of winter–as the long dark winter days finally grow longer (marked by December 21st and the Winter Solstice). Ancient Hebrews, as reflected in Exodus 12:1-2, reflecting the ancient Babylonian practice, began the year in the Spring (March/April), which was the “turning of the year,” with the arrival of new life in the Spring (marked by March 20th and the Vernal Equinox). Of course these seasons only make sense in the Northern Hemisphere.

So what is the meaning of Rosh Hashanah? Rabbi Nathan Laufer has a very perceptive piece on the subject titled “Remembrance of Trumpets Past,” in Mosaic on-line magazine, exploring its potential meaning in our oldest texts of the Torah, where this day is called both the “day of the blast,” most likely referring to the sound of the Shofar or ram’s horn, as well as a “a day of remembrance”–but the question is–remembering what? You can read his complete in-depth treatment here. I highly recommend it. It is the most intelligent piece I think I have ever come across on Rosh Hashanah. 

Jesus Son of Mary…

Did you know that Joseph, husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is never mentioned in the gospel of Mark? Since Mark is our earliest gospel that seems all the more striking. Mark has no account of the birth of Jesus whatsoever, much less any story of the virgin birth. When Jesus is identified in Mark by paternity he is called “the son of Mary,” (Mark 6:3).

stjoseph

We all tend to read our New Testament Gospels “backwards,” meaning many of us have years and years of “stories” in our heads about Jesus, Joseph, Mary, the Disciples, and so on, but with no sense of where any of them came from in terms of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John. Just imagine if Mark was ALL we had with no father even mentioned much less named for Jesus, with Jesus being called “son of Mary” in the only text that identifies him in terms of his family. What a difference that would make. Everyone tends to just “fill in” the name “Joseph” wherever it is missing. There is clearly more to this phrase–son of Mary– in Mark than immediately meets the eye.

Given Jewish culture, then and now, in which children are referred to as “X son of X,” naming the father, this is all the more jarring. I remember for years in flying into Israel we would have to fill out the visitors visa form on the flight as it landed. Under name one had to give “father’s first name.”  So even as a non-Jew I became, legally speaking, “Jimmy Dan Tabor son of Elgie,” my birth name and my father’s first name! I remember reading the trial brief for Oded Golan, owner of the James ossuary who was accused and subsequently acquitted of forgery charges, the only Israeli trial brief I have ever read, and he was referred to as Oded Golan, son of his father–with his father’s first name given. I am convinced that the complete absence of Joseph from Mark’s record, plus the reference to “the carpenter, the son of Mary,” is a subtle admission by Mark, that Joseph was not the father of Jesus and at least by the time Jesus was an adult, he had likely died.

Interestingly, when Matthew does his “rewrite” of Mark, his main narrative source, he changes Mark’s reference to the “son of Mary” significantly to read: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” (Matthew 13:55). And of course Matthew is our earliest source for the “virgin birth” of Jesus, in which it is asserted that Jesus had no human father.

What we do know with any certainty about the paternity of Jesus is precious little with lots of blank spaces to fill in. If Joseph was the father of Jesus we would surely expect Mark say so in this critical passage set in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth. For more on what we know, don’t know, and might responsibly determine see my series of posts here on the “Unnamed Father of Jesus.”

Tisha b’Av/The Ninth Day of the 5th Month: Its Meaning in History and Tradition

As sunset falls on this eighth day of the 5th lunar month, known in Judaism as the month of Av, Tisha b’Av–that is, the 9th of Av–is marked on the calendar. Last Sabbath (August 2nd or 6th of Av) began the reading of Deuteronomy and is called Shabbat Chazon, which means the “Sabbath of Vision,” taken from the first word (חזון) of Isaiah 1:1-27, which is the reading from the Prophets for this day. These opening words of Isaiah set the tone for remembering Israel’s sinfulness that brought about the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem.

Tisha b’Av is mentioned in Zechariah 7:3 and 8:19, as the “fast of the fifth month.” It is a 24 hour fast observed first and foremost to commemorate the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples of Jerusalem, in 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively–first by the Babylonians, the subsequently by the Romans. Josephus, the Jewish historian, who records the history of the latter, and lived through it, makes the connection between the strange coincidence of the Temple going up in flames on the same fateful day on the Jewish calendar (Wars, 6:249–50).[1] Those twin destructions marked the day as a time of sorrow and mourning forever after, marked by solemness and fasting without food or drink for 24 hours. The customs associated with Shiva, the Jewish mourning for the death of a close relative are followed, and the book of Lamentations is read in a special mournful chant. Ironically, according to some rabbinic tradition, the Messiah either was or will be born on Tisha b’Av, as a way of affirming that Light comes in the midst of the deepest Darkness and Despair. Those who take this literally, that he has already been born, believe he is hidden away waiting for the time of redemption (y. Berachot 2:4; Eichah Rabbah 1:51). Over the centuries this day has grown large in both history, legend, and tradition, remembered as a dark day of dire news and impending disaster. What follows below is a summary of some of that tradition, compiled by Yoram Etinger and based on many sources:

The Roman Destruction of Jerusalem by David Roberts

1. The 9th Day of (the 11th Jewish month) Av is the most calamitous day in Jewish history. Fasting on that day commemorates national catastrophes, in an attempt to benefit from history by learning from critical moral and strategic missteps, thus preventing future catastrophes. It was first mentioned in the book of Zechariah 7:3.

2.  The Passover holiday of liberty and the fast of the 9th Day of Av are commemorated on the same weekday.  The fast of the 9th day of Av is succeeded by the 15th day of Av – a holiday of love and rapprochement. The 9th Day of Av is treated simultaneously as a day of lamentation and holiday, thus highlighting a cardinal lesson: In order to fortify liberty and advance deliverance, one must commemorate calamities, avoid wishful-thinking and be mentally and physically prepared to face crises, and never lose optimism.  A day of destruction/oblivion is the first day of the path toward construction/deliverance. A problem is an opportunity in disguise. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:4), the Messiah is destined to be born on Tisha Be’Av.

3.  Major Jewish calamities occurred on the 9th Day of Av (Tisha B’Av in Hebrew):

*The failed “Ten Spies/tribal presidents” (VS. Joshua & Caleb) –slandered the Land of Israel, preferring immediate convenience and conventional “wisdom” over faith and long term vision, thus prolonging the wandering in the desert for 40 years.

*The destruction of the First Temple and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586BC) produced a massacre of 100,000 and a national exile.

*The destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by Titus of Rome (70CE) was accompanied by a massacre of 1MN and a national exile.

*Bar Kochba (Great) Rebellion was crashed (135CE) with the fall of Beitar (in Judea & Samaria) and the plowing of Jerusalem by Quintus Tinius Rofus, the Roman Governor – 580,000 killed.

*First Crusade Pogroms (1096) – scores of thousands slaughtered.

*Jewish expulsion from Britain (1290).

*Jewish expulsion from Spain (1492).

*WW1 erupted (1914).

*The beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to Treblinka extermination camp.

4.  The centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish history is commemorated on the 9th day of Av.  It is highlighted by Psalm 137:5 – “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” According to the constructive/optimist spirit of Tisha’ Be’Av: “He who laments the destruction of Jerusalem will be privileged to witness its renewal” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30).

5.  The Book of the five Lamentations (The Scroll of Eikhah which was composed by Jeremiah the Prophet, who prophesized destruction, exile and deliverance) is read during the first nine days of Av. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of Eikhah (איכה) is 36, which is equal to the traditional number of righteous Jewish persons. The Hebrew meaning of Eikhah could be construed as a reproaching “How Come?!”, as well as “Where are you?”  or “Why have you strayed away?”  The term Eikhah stars in the first chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Isaiah, which are annually studied in conjunction with the book of Lamentations on the 9th day of Av. Thus the 9th day of Av binds together the values of Moses, Jeremiah and Isaiah and three critical periods in the history of the Jewish People: deliverance, destruction, renewal.

6.  The 9th Day of Av concludes a series of three Torah readings of Jewish calamities (two by Jeremiah and one by Isaiah), and launches a series of seven Torah readings of consolations, renewal and ingathering (by Isaiah).

7.  Napoleon was walking at night in the streets of Paris, hearing sad voices emanating from a synagogue.  When told that the wailing/lamenting commemorated a 586BC catastrophe – the destruction of the First Temple – he stated: “People who solemnize ancient history are destined for a glorious future!”

8.  The commemoration of the 9th day of Av constitutes a critical feature of Judaism. It strengthens faith, roots, identity, moral clarity, cohesion and optimism by learning from past errors and immunizing oneself against the lethal disease of forgetfulness. Memory is Deliverance; forgetfulness is oblivion. The verb “to remember” (זכור) appears almost 200 times in the Bible, including the Ten Commandments. Judaism obligates parents to transfer tradition to the younger generation, thus enhancing realism and avoiding the curse of euphoric or fatalistic mood.

9.  The custom of house-cleaning on the 9th day of Av aims at welcoming deliverance. Fasting expresses the recognition of one’s limitations and fallibility and the constant pursuit of moral enhancement and humility.

10.  The 9th Day of Av is the central of the Four Jewish Days of Fast, commemorating the destruction of the First Temple:  the10th Day of Tevet (the onset of the siege that Nebuchadnezzar laid to Jerusalem), the 17th day of Tamuz (the walls of Jerusalem were breached), the 9th day of Av (destruction of both Temples) and the 3rd day of Tishrey (The murder of Governor Gedalyah, who maintained a level of post-destruction Jewish autonomy, which led to a murder rampage by the Babylonians and to exile).

11.  The 9thDay of Av culminates the Three Weeks of Predicament (ימי בין המצרים), starting on the 17th day of the month of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar (1st Temple) and by Titus (2nd Temple).

12.  The month of Av launches the transformation from Curse to Blessing.  The Hebrew spelling of Av (אב) consists of the first two letters of the Hebrew alpha-Beth.  These letters constitute the Hebrew word for “bud” and they are the first two letters of the Hebrew word for “spring” (אביב , which means the father of twelve month).  The first letter, א, stands for ארור (cursed) and the second letter, ,ב stands for ברוך (blessed). The Hebrew letters of Av constitute the letters of Father (אב) and the first two letters of אבל (mourning).  The numerical value of Av (Aleph=1 and Bet=2), which is three, the combination of the basic even and odd numbers (King Solomon: “A triangular string/knot cannot be broken”). The zodiac sign of Av is a lion, which represents the Lion of Judah, rising in the aftermath of destruction caused by Nebuchadnezzar, whose symbol was the lion. Moses’ brother, Aharon – the embodiment of human kindness – died on the 1st day of Av.

  1. The First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. on the 10th of Av, according to Jeremiah 3:12, whereas in the corresponding record in II Kings 25:8–9, the date is given as the 7th of Av. The Tosefta Ta’anit 4:10 (also Ta’an. 29a) explains this discrepancy by stating that the destruction of the outer walls and of the courtyard started on the 7th of Av while the whole edifice was destroyed on the 10th of Av. R. Johanan declared that he would have fixed the fast on the 10th of Av because it was on that day that the greater part of the calamity happened. The rabbis however decided that it is more fitting to commemorate the “beginning of the calamity.” The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., on the 10th of Av, according to the historian Josephus (Wars, 6:249–50). This day is still observed as a day of mourning by the Karaites. The Talmud (Ta’an. 29a), however, gives the date as the 9th of Av, which became accepted as the anniversary of both destructions. The Jewish Virtual Library []

Remembering Servetus and the “One God” Movement Among Evangelical Christians

Michael Servetus (aka Miguel Serveto) is surely one of the most remarkable men of history, though he is largely unknown in general circles. He was born in Spain in 1511 and died in 1553, at age 42, burnt at the stake as a heretic by John Calvin’s Geneva Council. He was a brilliant scientist and his field was primarily medicine, but it was his theological views that led to his universal condemnation by both Catholics and Protestants. Servetus rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and although he maintained belief in the virgin birth, he denied that Jesus was God. He was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and in his primary work, De trinitatis erroribus (“On the Errors of the Trinity”), he ably argued that the Bible itself, in neither Old Testament nor New Testament, supported the subsequent Trinitarian notion of Jesus as God.

Servetus has even penetrated the Evangelical Christian world a bit after 500 years. Pro-Golfer and Evangelical writer Kermit Zarley, under the pen name of  “Servetus the Evangelical,” published a book titled The Restitution of Jesus Christ. You can visit his website at servetustheevangelist.com. Zarley’s work is impressive, all 600 pages. It is thoroughly researched and documented, and fully in touch with the massive amount of scholarly discussion currently available on the “Christology of the New Testament.”

In fact there is a growing “biblical unitarian” or “One God” movement that is making significant inroads within a variety of evangelical Christian circles. See the following links for a few examples:

http://focusonthekingdom.org/

http://kingdomready.org/

http://www.christianmonotheism.com/

http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/