WALTER BRUEGGEMANN is a leading authority of Old Testament interpretation and author of more than two dozen books. In this book he seeks to make a contribution to the application of biblical concepts of God’s chosen people and the promised land in the light of the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This book is slim, focused on the social justice issues and the relevance of key readings of Hebrew scripture to this conflict. It is written to be a manual for group discussions, particularly by Christian groups in churches. Brueggemann focuses on three main themes and their roots in scripture: the meaning of the “God’s chosen people,” the donation of the “holy land” to the “chosen people,” and the relation of Zion and Israel.

The “chosen people” are chosen by God as an arbitrary decision, writes Brueggemann, not based on any superiority of that people to others, but only on God’s love for them. It is an unconditional decision by God to choose this people with whom to have a special relationship. Yet this idea evolves in Israel’s history. There develops the theme that the people of Israel will be held especially accountable by God because of this relationship and punished for their iniquities (Amos 3:2). Isaiah suggests that, in a redemptive future, Egypt and Assyria will be chosen alongside Israel as a “blessing in the midst of the earth” (Isaiah 19:24-25).

Later heirs of the biblical tradition reinterpreted the idea of the chosen people to apply to themselves. Some in the Christian church saw itself as inheriting the status of God’s chosen people. Some in the United States regard this nation as a chosen people, occupying a new “promised land.”

Brandon Wrencher 08-11-2015


THE LECTIONARY PASSAGES for these weeks of Pentecost make the season come alive. Why? Because who doesn’t light up at receiving gifts? We humans are pretty good at giving gifts—Christmas, birthdays, graduations. Yet our giving pales in comparison to that of the Holy Spirit. Usually we give because we expect something in return. The Holy Spirit gives freely and abundantly out of unending love and grace. These scriptures tell of the Holy Spirit giving us all we will need to lead God’s people: happiness, tongues, humility, and boldness. And yet we’ll also get more than we need: The Holy Spirit both gives and empowers.

For the work ahead, we will certainly need a power that goes beyond ourselves—unless we are satisfied with half-baked sermons, timid leadership, and time-bound visions. In case this sounds like your grandmother’s preacher on the “fruits of the spirit,” remember that the Spirit put on display in these verses is the prophetic, justice-loving, reconciliation-seeking third person of the Trinity who anointed Jesus with his mission. His was a mission “to bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18b-19). What a politically theological imagination, capable of transforming the world! It’s the same one the Holy Spirit gives to us today through the church for the world. That’s a gift worth dying for. Holy Spirit come, come quickly!

Illustration by Rick Stromoski

The prophet who got everything wrong. 

Pictured here, “De claris mulieribus." Photo via RNS, courtesy Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Two of the world’s great libraries — the Vatican Library in Rome and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University — have scanned and loaded the first of 1.5 million pages of ancient Hebrew, Greek, and early Christian manuscripts online Tuesday.

The project brings rare and priceless religious and cultural collections to a global audience for the first time in history.

The website is the first step in a four-year project and it includes the Bodleian’s 1455 Gutenberg Bible — one of only 50 surviving copies.

The $3.3 million project is funded by the Polonsky Foundation, which aims to democratize access to information. Leonard S. Polonsky is chairman of Hansard Global PLC, an international financial services company.

Likely the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found. Photo courtesy RNS/Green Scholars Initiative

Evangelical businessman Steve Green on Thursday unveiled what he called “the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found” and will add it to the collection of religious artifacts that will form the core of the Bible museum he is building in Washington, D.C.

The artifact, dating from 840 A.D., is written in Hebrew on parchment and shows Babylonian vowel marks. Green said it was purchased less than a year ago from a private collection and is of Middle Eastern origin. But he declined to name the seller or how much he paid for it.

Photo courtesy the Hebrew Charter School Center.

A classroom at the Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn, a public charter school. Photo courtesy the Hebrew Charter School Center

WASHINGTON — What’s one way to ensure that a new Hebrew-immersion public charter school isn’t a Jewish school? Hire a priest to run it.

Sela, which means “rock” or “foundation” in Hebrew, opens in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19. As a public school, Sela may not teach or show preference to any religion. But the intimate connection between Hebrew and Judaism makes some people wonder whether the separation is truly possible.

The question is not just for Sela, but for the dozen or so other public Hebrew charter schools from Brooklyn, N.Y., to San Diego that have started since the first one opened in Florida in 2007. And more Hebrew language charters are in the design stage.

Making things even more complicated is Hebrew’s ties not only to Judaism but to Israel. When the Sela staff began naming classrooms for major cities in Israel this summer, the school’s executive director, Jason Lody, said there would be no class named after the disputed capital of Jerusalem.

“We want to be a public school of excellence,” Lody said. “We don’t want to be sidetracked by political conversations that don’t focus on getting our 4-year-olds ready for kindergarten.”

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