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    • #2061
      Forgiving Victim

      3.3 Undergoing Atonement: Ancient Hebrews

      In the next three modules we will be directly examining what is known as Atonement. In this module, we will discuss the different ideas and experiences of Atonement the participants bring with them.

      Receiving a new story

      Share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous Module showing up in your lives.

      Contemplating Atonement

      Answer the following questions about the Isenheim Altarpiece:

      • How would you describe what is going on in this picture?
      • What does it mean to say that Christ died for our sins?

      Food for thought

      Join the conversation taking place around these questions in the Discussion Forum for this module.

      • In what ways is the Ancient Hebrew Atonement sacrifice different than what James called the Aztec model, the people making a sacrifice to God?
      • Often in classic Atonement theory, God is imagined to be angry or insulted by human sinfulness.
        • What does God’s attitude toward human sinfulness appear to be in the ancient Hebrew liturgy?
        • What sort of response might that call forth from us?
      • James explains that awareness of sin is derived from undergoing the process of forgiveness. In other words, forgiveness comes first and understanding of sin follows from that.
        • How does that change the way you think about sin and forgiveness?
        • How does undergoing forgiveness induct us into new patterns of desire?

      Wrap-up question

      In what way does understanding Atonement as a liturgy influence your understanding of what it means to say that Christ died for our sins?

    • #5962
      Tony Z
      • #5963

        Tony, I can’t open the link you sent me. Can you come back to me on this one?

      • #46551

        Thanks for letting us know. The link on the page has been repaired. My apologies for the inconvenience.

    • #5965
      Tony Z

      The broken link for the image to the altarpiece is in this section:

      • #5966

        The web site is regulated from Chicago Tony, so if this link is still not functioning best to refer it to Maura Junius who is the technical wizard. [email protected] Let me know how you get on.

    • #6039

      “James explains that awareness of sin is derived from undergoing the process of forgiveness. In other words, forgiveness comes first and understanding of sin follows from that.”

      Prior to the sacrifice on the cross didn’t Jesus recognize sin? “Go and sin no more”, etc.

    • #6046

      Yes James tell us that “Sins are derived from the process of atonement or forgiveness, which massively precedes them and enables them to be understood as that which can be forgiven.” I think what James is saying here is extremely profound, but Lee I don’t think he is implying that forgiveness did not exist before the sacrifice of Christ. James describes original sin as the autonomous self, that is the belief that all our thoughts and desires originate within ourselves, the belief that we are independent beings not interdependent or connected beings. This leads us inevitably to the non-recognition of the other. What he was saying previously about how we should not linger over, or agonise about our own peccadillos, means that we should learn to forgive ourselves, which enables us to forgive another as we come to realise that we are all wounded, broken people. This is the beginning of compassion and interconnectedness. And this is how, in forgiving, we come to realise the true nature of sin. Does this help?

    • #46631
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum of this unit, share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous session showing up in your lives.
      Just halfway through this journey of our life
      I reawoke to find myself inside
      a dark wood, way off-course, the right road lost
      (‘The Divine Comedy’, by Dante Alighieri. Translated by Tom Phillips, 1983)

      What awakened Dante? Was it some metaphorical rumble-strip on the road of his life?

      In Iowa, it seems like every single rural intersection has a rumble-strip. These series of three washboard-pavements preceding a stop sign can be as unsettling as they are unavoidable. The acronym for rumble-strip, coined by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission in 1988, is SNAP or Sonic Nap Alert Pattern. My dog Acie intensely disliked SNAPs. Sometimes when I’m the only car on the road, I pull into the lane opposite to avoid the triune drum roll as I slow down for a crossroad.

      While Forgiving Victim is no snap course intellectually, it is full of SNAPs inviting me to pause, to reawaken inside my “dark wood” overgrown with occlusions of the self. On my own I lose the “right road.” Forgiving Victim’s SNAPs me back. It keeps me alert to God’s gift of faith waiting to guide me away from dependence on the social other and toward the openness and freedom found in response to the urgings of the Other other!

    • #46632

      Well, Rich this passage from Dante has to be one of the most commented on in Western Literature. Your translation uses the word reawaken, but the ‘mi ritrovai’ of the original text can be, and is read as, “I find myself, yet again…” to imply that Dante is struggling with a problem that is habitual. His involvement in politics meant that he had given up on what he should have been doing, that is writing. He is also referring to the Aristotlian arch of mid life, that is the age of 35, or expressed biblically, half of three score and ten, i.e. ‘halfway through life….’ Dante is implying here that he has been given a chance to start again. The right road is lost because it is dark !! There is also a biblical reference in this text from Isaiah and King Hezekiah, that you might care to look into.
      Can you apply all this to your life Rich? I think most of us can in one way or another.

    • #46633
      Rich Paxson

      The Isenheim Altarpiece shows Jesus dying on the cross. Roman governor Pilate ordered crucifixion for Jesus, who Pilate saw as a common criminal, a seditious rebel. The people surrounding the cross represent various prominent persons in Jesus’s life. However, the picture does not show us a moment in time, but rather makes a statement about a moment in time.

      The most common contemporary interpretation of Jesus death on the cross is that God required Jesus’s death so that God could forgive the sins of humankind incurred through its unceasing sinfulness. God’s vengeance towards humankind was satisfied once and for all when Jesus gave his life in satisfaction of humankind’s infinite and unforgivable debt to God.

      James, however, writes that there is no vengeful God demanding satisfaction of any debt. The vengeful God theory is a medieval interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’s death on the cross, which obscures the real meaning of his crucifixion. Jesus’s death on the cross is equivalent to the slaughter of a perfect lamb at the beginning of an annual First Temple liturgy of atonement.

      The high priest sprinkles the blood of a slaughtered lamb on the place and people of the liturgy. The blood of the lamb symbolizes God’s prevenient and eternal love making the liturgy possible in the first place. Jesus’s crucifixion, rather than paying a debt, points toward God’s constant love, forever at work redeeming material reality from the messes created through the unceasing mimetic agency of human rivalry.

      • #46638

        James’s teaching on ‘Non-Violent Atonement’ is so important Rich, that I am going to let him say it himself.

        “Do you see that there is a huge movement in the atonement? The movement is from creation to us becoming participants in creation by our being enabled to live as if death were not. This is the priestly pattern of atonement; and it is the priestly pattern that Jesus had the genius to combine with the ethical, bringing together the ancient liturgical formula, the prophecies, the hopes of fulfillment of the anointed one, the true high priest who would come and create a new temple, the true shepherd of the sheep who would come to create a new temple – fulfilling those, and revealing what it meant in terms of ethical terms: the overcoming of our tendency to sacrifice each other so as to survive. That is the world, which thanks to him, we inhabit.

        Now, do you see why I said that I wanted to give you a much more conservative account than the atonement theory allows? What we are given is a sign of something that has happened and been given to us. What is difficult for us is not grasping the theory, but starting to try and imagine the love that is behind that. Why on earth should someone bother to do that for us? That’s St Paul’s issue. “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rom 8:31-32) St Paul is struggling to find language about the divine generosity. That is the really difficult thing for us to imagine. We can imagine retaliation, we can imagine protection; but we find it awfully difficult to imagine someone we despised, and were awfully glad not to be like – whom we would rather cast out so as to keep ourselves going – we find it awfully difficult to imagine that person generously irrupting into our midst so as to set us free to enable something quite new to open for us. But that’s what atonement is about; and that is what we are asked to live liturgically as Christians.”

    • #46634
      Rich Paxson

      Thank you, Sheelah, for the reference to Isaiah and King Hezekiah. And thank you, for translating ‘mi ritrovai’. Using language properly to discern an author’s original meaning is fascinating and critical to ‘finding oneself.’ And yes, I can apply ‘all of this’ to my life! While Dante’s Divine Comedy may not be the most commented on literature in Iowa, I do find myself searching for the right road in the dark from time to time!

      Prophet Isaiah
      Heard Hezekiah calling
      Who had lost his way

    • #46639
      Rich Paxson

      In what ways is the Ancient Hebrew Atonement sacrifice different than what James called the Aztec model, the people making a sacrifice to God?Both the Ancient Hebrew Atonement sacrifice and the Aztec model reflect practices aimed at reestablishing the broken relationship between a metaphysical other and humanity. The Aztecs sacrificed humans to appease their god’s anger.
      Ancient Hebrews, on the other hand, developed an Atonement liturgy reflecting their evolving understanding that God, who was not one of the gods, was completely loving. In the ancient Hebrew or First Temple Liturgy of Atonement God re-entered material reality to forgive creation, to return it to its rightful order. God did not come into material reality to punish the wrathful conditions humans had created among themselves through rivalrous striving against each other. Atonement liturgy acted out God’s constant desire to draw near to love and to forgive. Forgiveness was, and is, a process happening within the material world, within time.

      God’s loving forgiveness calls us into living fully within a “broad place” as the Psalmist put it. Loving forgiveness implies that God wants us to let go of small, tightly bound lives for the expanded, generous lives for which God created us. God’s forgiveness and loving embrace are much more difficult to imagine than an angry god demanding retribution. Therefore, atonement liturgy is a “reverse flow” motion, an iterative process that happens over time.

      • #46654

        Exactly Rich, the Aztec model is what we call the ‘archaic sacred”, that is violent scapegoating to appease a wrathful, vengeful god. The Hebrew Scriptures give us another model through the prophets who cry out for forgiveness and reconciliation, not ‘burnt offerings’. James teaches us just that, despite the fact that non-violent atonement has been great misunderstood over the centuries. I think we are witnessing the Gospel working in history. You express all this very well.

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