There are 4 thoughts on “The Good God Hermeneutic: A Reconsideration of Religious Vocabulary”.

  1. I can’t compete with the intelligence of the Givenses or with Maxwell’s ability to absorb and clarify. But both my mind and my spirit are thrilled with the ideas in this review of All Things New. I will read the book.

  2. There is no doubt that Fiona and Terryl Givens are remarkably thoughtful and creative LDS theologians, and that some LDS notions of humanism and universalism are revolutionary and well justified. However, applying cute but false etymologies of atonement as at-one-ment or one-ing actually cheapens the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, while simultaneously denying very real aspects of human depravity.

    Hebrew kippur “atonement, reconciliation” (as in Yom Kippur “Day of Atonement,” which will be observed by the Jewish community in a few days) was a regular Israelite temple rite, as well as an integral part of every covenant renewal ceremony, as in Mosiah 3:5 – 4:8, and 1QS ii, 25 – iii, 12. In each case the atonement (whether performed by Jesus or the Israelite high priest) is vicarious, as in the Wave-Sheaf ritual (Easter Sunday morning), Hebrew hēnîp, tĕnûpâ, “wave-offering” = Ugaritic np, npy “atonement, expurgation, purification, expiation.”

    As Gregorio del Olmo Lete puts it, even the Canaanites had “a ‘liturgy of national atonement’, a sort of Canaanite yôm kippûr in which the ‘list’ of every possible sin by the people—residents, citizens and sovereigns—is combined with the proposal for and carrying out of a sacrifice.” Lete, Canaanite Religion, 2nd ed., 127.

    In addition, Lete points out, the Canaanites did not have “the Hebrew ritual of the ‘scapegoat’, which bears the sins of the people (Lv 16,20ff.).” For that we must turn to Hittite nakuššiš “scapegoat, substitute,” which was borrowed from Hurrian, and which reflects the Hurrian itkalzi purification ritual and azazhum scapegoat/ cathartic sacrifice – used like Hebrew ˁAz’azel, to assuage the “anger of the god,” since the Law requires actual payment for sin.

    The good news of the Gospel is that the Hebrew šillûm “repayment, recompense” (= Akkadian tašlimtu “payment” = Ugaritic tšlm “redemption, payment, atonement”) is taken care of by Jesus, which thus allows God the Father’s brilliant Plan of Salvation to be fully enacted based on grace. A loving God the Father has no choice in the matter. He is finite and must Himself obey universal Law. Normative Judeo-Christian theology utterly denies His true nature.

    • Robert, thank you for this compact rundown of atonement etymology in the comments section, it will be useful for readers.

      The reference to one-ing is a gesture to Julian of Norwich, among other interpreters, and certainly not claimed as an original etymology. Regardless, it’s a hard argument to make that referencing it cheapens Christ’s self-sacrifice.

      For what purpose did he lay down his life if not to bring back together that which is fragmented and driven apart by sin? The ancient practices of scapegoating and group-based expiation certainly had some unitive purposes. And even if we go with the model of atonement that serves to placate the angry god, yet again we find ourselves attempting to bring back together that which is riven by sin.

      For that reason, we might see “one-ing” as a very succint exegesis, but not an etymology.

      As for denying very real aspects of humanity depravity, that is also what my review was getting at. I feel that this theological vision does skirt the issue, not out of ignorance, but rather because of its intended audience. Diving into the annals of humanity’s depravity is a different project, and would result in something less functionally beneficial. But I don’t believe that a more gracious vision impairs our response to present evil, but instead urge us to confront it and lift all the heads that hang low as a consequence. And that is what matters.

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