Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Broadening of Horizons
I was talking to this Jewish man just the other day in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. I entered into a discussion with him because I wanted to obtain a better understanding of Orthodox Jewish theology. I have become very interested in knowing what Jewish thoughts are, especially on particular subjects. Now, one might ask “why would you care what the Jews think” or “why are you interested in Jewish theology”. Well, God’s chosen people are the Jews, Jesus is Jewish, and 2/3’s of the Bible is the Tenakh (Old Testament). If one wants to know where they are going they first must look to where they’ve been. These are a couple of reasons why I want to know about the roots of the Bible and the roots of the Christian faith.

So, anyway, back to the discussion…

We where talking about prayer shawls (Numbers 15:37-41) for awhile and in the midst of this conversation I turned it toward another subject. I asked this man what the Jewish mindset was on the afterlife and I heard some very interesting things…

…But before I go any further I’d to share what started me on this whole journey in the first place. The following is the "claim" that had such an impact on my own thoughts and continues to do so...

It’s rather simple, actually, when you boil it all down, but it leads to so many other questions and thoughts. All it is, is a little Koine Greek word…geenna.

Chipped Teeth
In the entire Bible there are fourteen occurrences of the English translation of this Greek word. Twelve of the uses of this word appear in the Gospels. The Greek word geenna has been translated into the English word “hell”…

The Greek word geenna comes from the Hebrew word hinnōm.

And this is where things begin to get very interesting…

This word refers to a literal place called the Valley of Hinnom (Josh 15:8; 18:16) or the Gehenna Valley. The valley is located west and south of Jerusalem, which I currently live right next to. Actually, just the other day I played baseball down there. The origin of the name is unknown but is believed to almost certainly be the name of a person.

In the Old Testament, it was often the site where people of Judah sacrificed their children to the pagan god Baal (
2 Kgs 23:20; 2 Chr 28:3,4; Jer 7:31; 19:5, 6; 32:35). It also was the place where children were sacrificed during the time of King Ahab and Manasseh, where children were sacrificed to Molech.[2]

In ancient cities, usually a sewer canal ran under the streets. The designed purpose for these canals was probably to drain rain water from the town. However, people also used them as a means of disposing of any unwanted waste. In Jerusalem, these canals emptied into the Hinnom Valley, so the use of the valley was similar to that of a garbage dump. Trash and carcasses of unclean animals were constantly burning in this valley.
[3] Jesus quotes Isaiah 66:24 in Mark 9:48 in reference to the Hinnom Valley when He said “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

When I first studied this it blew my mind. All sorts of questions began to surface in my thoughts…

The number one question I’ve been asking myself is, “how does this affect my theology?” Whether it means that hell is exactly what I was taught as a child or is something completely different, I’d like to know.

So, back to the conversation with the Jewish man. He stated that the Jewish mindset on hell is not eternal separation from God. For if an individual were to be completely separated from God then they would cease to exist. Hell and Heaven, in some ways, are the same place. The thing that makes something heaven or something hell is what ones life has been like. An individuals awareness before God is what will make his conscious difficult, painful…or blissful.

"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the LORD Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them.

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall (Malachi 4:1-2).

Same sun…to some it burns and to others it heals.

Very interesting…

So, that’s a little insight into what I’ve been thinking and trying to figure out. Why did Jesus refer to the Hinnom Valley in this way? How do I apply this? How does this compliment or supplement my theology? How should this affect my everyday life? So, many questions and such an interesting subject…

[1] D. R. W. Wood. New Bible Dictionary 3rd edition. Inter-varsity press, Leicester, England. 1996.
[2] W. Harris. The Complete Biblical Library Alpha-Gamma. Springfield, Missouri, U.S.A. 1990.
[3] Gehenna—A Picture of Hell. 1995-2005. That The World May Know Ministries. 12-4-05. <>.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Plato Republic
Book VII
The Allegory of the Cave

[Socrates is speaking with Glaucon]
[Socrates:] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon:] I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -- will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?


Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.


He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

To be sure, he said.

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

No question, he said.

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

Grey Matter
Please keep this allegory in mind when you read about what I am learning, hearing, and thinking about here in Israel. Some things I talk about or present could be a little different than what you have been taught growing up or might slightly differ from some of your own beleifs. Keep in mind though that our God is a mystery and when we think we have Him or His Word all figured out then we've turned Him into something smaller than ourselves. I have been asking a lot of questions about my faith, life, and myself. I encourage you too to ask questions, for I truly beleive that the unexamined beleif is not worth beleiving.

"And this is why questions are so central to faith. A question by its very nature acknowledges that the person asking the question does not have all the answers. And because the person does not have all of the answers, they are looking outside of themselves for guidance. Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know." -Rob Bell Velvet Elvis

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Old News
Over the past couple of days we have been having tours of the New City and the Old City. Both the Old and the New are considered Jerusalem, just different parts of the city. Obviously, the Old City is more of the original and the New City is modern. The Old City is surrounded by a stone wall that was rebuilt in the 1500's and is also divided up into quarters (the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Christian Quarter). The wall is approximately 2.5 miles in total length. The is a lot of tourist type shops in there, but a lot of other amazing historical sights (such as the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Holy Sepulchre, and much, much, more). The New City is very modern. There is a fantastic pedestrian only square filled with all sorts of quality eats and shops called the Ben Yehuda Square. There are street performers, beautiful lighting, and lots of people. On Sunday we got a tour of the Old City (which I am in love with), walked part of the city wall, saw all of the historical sights I listed above. Too many amazing thoughts and feelings to pen out...

...but I'd like to share one with you...

Such Great Heights
A little less than a year ago I was reading a book that made a profound claim that to this day continues to blow my mind. I researched this claim and discovered that it was 100% valid. In fact, I wrote a final paper with a piece of the research I did and included it in the paper..."so what is this claim" you might be saying aloud. In all honesty, this claim has come to mean so very much to me. In fact, it is so special that I want to keep it all to myself. I don't want to share it (like a toddler and his G.I. JOE's). Sometimes I even wish that no one in the world knew this information but me so I could have it ALL to myself. Yet, there is a peice of me that wants to share this new found insight. The only reason I do want to share this claim with you is because I have a dream that gives me hope. My dream is that the Bride of Christ (the living breathing one which includes you and me, not the building) would become what it was meant to be...what it was designed/intended to be...

First, I want to address a future potential issue. After reading about the information I intend to present, I can imagine ones mind doing one of two things...opening or closing. I can see one individual read this and have the same reaction I did. My reaction initially contained a little bit or fear (and it still does) but it opened my eyes to so many new ideas, thoughts, and questions.

I can see another person on the opposite side of spectrum read this information and maybe even research it, and discover how true it actually is...but will never except it as truth. With that in mind, I ask you to read an excerpt from the book Plato Rebublic (which was written in approximitly 390 B.C.) in my next post. Following that post, I plan to present the "claim" that had such an impact on my own thoughts and continues to do so...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Shalom To My Home
I began my journey on August 23rd at South Bend airport where I met Joel (the other Bethel student with me) and we took a bus (United Limo) to O’Hare. We were approximately an hour away from the airport when the bus driver pulled over and informed us that the brakes were over heating (deja vu of junior high summer camp 2003). So, we waited an hour or so for another bus to arrive (déjà vu Togo 2004), but we still had plenty of time to make our flight. The flight from Chicago to Istanbul, Turkey was long and boring. I think they purposely make it physically impossible to sleep on airplanes. Some sort of conspiracy I’m sure. I tried every position imaginable and had no luck. Our layover at Istanbul was minimal and the 1.5 hour flight flew by.

I arrived here in Jerusalem on the 24th. The Tel Aviv airport in Israel was the nicest I’ve been to. They had a waterfall in the middle of the airport. It was a beautiful way to enter into Israel. Joel and I took a sherute (taxi) to the Old City and then another one to the JUC campus. We got to campus and unpacked our stuff (which took a whopping 15min) and then we roamed the streets with a grad student here named Russ. He’s been here since June doing an archeological dig, so he knows the area a little bit. My first dinning experience in Jerusalem, Israel was at Burger King believe it or not (dad I know you’re proud…sis I know you’re disappointed). I got some shekels from the ATM on the way back and when we got back to JUC Joel and I crashed.

Starting yesterday at sunset was the beginning of my first Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) here in Israel and will end at sunset this evening. Yesterday evening I was out roaming the streets and enjoyed watching all the Jews walking towards their synagogues in their respectful Shabbat garb (I fail to know all of the technical names for all that they were wearing…lots of black).
Today began orientation. We met with our advisors and since I was the first student to meet with my advisor, I have a little break. Later today we are going to have a tour of the campus (this place is a maze!) and then have a walk through the Old City so we know where our local conveniences are. Until then…peace in the Middle East…