POVERTY and JUSTICE BIBLE


Anonymous

(Investigator 129, November)



THE BIBLE FIRST

"God, not politicians was the first to speak out on poverty," reported The Advertiser. (September 15, 2009, p. 10)

The newly published Poverty and Justice Bible, produced by World Vision and the Bible Society, has 2800 verses on poverty and justice highlighted in orange.

Concern for the poor is a biblical theme. Early Christianity took practical action against poverty its programs in the Roman Empire were unique. The pagan emperor Julian wrote: "It is disgraceful that they care not only for their own poor but for ours as well."


BRITISH LAUNCH

At the British launch of the Poverty and Justice Bible 13 Members of Parliament received copies from the Bible Society.

Andy Reed, MP said, "This…Bible…highlights God's heart for tackling poverty and establishing justice… Christians have always, and will always be, involved in these issues."

Alistair Burt, MP said, "This is a highly significant edition of the Bible reminding us of God's commitment to those affected by poverty and injustice."

Steve Webb, MP said, "The Poverty and Justice Bible is a timely reminder of God's priorities. This Bible highlights the fact that God is concerned about all aspects of our lives, and that ‘true religion' must involve action to address the gross injustices that still scar our world and our nation."

The Bible Society's Chief Executive James Catford said, "Poverty and justice have always been on the heart of God… It's important that Christians in Parliament not only know what God says on these issues, but also allow it to influence their politics."


AUSTRALIAN LAUNCH

The Australian launch of the new Bible took place in Canberra at a 270-person gathering of "Micah Challenge". Micah Challenge is a global coalition of 30 Christian aid agencies committed to fighting poverty. In Australia it has100,000 supporters "who believe justice for the poor is an essential aspect of their faith".

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd congratulated those who developed the Poverty and Justice Bible and said, "…faith without works is dead…Christian doctrine…is both about individual spirituality and a parallel commitment to social justice."

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull challenged all Australians to act to alleviate poverty and suffering: "Now in the New Testament we are told…of faith, hope and love…when one of us makes a contribution be it in dollars or in time, that contribution carries with it a direct message of love and personal commitment…"


THE BIBLE AGAINST POVERTY

The Bible is modern and relevant because on many big issues such as the threat of asteroids (#62), the health hazards of promiscuous sex (# 48) and on poverty and justice, it "spoke out" first.

The Poverty and Justice Bible is the Contemporary English Version and includes a 32-page study guide on poverty.


www.povertyandjusticebible.org/




JUSTICE: HUMAN or DIVINE

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 130, 2010 January)


In his article Poverty and Justice Bible (lnv. 129, p. 18-19) Anonymous makes a number of questionable claims. The first is his quotation from the Advertiser: "God, not politicians was the first to speak on poverty." The second is when he reiterates the claim in his concluding remarks on poverty and justice: "It [the Bible] "spoke out" first."

I have no doubt that the Bible comments on poverty and justice (Proverbs 28:27, for example). This is not the issue. The issue is the implied claim that it is the first document to concern itself with justice, and that the contents are authored by God.

The fact that the Bible was authored by human beings is indisputable. That God dictated to the scribes what they had to write is not. If we apply Occam's razor - that the least speculative theory which best fits the known facts is the one most likely to be true, and combine this with the observation that there is no sound evidence for the existence of deities, then a more reasonable conclusion is that scripture is of entirely human origin.

When were the first laws, which obviously deal with justice, established? How old is the Bible, and do the first extra-biblical laws predate it? According to some scholars the age of the earliest books in the Bible are as follows:

Many scholars agree that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, written by an unknown Israelite about 1500 B.C. Others hold that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) are the oldest books in the Bible, written between 1446 and 1406 B.C. (http://bibleresources.bible.com/afacts.php)

The most well known example of an ancient law code is the Codex Harnmurabi, enacted by Harnmurabi, sixth king of Babylon. This code, written in the Akkadian language, is inscribed in cuneiform script on a basalt stele measuring seven foot, four inches in height, and dates approximately from 1790 BC. The Codex Harnmurabi isn't the oldest  law code, for others predate it, but it is the most significant:

The Code of Hammurabi is the longest surviving text from the Old Babylonian period. Almost completely preserved, the code is far more significant in legal history than any of its forerunners, such as that of Ur-Nammu [which is the oldest known example, circa 2100-2050 Be]. 282 laws, carved in forty-nine columns on a basalt stele, address a variety of topics in civil, criminal, and commercial law. Like other Near Eastern codes, Hammurabi's does not attempt to cover all possible legal situations.
(www .historyguide.org/ancient/hammurabi.html)

The tenor of Hammurabi's code can be seen in the following extracts, which outline his vision for society. The language is somewhat grandiose, which is to be expected as it was commissioned by a king, but I think the spirit of the intent is there nonetheless:
When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind...

The great gods have called me, I am the salvation-bearing shepherd, whose staff is straight, the good shadow that is spread over my city; on my breast I cherish the inhabitants of the land of Sumer and Akkad; in my shelter I have let them repose in peace; in my deep wisdom have I enclosed them. That the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the widows and orphans, I have in Babylon the city where Anu and Bel raise high their head, in E-¬Sagil, the Temple, whose foundations stand firm as heaven and earth, in order to declare justice in the land, to settle all disputes, and heal all injuries, set up these my precious words, written upon my memorial stone, before the image of me, as king of righteousness.
(www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM)


The need for financial security is, of course, the first measure in the prevention of poverty, and Hammurabi's code makes provisions for people disadvantaged by adverse circumstances:
Law 134: If anyone be captured in war and there is not sustenance in his house, if then his wife go to another house this woman shall be held blameless.

Law 137: If a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the usufruct of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of all that is given to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be given to her. She may then marry the man of her heart.

Law 148: If a man take a wife, and she be seized by disease, if he then desire to take a second wife he shall not put away his wife, who has been attacked by disease, but he shall keep her in the house which he has built and support her so long as she lives.

Law 177: If a widow, whose children are not grown, wishes to enter another house (remarry), she shall not enter it without the knowledge of the judge. If she enter another house the judge shall examine the state of the house of her first husband. Then the house of her first husband shall be entrusted to the second husband and the woman herself as managers. And a record must be made thereof. She shall keep the house in order, bring up the children, and not sell the house-hold utensils. He who buys the utensils of the children of a widow shall lose his money, and the goods shall return to their owners.


I'm not going to argue that these laws are better or worse than those found in the Bible. The purpose of my essay is solely to show that ideas of justice and concern for the disadvantaged are more likely to be of human rather than divine origin and predate scripture.




THE BIBLE AGAINST POVERTY

Anonymous

(Investigator 131, 2010 March)


In #129 I reported on the  Poverty and Justice Bible which has verses about poverty and justice highlighted. I quoted The Advertiser newspaper that, "God, not politicians was the first to speak out on poverty." (September 15, 2009, p. 10)

Mr Straughen (#130) responded and denied that "God" (via the Bible) was first in speaking out on poverty. He cited the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1800 BCE) which had clauses that made provision for financial security and therefore opposed poverty prior to the Bible.

My article however compared Bible statements about poverty with "politicians" in the later Roman Empire and forward to the present. Within that period of comparison, "God" or the Bible "spoke out" first.

What if we extend the discussion, as Straughen wants to do, and consider the Hammurabi Code?

Even then a case can be made for "God speaking out first". How?


GENESIS

From Genesis we learn that poverty among humans began when they rejected God's authority and didn't appreciate the safe and bountiful "paradise" He put them in. As a consequence they were ousted from Eden, and forced to manage without God. The first humans in effect rebelled and most of their descendants copied the rebellious pattern of their original parents.

The result was lives of poverty, hard work, and death: "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground…" (Genesis 3:19)

The Bible continues with stories of poverty, counsel calculated to reduce poverty, and with predictions of a saviour/messiah through whom poverty would be conquered:
The LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow… (Isaiah 25:6)

If the biblical scenario is true then, "God spoke out first", thousands of years even before Hammurabi.


EVIDENCE

We can't presently scientifically confirm the Genesis scenario outlined above.

What we can do is test what is testable and generalize the result. We "test what is testable" whenever we observe that the sun rises every day and we generalize this observation and expect the sun to rise tomorrow and plan our activities accordingly. We "test what is testable" whenever we check peoples' past record or conduct to decide which person to trust in future.

Previous debates in this magazine, where we "tested what is testable", include:
1.    The description of Earth before creation in Genesis 1:2;
2.    Whether all humans descend from one "mother of all" 3:20;
3.    Whether a human-like species interacted with early humans 4:14-15.


In these three topics the outcome predicted from Genesis eventually got substantial scientific support.

If we add to the confirmed parts of Genesis the statements in the rest of the Bible that have achieved scientific confirmation, hundreds of them, then we see the Bible as a document of highest credibility. And from that position of high credibility it can be said: "God, not politicians was the first to speak out on poverty."


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