Tag Archives: Old Testament

NOW AVAILABLE | The Biblical City I | The Tanakh

The Biblical City, Part I – The Tanakh covers in detail more than two-dozen biblical references to the city in the Old Testament. It is commonly accepted there is anti-urban religious stereotype with origins in the earliest suburbs, the social reform movement of cities in the late 19th century, and mass suburbanization in the post-war period, which has radically remade our cities over the last 200 years. But is God really anti-urban? There are over 700 generic references to the ‘city’ in The Tanakh or Old Testament. Can they tell us anything about urbanism today, given the innumerable problems of language, translation, interpretation and our own evolving conception of the city over time? This course examines this in more detail in an attempt to answer these questions. In the Old Testament, God is not anti-urban. Quite the opposite, there is evidence of God as the architect, designer, and planner. The city itself is often seen as a symbol of strength and an ideal to achieve, because God’s plan for humanity begins in a garden without sin but concludes in a redeemed city (1.5 hour course).

Key concepts: city, strength, metaphor, Old Testament, Tanakh, urban, and wisdom.

Instructor: Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Check here to purchase this  course ($12.49), which includes an one-and-a-half hour video presentation and PDFs of the course notes and slide handout.

Note: We are beta-testing with these our course offerings so if you have any issues accessing the course material, please do not hesitate to contact us at courses@outlaw-urbanist.com. Thank you!

Share the knowledge!
Share

The Biblical City | Part 3

the-new-jerusalemThe New Jerusalem by Mollie Walker Freeman (2013).

The Biblical City: Redux
By Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Can the Holy Bible tell us anything about urbanism?

It might seem unusual to investigate the Holy Bible for information about urbanism but the idea is not completely off-the-wall. In fact, it’s the subject of a fascinating 1997 study, The City in the Bible: A Relational Perspective, by the Jubilee Center in Cambridge, England and commissioned by the Anglican Church of England (Crook, 1997). The Jubilee Centre is a non-profit Christian social reform organization that “offers a biblical perspective on issues and trends of relevance to the general public” (Source: Jubilee Centre). Other writers have also examined biblical descriptions of city planning, such as those found in the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Ezekiel (Gallion and Eisner, 1963; Frick, 1997; Reps, 1979; Hawkins, 1986). However, the most comprehensive research appears to principally derive from a social science or religious studies perspective instead of architecture or urban planning. In part, this is understandable since it’s almost impossible to separate religious doctrine from any investigation of the Holy Bible, whatever the subject. The expressed purpose of the Jubilee Centre study is to explore “God’s view of today’s city (and) how modern Christians should address urban problems” with particular emphasis on the “local action” of Christians in “political and community involvement” (Crook, 1997; 5-6).

Crook (1997) correctly points out the commonly accepted, anti-urban stereotype of the Holy Bible – and presumably of God, which reached its apex beginning in the 19th century with social reformers such as Ebenezer Howard, persisting to this day – derives from popular culture perception of its most famous stories; the Garden of Eden, the construction of the Tower of Babel as a rebellion against God, God’s wrath against Sodom and Gomorrah, Jewish revolts against Rome, and Jesus’ entry/subsequent crucifixion in Jerusalem. It is an incomplete picture but even Crook is somewhat guilty of playing to this anti-urban stereotype in his 1997 study, arguing cities began and continue “in sin and rebellion… violence… corruption and oppression” (7). This statement can be equally applied to humanity in general, and not necessarily only cities in particular. However, the overwhelming majority of references to the city in the Holy Bible are neutral (see The Biblical City, Part 2), and the two most important in the New Testament are positive. As Crook (1997) concedes, “cities… represent a microcosm of God’s redemptive plan. The Bible begins in a perfect garden, but ends in a redeemed city, the New Jerusalem” (6). Jesus first introduces this microcosm of God’s plan using the city as a metaphor during the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “You are light for the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden” (NJB Matthew 5:14). In 1630, this was the source for Puritan John Winthrop’s sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity”, promoting a “city on a hill” that would become Boston. During the 20th century, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan expanded on this reference in expressing an ideal of American exceptionalism as “a shining city on a hill” and a model for the entire world. In all three cases, the city is presented as an ideal to achieve (be it God’s salvation, Christian charity, or American exceptionalism) and not merely a hotbed for sin, violence, and corruption. One is forced to wonder how our planning of contemporary cities might be improved if we started from the premise that the city is a Divine ideal to achieve instead of an Earthly problem to solve.

References                  
Crook, A. 1997. The City in the Bible: A Relational Perspective. Cambridge, England: Jubilee Centre. Report commission by the Anglican Church of England.

Frick, F. 1977. The City in Ancient Israel. Princeton: SBL Dissertation Series 36.

Gallion, A.B. and S. Eisner. 1963. The Urban Pattern: City Planning and Design, Second Edition. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

Hawkins, P. 1986. Civitas: Religious Interpretations of the City. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press Studies in the Humanities.

Reps, John W. 1979. Cities of the American West: A History of Frontier Urban Planning. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

NEXT: The City of Wisdom

The Biblical City is a new series from The Outlaw Urbanist.

Share the knowledge!
Share

The Biblical City | Part 2

The Biblical City: Of, In, The…
By Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Can the Holy Bible tell us anything about urbanism?

There over eight hundred and fifty (850) common references to the city in the Holy Bible. There are over four-and-a-half times the number of common references to the city in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. This is unsurprising since the Old Testament has about four-and-a-third more words than the New Testament, depending on translation and which books are included.

Of the approximately one hundred and fifty (150) common references to the city in the New Testament, over twenty-one percent (21%) occur in the Book of Revelation alone. Outside of this, there are only six (6) common references to the city, which appear more significant than merely indicating a geographical place; two (2) in the Gospel of Matthew (or simply Matthew) and four (2) in St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (or simply Hebrews). More than half (51%) of the common references to the city in New Testament are nouns denoting the location/direction of a specific person in space (“He went into the city”, e.g. he was outside but now he is inside), often after a proper name (e.g. Jerusalem) was previously used in the text. These common references are extremely important in the New Testament. They map for the reader the movement and location of specific people at specific moments, most usually Jesus and his Apostles, or in recounting past events/parables during the course of the primary action of a specific text. More than a third (36%) of the common references are a non-possessive, non-relational subject or object (direct or indirect) of a sentence. (e.g. “The city was…” or “…a city”). Again, this often occurs after a proper name was previously used in the text (i.e. we already know where the action is taking place). Finally, only eleven percent (11%) of the common references in the New Testament are possessive nouns (e.g. “the priests of the city”). These possessive nouns are often important for denoting differences; for example, between insider (e.g. resident or citizen) and outsider (e.g. visitor or stranger), the powerful (e.g. priests) and the powerless (e.g. poor), or other such relationships presented as a dichotomy in the narrative.

The last might signify an important difference. Of the approximately seven hundred (700) common references to the city in the Old Testament, nearly twenty-seven percent (27%) are possessive nouns. Almost two-and-a-half times more possessive nouns are used in the Old Testament than the New Testament, in relative terms. There are several plausible reasons for this difference. It might be a simple quirk of translation, which arises for a variety of reasons. For example, most of the Torah is translated from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek. Alternatively, perhaps it is simply because the texts of the New Testament are younger than those of the Torah. Another possibility is a difference in the scale of human perspective about their world. The perspective of the New Testament is a Roman World. The perspective of the Old Testament is limited to the region of Judea, Egypt and Mesopotamia. This might have led to a change in writing style, abrogating the perceived need for extensive use of possessive nouns. Or, it might be a consequence of all these factors. In any case, this might be important because the writing style of the New Testament – and, in particular, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles – seems much more similar to the Historical Books of the Old Testament (Joshua through Maccabees) than the other books. Nearly three hundred (300) or forty-two percent (42%) of the common references to the city in Old Testament are nouns denoting the location/direction of a specific person in space. However, the Historical Books deploy these common references at a greater frequency than the rest of the Old Testament. Over forty-five percent (45%) of the common references to the city in the Old Testament occur in the Historical Books. Finally, about thirty-one percent (31%) of the common references to the city in the Old Testament are a non-possessive, non-relational subject or object (direct or indirect) of a sentence. What this suggests, whatever you might believe, is the writers of the Gospels and Acts believed they were writing histories and adopted the appropriate writing style for that endeavor drawing upon the model of Old Testament texts.

NEXT: Part 3, The Biblical City Redux

The Biblical City is a new series from The Outlaw Urbanist.

Share the knowledge!
Share

The Biblical City | Part 1

Featured Image: Depiction of Cain establishing the city of Enoch by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (circa 1851-60).

The Biblical City: In the beginning…
By Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Can the Holy Bible tell us anything about urbanism?

The Holy Bible might seem an unusual source to search for answers about urbanism. After all, it is manifestly a religious text dealing with questions of spiritual law, conduct and faith, especially the New Testament. However, the Holy Bible also represents some of the oldest texts in human history with the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) generally dated to around 1400 BC and surviving fragments of the Torah available from around 600 BC. The counter argument: it is the height of arrogance to assume prima facie the Holy Bible cannot tell us anything useful about cities and urbanism.

Of course, in researching the Holy Bible for timeless lessons about cities and urbanism, we have to accept parameters of scale will limit us to conceptual investigations and metaphorical interpretations. The ancient concept of a city is remarkably different to our modern one due to radical differences in population. World population is generally estimated at between 15-60 million people before the 4th century AD height of the Roman Empire. World population today is more than 7 billion people or approximately 100-500 times greater, depending upon scholarly estimates for ancient populations. The modern megalopolis would have been unimaginable to our ancient ancestors. We also have to accept the limits of translation. Biblical texts have been translated time and time again over the ages. What we might find in researching the Holy Bible will be heavily dependent upon how these ancient texts were translated in the past, hereby affecting our interpretation of the material today. This article initially relies upon the King James (KJB) version of the Holy Bible but also uses the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) (translated “directly from the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic” according to the Roman Catholic Church) as a double-check for translation issues. It is likely this is insufficient. However, it is a good place to start if we actually hope to say anything on the subject during a single lifetime.

There are more than three hundred (300) cities mentioned by name in the Holy Bible. Of these, some named cities are clearly more important than others. In particular, Jerusalem, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Babylon/Babel represent something more than mere settlements in geographical space though, of course, they are also this in the biblical texts. These cities have a strong metaphorical/symbolic nature running throughout most of the Holy Bible right to the Book of Revelation (written around 95 AD). There are other well-known biblical cities mentioned such as Jericho, Rome, and Nazareth, which seem more important for the exclusive purpose of geo-spatial location and identification (e.g. “Jesus of Nazareth”). Jerusalem (referenced over 600 times in the Old Testament alone) is first casually mentioned in Joshua 10:1 (KJB “Now it came to pass, when Adonizedec king of Jerusalem had heard…”). Jerusalem is also the last city mentioned by name in the Holy Bible in the Book of Revelation 21:10 (NJB “In the spirit, he carried me to the top of a very high mountain, and showed me Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God). The first city mentioned in the Holy Bible is Enoch, built by Cain and named after his son (NJB Genesis 4:17. “Cain had intercourse with his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to Enoch. He became the founder of a city and gave the city the name of his son Enoch”). Some argue Cain’s Enoch is the ancient Mesopotamian city of Uruk, which was famous as the capital city of Gilgamesh, hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh. However, it is more generally accepted that Uruk is the biblical Erech, said to be founded by Nimrod, who was the great-grandson of Noah. In any case, considering he famously murdered his brother Abel (KJB Genesis 4:9 “Am I my brother’s keeper?”), Cain represents a rather inauspicious father figure for city builders and planners. One could argue (tongue-firmly-in-cheek), this represents the original sin of the planning profession for which they still seek amends to this day as modern planners explicitly desire to be their “brother’s keeper”.

NEXT: Part 2, The Generic City in the Bible.

The Biblical City is a new series from The Outlaw Urbanist.

Share the knowledge!
Share