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CONTENTS Foreword vii Editor¿s Foreword to First Edition vii Preface to the First Edition ix Preface to Second Edition xi I. Hermeneutics, Aging and the Biblexii II. Spirituality and Aging in the Bible xxviii Methods for Discovering Biblical Spirituality xxx Biblical Narratives as Spirituality Case Studies xxxiii Spirituality and Lot, A Case Study xxxiv Implications xxxix Models for Utiliziing the Old Age Paradigm xv III. Cross-Generational Relationships and Mentoringxl IV. Implications for Biblical Perspectives on Aging lii Introduction 1 The Nature of God and Aging Issues 3 The Bible and Aging Issues: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach 6 Biblical Theology and Aging Issues 8 Chapter 1. Aging Experiences and the Bible 11 Physical Characteristics of Old Age 11 Chronological Age and Old Age 12 Transitions Of Life and Old Age 13 Physical Loss and Old Age 14 Summary 16 Chapter 2. Attitudes Toward the Elderly in the Ancient Near East 17 Mesopotamia: Respect Reinforces Authority 18 Egypt: The Value of Aging Reinforces Respect 21 Canaan: Shifts in Values Undermine Respect 24 Conclusion 27 Pre-publication Version Chapter 3. God and the Elderly in Israel 29 Legal Traditions, the Elderly, and Social Structures 29 Prophetic Communities and Support for Social Structures 32 Wisdom Literature, the Elderly, and Social Structures 34 Conclusion 38 Chapter 4. Threats to the Common Theology of Aging 41 Aging Stereotypes and the Aging Process 42 Monarchy and Declining Leadership of the Elderly 49 Postexilic Pessimism, Death, and Aging 54 Conclusion 56 Chapter 5. Israel¿s Variations on the Common Theology 57 Care for the Elderly and the God of Justice 58 Care for the Elderly and Honoring Parents 61 Unconditional Mandate for Honoring Parents and Elders 64 Eschatology and Respect for the Aging 71 Creation, Eschatology, and Aging 74 Conclusion 75 Chapter 6. Two Responses to Respect for the Elderly 77 Early Christianity and Filial Obedience 77 Response of Early Judaism to Common Aging Values 97 Chapter 7. Biblical Theology and a Modern Response 105 Biblical Theology and Stereotypes 105 Biblical Theology Affirms Social Support 108 Biblical Theology Challenges the Elderly to Grow 113 Conclusion 115 Abbreviations 117 Scripture Index 119 Author Index 129 Notes 131 Pre-publication Version Introduction Why write a book about God and the elderly? Sociologists study the structural effects of an aging America, but should theologians? Gerontologists evaluate problems and seek solutions to the dilemmas of aging, but should the church? Politicians consider financial options for future Social Security programs, but what have these concerns to do with the Bible? Psychologists and medical doctors treat the mental and physical problems of the elderly, but in these matters what role can biblical theology play? Until now, many secular groups have acted as advocates for the elderly and opposed ageism. Why change? First, despite many advocacy efforts of concerned citizens, the public is still generally indifferent toward aging issues. Society needs additional pressure to facilitate change. Religion appears to be a proper vehicle for enlightening public opinion, confronting society¿s attitudes, and encouraging the elderly themselves.1 ¿ The Bible could and should assume a pivotal role in influencing future trends. Unfortunately, some religious leaders unconsciously encourage ageism by misinterpreting difficult passages and by overlooking elderly heroes in certain biblical events. It is important that biblical theology begin to clarify such unfortunate distortions. A second reason for writing a book on God and the elderly comes from a concern for that growing percentage of the population¿the aging¿who daily encounter increasing hostility. For instance, the population of North America and Europe continues to age. In 1879 about 1.2 million people in the United States, comprising about 3 percent of the population, were over sixty-five years old. By 1900 3.1 million elderly made up 4.1 percent of the nation. By 1960 the number of elderly had reached 16.7 million, 1970, 20 million, and by 1980, 25.5 million.2 This final figure represents 11.3 percent of the population or approximately one in every nine persons. The percentage of older persons increased between 1970 and 1980 by 28 percent. In the year 2002, persons sixty-five and older were one in eight or 12.3 percent. By 2030 approximately 71.5 million seniors will repre- Pre-publication Version BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES ON AGING sent 20 percent of the population, an increase of 38 percent in a de- cade.3 The percentage of persons sixty-five and older in many countries in Europe is already surpassing that of the United States.4 This increase is a worldwide phenomenon. A growing older population demands that people of faith marshal the resources of theology. What makes society feel uncomfortable with aging issues is that every member of the human race ages daily. That feeling remains despite dramatic medical advances that increase everyone¿s chances for living past sixty-five. Infants born today generally will live about twenty-six years longer than a child born in 1900. A child born in 1980 in the United States on the average will live 73.6 years. Persons reaching age sixty-five in 1980 may expect an additional 16.4 years. Physical and social problems caused by longevity reach beyond the capabilities of current social remedies: social security, medicaid, medicare, or any other government program. No new meaningful role or social structure in the Western world has emerged capable of carrying the weight of an aging population. Competition between generations compounds aging dilemmas and threatens existing social structures. For instance, governmental debate of new tax programs brings out hostility and fear. Younger employed persons oppose increases in pensions and social security payments because they fear increased taxes. In the dispute, the elderly feel targeted as political scapegoats. Intergenerational debate heats up as people realize the limitations placed on resources.5 Adequate medical care for the elderly also remains a difficult and emotional issue to solve. Extremes in medical treatment further complicate the discussion. At times good medical care may be denied older patients who ¿might die anyway.¿ In other situations physicians over-utilize hospitals and the most expensive components of medical care. The magnitude of medical costs associated with the last year of life and long-term health care may become catastrophic. The absence of a program to finance long-term maintenance of persons with chronic functional impairments penalizes elderly living near the poverty line and those who have adequate financial resources. The elderly themselves ultimately suffer most as victims of negative stereotypes about old age. When society demeans them because they are old or shows ¿ageism,¿ it robs them of a sense of worth. When older are businesses gauge productivity by long work weeks and subsequent financial contributions, the retired obviously feel discriminated Pre-publication Version Introduction against. Mandatory retirement policies and government regulations allow few healthy retirees to supplement inadequate pensions or to continue working if they so choose. Many retire to experience uselessness and, finally, death. Religion offers a legitimate context for dialogue between the theological tenets of biblical materials and current sociological structures. As prophets addressed crises of their society, so their messages remain capable of dialoguing anew with current abuses. Theologians must challenge the presuppositions of ageism on biblical grounds; then members of churches and synagogues may listen sympathetically to descriptions of the elderly¿s plight. Ancient, family-oriented societies offer helpful correctives for a throwaway, futuristic culture. THE NATURE OF GOD AND AGING ISSUES Before constructive dialogue can occur between biblical theology and current attitudes toward growing older, religious leaders need to examine the nature of God in light of aging experiences. A careful analysis of the divine being in light of previously noted aging concerns presents a somewhat distinctive picture of God. ¿Aging¿ emphases do not replace other aspects of the divine nature; rather, they isolate those that would be most meaningful to older persons. Though no absolute order can be established, three important biblical aspects of God might be stated as: 1. God the agent of blessing 2. God the protector of social structures 3. God the proponent of justice God the Agent of Blessing Biblical theology and teaching remain dominated by an event centered image of God as deliverer. Such an emphasis neglects the equally important contiguous activity of God as the one who blesses. Claus Westermann terms this an ¿error that led Western theology to a number of further misinterpretations of and deviation from the message of the Bible.¿6 The reversal of this one-dimensional view of God bodes well for a biblical dialogue with aging issues. A broadening of the concept of God as one who performs mighty acts to a con- Pre-publication Version BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES ON AGING cept including God as one who provides the elements of growth and happiness offers aging adults clear benefits.7 Before the benefits of divine blessing can be analyzed, however, the meaning of blessing needs to be clarified. It needs to be separated from the earlier, magical form of the patriarchal blessings and Balaam¿s blessing of Israel (Numbers 23). This form relies on a charismatic person or power to determine the future. Such a blessing does not magically lead the aging into a blissful old age. Likewise, a divine blessing for the elderly may not depend upon the righteousness demanded in the contractual terminology of Deuteronomy or on the conditions set forth in wisdom literature. In a world of medical technology righteousness alone does not lengthen life. Also, lengthened life, success, and wealth do not automatically make old age a happy and fulfilling time of life. Even the priestly blessing does not adequately express the full meaning of divine blessing (e.g., Genesis 1, Numbers 6). While it is unconditional, it nevertheless meets institutional needs and can become an empty ritual. Divine blessing assumes these historical con texts and forms and yet represents much more. Divine blessing in its full significance provides all generations with the power and conditions to grow vertically: to move through child hood, maturation, and physical decline in a state of being blessed.8 Such a description of blessing opens for the elderly a new sense of worth and a propensity toward growth. Through divine blessing God provides the essential elements for growth. Recognition of these elements may restore hope and dignity to the aging. These conditions insure that an aging body holds the potential for self-fulfillment and happiness. Salvation represents more than deliverance. It includes also a state of being blessed. This sense of security and continuity calms fears associated with the mystery and unknowns of aging. God the Protector of Social Structures Biblical traditions about creation, election, and Royal-Zion theology teach that the structure of society finds its origins and continuity with the will of God. Such a view undergirds an ordered sense of living that affirms divine providence. God both establishes a system of relationships and asserts sovereignty over it. In this way the kingdom Pre-publication Version Introduction of heaven legitimates and preserves worthy earthly structures and social arrangements.9 Structural legitimation serves the ruling class, but it also provides a supportive system for the elderly. The granting of honor to otherwise vulnerable parents and aging leaders depends on the preservation of order and respect. In this way, the Lord (Yahweh) and Israel are yoked together in a ¿common theology¿ and walking toward common goals. When this system comes into jeopardy because of sociopolitical shifts as well as religious apathy, God acts to assert in stronger terms crucial elements of that social structure that need to be regained and solidified. Though God seems to promote a system as an acceptable solution, the powerful should not view this common theology as a legitimation of their particular sociopolitical point of view or methods. Israel¿s God retains a certain freedom to accept or reject such on the basis of contractual standards. God does not sanction unconditionally the practices of any particular ruler or structure. God acts as an enforcer of order and respect but at the same time expresses indignation when a structure falls short of its contractual ideals. Aging citizens may discover a measure of comfort in the support offered by their creator and sovereign. God promises continuity and does not abandon those who grow old (implied in the petition of an older worshiper in Ps 71:9, 18 and the assurance of being heard in vv. 19-21). They retain worth as a result of an orderly creation and as recipients of honor and respect. Aging citizens within the people of God experience support and comfort by realizing that their God protects their status in an appropriate, consistent, and personal manner. God as Proponent of Justice A third statement about God seems to conflict with the first two characteristics. God as the proponent of justice often clashes with role of structure legitimation. Justice as a divine category suggests that God sides with a fragile minority against a blessed, powerful, but oppressive structure. In this sense God acts as deliverer of the weak, provides blessing for the neglected and protection for the powerless. These divine tenets seem to contradict those of the common theology. In the justice of God, however, the aging also find comfort and hope. God the deliverer angrily rejects those who exploit those of di- Pre-publication Version BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES ON AGING minished status. Since aging implies an eventual weakening of the physical, social, and economic powers of an older person, the elderlydepend increasingly on God¿s protection from enemies both within the family and from the outside. God¿s deliverance from self- serving structures and persons may enable the elderly to assume their rightful role as elders or leaders. An exodus from a fate similar to slavery and uselessness on a personal and social scale may occur daily through divine commitment to justice. Such a commitment ultimately supplies the aging with the necessary confidence and hope to face death. All three aspects of God appear in complex traditions and forms, scattered throughout the Scriptures. Israel¿s common theology of divine blessing and protection of social structures does not remain static. The Bible describes appropriate variations, social interaction, and numerous reactions to changing historical situations. At times Is- rael¿s relationship with God enriches in unique ways ancient Near Eastern views of the elderly. In most instances, the God of Israel promotes an environment of growth and freedom in which all generations can discover the joy of living in mutual respect and interdependence. These teachings need to dialogue with aging issues in a fresh way. THE BIBLE AND AGING ISSUES: A CROSS-DISCIPLINARY APPROACH Normally an investigation of social issues in the Bible confronts a serious shortage of data. The Bible lacks a systematic theology of aging and a comprehensive account of the treatment of elders. Instead clues about general attitudes and practices must be gleaned from a careful cross-disciplinary study of biblical literature itself. Such materials must be interpreted in the perspective of anthropological evidence from surrounding cultures and their related literatures. The Use of Anthropological Evidence Relative lack of biblical evidence makes a careful study of the anthropological and social materials from related cultures an important task. Comparative evidence demonstrates the complexity of ancient social institutions. It provides an extensive background for interpret- Pre-publication Version Introduction ing biblical evidence. It should not lead to simplistic conclusions or restrictive correlations between cultures. On the other hand, a systematic examination of literary data within its particular context can illumine the interpretation of limited biblical data. The work follows several guidelines to guard against methodological errors.10 (1) Anthropological data is collected from sources that generally are reliable even though they are secondary works. The collection of data attempts to be as systematic and as thorough as limitations allow. (2) Generalizations are based on interpreting comparative data within its own social and historical context. (3) Social data from the ancient Near East is interpreted in light of a survey of literatures from a wide range of societies. (4) Though data collected will never be complete and hence its conclusions will be somewhat tentative, it is selected for this work as that which relates best to aging issues in biblical evidence. (5) The biblical text ever remains the primary factor in utilizing comparative data. In instances where the Bible possesses insufficient corroborative evidence, the author will treat as tentative an interpretation based on comparative materials. Incorporating comparative anthropological evidence into the discussion enhances the recognition of biblical attitudes and establishes a basis for determining the nature of a common theology of aging in the ancient Near East. Likewise, the data provides grounds for isolating unique contributions of Israel¿s traditions. This evidence, there fore, supplements in a helpful way the paucity of social data in the Bible. Interpreting the Bible in Light of Aging Issues The study of biblical material has to take into account the complexity of Israel¿s traditions. Information about the elderly appears in a variety of literary forms and is the product of a long period of development. Though the nature of this work limits the number of linguistic, historical, and literary comments that can be included, it makes an effort to take into account the general literary contexts and historical milieu of passages. Only crucial passages are examined in detail. Others are surveyed. The survey method allows more of the evidence to be treated and allows certain texts which frequently are ignored or misunderstood to Pre-publication Version BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES ON AGING be reinterpreted. A general outline of the history of attitudes and practices toward the elderly emerges from the survey. The in-depth study of a few important passages allows the work to consider the complexity of tradition (e.g., the Ten Commandments). However, concentration on a few texts necessarily limits the conclusions that can be drawn about the materials. The interpretation of texts from a hermeneutical viewpoint, taking into account aging concerns, assumes the validity of a theology of ag- ing.11 It calls for taking into account the increased significance of aging in human experience. It recognizes in aging potential contributions to theological understanding. It opens the Scriptures to a more pluralistic and inclusive methodology which also probes into the aging experience. Such a methodology, however, must not be used uncritically. It must take into account the ancient context of a passage and its primary intent. Nevertheless, that passage may need to deal with new issues in light of current attitudes toward that which is old and toward aging in general. In this case secondary concerns may need to be examined before the primary thrust of a passage can be interpreted in an inclusive manner. The book does not call for a gray theology as much as it attempts to sensitize readers to take into account the aging experience when interpreting biblical materials. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY AND AGING ISSUES Recent publications indicate that religion and gerontology already are reuniting.12 This work attempts to broaden that dialogue to include biblical studies. Responsibility demands that these disciplines enter the dialogue with religion and gerontology. Biblical theology continues to seek a method that takes into ac count the diversity and unity of the Bible. This method must relate to social structures and concerns if it is to inquire into the aging experience. It also must allow for historical development and literary complexity. One such method is proposed by Walter Brueggemann.13 He recognizes within the work of the deity a certain amount of ¿structure legitimation.¿ Such concerns for legitimation of the social order are shared by Israel and its neighbors. One might call this a ¿common theology.¿ Divine power reinforces the structures of society, perpetu- Pre-publication Version Introduction ating order and security. This common theology provides the basic structure for respect of the elderly in the biblical data. Hence, this methodology is especially attractive to a study of the Bible and aging issues. On the other hand, determining when and how biblical instruction departs from social legitimation to describe God as one who uniquely relates to the experiences of the aging is more difficult than isolating the common theology. Yet the description of the unique relationship between God and the aging in the Bible allows Christians and Jews to understand better how their deity blesses and delivers those facing old age. Despite the tentative nature of choosing criteria for isolating different theologies, the method facilitates the organization of data into a history of Israel¿s instruction and practices relating to the elderly. It allows the author to deal with both the diversity and unity of biblical teachings concerning aging. It also takes into account social concerns that influence directly a theology of aging. The method clarifies how God can be the agent of blessing, the protector of social structures, and at the same time a proponent of justice. It helps explain how God challenges the elderly to growth and at the same time provides the basic elements for growth. It takes into account both continuity and change within the actions of God. As a prototype for a dialogue between biblical data and gerontology, this book examines biblical attitudes and practices that relate to current aging experiences. Without claiming to be comprehensive, the book presents representative elements of a dialogue on aging that developed within Israel¿s experiences and faith. Chapter 1 defines the issues of aging and how the Bible and its related literatures described old age. Chapter 2 outlines what the literatures of the ancient Near East teach about aging and intergenerational relationships. Chapter 3 highlights values Israel shared with its neighbors, which may be termed a common theology on aging. Chapter 4 describes common tensions and seeds of ambiguity that limit the implementing of Israel¿s values and attitudes toward the elder generation. Discussions in chapter 5 present the unique emphases and concerns of Israel¿s variations on this common theology. Chapter 6 covers the responses of two great faiths, Christianity and Judaism, to various mandates of respect for the elderly. Finally, Chapter 7 applies these biblical concerns to present Western attitudes and prac- Pre-publication Version BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES ON AGING tices. Such an approach examines biblical data through the lenses of the experiences of aging. Adherents to Christianity and Judaism14 will journey in this book to the roots of their heritage and begin there to probe the significance of aging. Both faiths proclaim honor and respect for the elderly. An aging population in the Western world requires that both utilize their moral and religious resources to help shape the future. This work presents evidence and perspectives that may enable both to respond redemptively to crises attendant to that new age. Pre-publication Version
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:
Older people in the Bible.
Older people -- Middle East.
Older people -- Palestine.