Friday, June 22, 2007

The God of tipping footballs

Perhaps it can't hurt to ask:
DESTIN — More than 300 people with a keen interest in the Emerald Coast’s real estate market gathered Wednesday at Destiny Worship Center to ask for God’s blessing.

The Real Estate Prayer Luncheon was organized in hopes of breathing life and positive thinking into the area’s slumping housing market...

“We need to think positively and get everyone on the same page,” Duke said. “Positive things that come out of your mouth will end with positive results. If we lose hope, we lose everything.”
I guess I can't ever complain too much when people come together to ask for God's blessing. After all, the worst he can say is "No." But it does smack a bit to me - looking from the outside, of course - like the equivalent of asking God to tip footballs for your favorite team. Really big footballs perhaps, but footballs nonetheless.

We've all seen the football-tipping prayers, "Please, God, let the Vikings* win this one." And the logical result was illustrated recently on an edition of MXC where the Christians were taking on someone (ad execs, maybe?) and one of the Christians told the announcer that she was sure to win because she had asked God for help. After a nearly miraculous run, she was eliminated right at the end. When asked about it, she sheepishly responded, "Well, I guess maybe He had to go help someone else just then." And it's funny because believers should** understand that God is not going to tip footballs just because you'd like to win something that is ultimately meaningless. Besides, what would he say to those on the other side making a similar request, "Sorry, your opponent asked first"?

But aside from the fact that asking God to move a market you happen to be selling in is merely asking Him to convince those who otherwise would not buy to buy at a price convenient to you, as with a lot of impromptu gatherings of this nature, it seemed to quickly devolve into an attempted application of mental magic. "We can turn this thing around if we all think positively," as if our focused mental power forces God's reluctant hand, as if faith is some kind of a spiritual weapon we can point at God to get him to do our bidding. It's not***. Ultimately faith is a spiritual weapon that allows us to do God's bidding when it otherwise seems humanly impossible. Faith is, as it is written in Hebrews, the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, and without context it sounds like we get to be the definers of what is hoped for. But I think in application (as in the examples that follow that statement) faith only "works" when our hopes are aligned with God's promises and desires.

So all that being said, will have any effect at all? I think in some cases it might - which is why I'm tiptoeing around here a bit - assuming (and this is a big assumption) there are people whom God wants selling homes and their faith gets them off dead center to do what God wants. But I suspect that God would and must have a larger purpose in mind for that individual that just earning another commission, and I suspect it would come about because of an individual change in heart, not a collective ritual - in other words, if it's done it will be done to change a life rather than a bank balance.

But is God going to move a market just so people who make a living selling houses are not inconvenienced by having to go do something else? Is he going to set aside the perfectly reasonable and predictable consequences of the human action that has caused the current slump, meaning that Americans can avoid the consequences of our foolish monetary policies and a culture of all trying to get rich by selling our houses to each other? I guess you could call me a bit skeptical**** on that count.

* Maybe it works for other teams, but not them obviously.

** and unbelievers unfailingly do

*** Why does "He's not a tame lion" spring to mind here?

*** It seems to me that God is often far more interested in teaching wisdom than in providing material comfort, and the aftermath of foolish bubbles can be a heck of a teaching tool, provided we learn the correct lessons. It is another issue altogether that we so seldom do.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Breaking News from 1700

The Associated Press discovers what Thomas Jefferson already knew:
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Three-century-old manuscripts by Isaac Newton calculating the exact date of the apocalypse, detailing the precise dimensions of the ancient temple in Jerusalem and interpreting passages of the Bible -- exhibited this week for the first time -- lay bare the little-known religious intensity of a man many consider history's greatest scientist.

Newton, who died 280 years ago, is known for laying much of the groundwork for modern physics, astronomy, math and optics. But in a new Jerusalem exhibit, he appears as a scholar of deep faith who also found time to write on Jewish law -- even penning a few phrases in careful Hebrew letters -- and combing the Old Testament's Book of Daniel for clues about the world's end...

In one manuscript from the early 1700s, Newton used the cryptic Book of Daniel to calculate the date for the apocalypse, reaching the conclusion that the world would end no earlier than 2060.

"It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner," Newton wrote. However, he added, "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."
I'm surprised that Newton's religious interest is news to the AP. In fact, Newton was a lifelong student of the scriptures* and wrote copiously about subjects historical and prophetical. And this is not something newly-discovered, either: I have in my library a reprint of Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of Newton's commentary on Daniel and Revelation, complete with Jefferson's handwritten marginal notes. Newton repeatedly claimed that he spent far more time in the Bible than on science**, which leads me to believe that the AP knows a lot less about Newton than it thinks it does.

The AP also seems less interested in Newton's thought than in making him into another of a long line of apocalyptic date-setters. Newton did not "calculate the exact date of the apocalypse" as the article's first sentence claims - just read his last quote above, Newton says exactly the opposite of what the AP says he says - but rather interpreted the scriptures in the light of later history and concluded the end was a long, long way off and probably incalculable***. Rather than the precise date of the end, Newton was concerned about the practice of setting dates discrediting the scriptures themselves in the eyes of a gullible and ignorant public - even though the scriptures warn against date-setting. That certainly seems to be a problem that continues today.

But perhaps the AP's surprise arises from the paradigm that separates faith from science and the faithful from the rational****. That paradigm, wholly a product of modern times, would have surprised Newton no little bit. For not only was he the single most important contributor to the methods and philosophy of modern science, he was a man who firmly believed that science only worked because a rational God created a rational universe that could be understood by rational men created in His image. Even if He didn't tell us when it would all end.

* The book of Daniel in particular, of which he began a lifelong study at age 12.

** Which also makes the AP's claims that his religious intensity was "little known" and that he "found time" to study Moses just a trifle silly. Perhaps "little known" just means the reporter asked her co-workers and they hadn't heard that, either.

***He did, however, insist that before the end a Jewish state would be re-established in Palestine. That it didn't happen for 300 years after he made the assertion probably made him look foolish at the time, but he who laughs last laughs best, I suppose.

**** The article notes that "The Newton papers...complicate the idea that science is diametrically opposed to religion." It's more of a meme than an idea, but don't tell Dawkins.


Copyright 2007 El Borak, inc. Makers of Stovehenge brand yard art kits for rednecks. Turn those old appliances into an astrologically significant landmark from the comfort of your trailer home.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Besides, how will you move it if you go balder?

Pastor Scott has a little something against tattoos:
And the No. 1 reason* for not getting a tattoo:

1. The Bible says you shouldn’t — Leviticus 19:28

“You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” ...
Now I'll be the first one to admit I don't have a tattoo, wouldn't get a tattoo, and my wife and kids (so far as I know) don't have any tattoos. I truly don't have a horse in this race. But I think that in trying to apply the Bible to this specific cultural discussion, Pastor Scott makes the mistake of ignoring the context of this command. Moses was speaking to a specific group for a specific reason, and whether his words apply to an individual today depends upon whether that person falls into that group. It is not simply a universal prohibition.

The ban on tattoos is included in a section of law dealing with moral, ceremonial, and civil codes, so it is difficult to tell from the surrounding context into which the ban falls, preceeded as it is by "You shall not trim the edges of your beard" (a ceremonial command) and followed as it is by "You shall not place your daughter in prostitution" (a moral one). That means that his digression concerning the tri-fold purposes of Moses (which I've not included here) does not help us**.

But the command against making cuts on the body immediately preceeding gives us a hint. The Jamiesson Faussett Brown commentary points out that "The practice of making deep gashes on the face and arms and legs, in time of bereavement, was universal among the heathen, and it was deemed a becoming mark of respect for the dead...." This is followed by a commentary on tattoos itself that notes, in part, "It it probable that a strong propensity to adopt such marks in honor of some idol gave occasion to the prohibition in this verse; and they were wisely forbidden, for they were signs of apostasy..."

I think JFB is precisely correct here. The prohibition on tattooing is a religious/cultural one, designed, as were many OT laws, for drawing a distinction between the culture of Israel and that of the surrounding pagans. So at best this is an admonition against having recognized pagan symbols/advertisements imprinted upon one's body. It's probably a good idea for a Christian not to have "Cthulhu 2008" tattooed on his forehead, but I think that's as far as one can push the religious prohibition. If one is going to say that tattoos are, because of their pagan origins, always pagan symbols, that person had better not be wearing a wedding ring, which itself sports a similar pagan origin.

However, Pastor Scott is not finished. In fact, I think he is headed to considerably shakier ground:
If tattooing is “truly” wrong and not just a matter of personal opinion (if any absolutes still exist), then this action must go contrary to the Judeo-Christian set of moral standards set down in the Ten Commandments.

The commandment, “You shall not kill!” has been defined as to refrain from hurting or harming anyone including self.
Whether tattooing is "truly" wrong has not been established by a longshot. So when considering his unfathomably*** expansive definition of the Sixth Commandment, the question must immediately arise whether the tattoo is a "harm." Pastor Scott has his cart before his horse here, as rather than showing it is a violation of the commandment because it is harmful, he has declared it harmful by presuming that because it's wrong it "must go contrary" to the closest available commandment, this one against harm. In reality, a tattoo is no more physically harmful, when done properly, than coloring one's hair or cutting one's nails. Therefore the Sixth Commandment simply does not apply.

The last scriptural quotation is the weakest of all, even as it is probably the most commonly used****:
The Bible also states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
The context of 1Cor6 is made clear by the thought that precedes the "or" in verse 19. Let's back it up a few and see if we can get Paul's complete thought:
Do you not know that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take those members and join them to a prostitute? God forbid! Don't you know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one flesh with her? (For Jesus said, "The two shall become one flesh.") ...

Flee fornication. Every other sin a man commits is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit...
--1Cor 6:15-6,18-9
"Glorify God in your body" is a command whose primary application is in regards to illicit sex. Jesus said that if you sleep with someone, you're joined - the spiritual properties of marriage are established by sexual intercourse, not by vows - and we are not to join Christ to hookers that way.

Now a lot of people want to universalize the verse and say that glorifying God in your body means you don't do anything that might cause the body physical harm, but Paul's application here is spiritual. We can probably - if we stretch it enough - apply it to pole dancing or wearing speedos in public; we cannot apply it to tattoos without presuming that tattoos are necessarily an offense to God.

That being the case, it seems to me the "biblical" admonitions against tattoos are mostly circular: they must presume that a tattoo is a moral offense in order to show from the Bible that it is a moral offense. There may be a lot of good reasons for not getting a tattoo, but I doubt "the Bible tells me so" is one of them.

* He has twelve reasons, some of which are valid, some of which are silly.

** Which is why I've not included it here.

*** For example, the Sixth Commandment was never applied this way in scripture to self-defense, which oftens harms an aggressor. Judicial corporal punishments do not fall under it either. The man is really stretching, IMO.


****Because it the most generic. It can be used to ban all manner of things, from coffee to tobacco to fat asses to anything the complainer doesn't like, but the fact remains that Paul applies it primarily to a spiritual harm one does with the body, not a physical harm one one does to it.

Copyright 2007 El Borak, inc. Makers of Faux Pearls, Turin Shrouds, Quality Manhole Covers, String Cheese, Counterfeit Canadian Dollars, Japes, Puns, and Irrelevant Comparisons, and confusing Florida ballots.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Problem of Joseph's Bones

J. Field lays down a plumb line:
Moses was not the author of the Torah - God was. He dictated the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Most of the "problems" found in the Torah by those who promote the Documentary Hypotheses can be explained if you look at God as the author.

For instance, one of their main complaints is that Moses is described as a humble man and a humble man wouldn't describe himself as such*. However, if you look at God as the author, He can describe Moses as a humble man.

Also, the reason for the different versions of the same story in Genesis, such as the creation story is to tell people not to take these stories literally. None of the stories in Genesis should be taken literally.
The end of Genesis is a convenient cutoff for the history/mythology line, I suppose, but there's one problem. Apparently Moses didn't get that memo:
Genesis 50:25 - And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.

Exodus 13:19 - And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for [Joseph] had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
We don't have an issue to deal with because Moses in Exodus repeats the words of Joseph from Genesis as if they were to be taken literally. Instead we have a bag of old bones to deal with, a physical artifact that bridges the chasm from mythology to Moses. If no story from Genesis is to be taken literally, whose bones are these? And why would Moses assert real bones belonged to a person he knew to be mythical**? If they are, as Moses states, Joseph's bones, then there must be a Joseph and he must have died in Egypt, and he must have come from the place to which Moses is heading.

In short, to take Exodus historically we have to take at least part of Genesis the same way, or we must insist on the non-literalness of an unremarkable story that is the most straightforward explanation of the physical existence of Joseph's bones in Egypt***. But if we have a real Joseph, then we have established the historicity of 40% of Genesis (the last 20 chapters). If we have 3 more historical generations - Joseph must've come from somewhere, after all - then we have established the historicity of more than 70% of it (the last 36 chapters).

So from that point, where can we make a non-subjective cutoff from history to mythology? I don't have an answer to that question, but I'm pretty sure it's more complex than just picking the end of Genesis, convenient as that might seem at first glance.

* The easy solution (and I think the correct one) to that particular conundrum is that one of the later copiers of Moses' writings inserted that as explanatory material. That doesn't take JEDP at all, nor should it trouble those who believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch.

** Or didn't know to be mythical. To assert that God first revealed Genesis at Mount Sinai is to assert that Moses left Egypt after quoting the mythical words of a mythical man that had not been revealed yet. That would mean that God created for Moses a mythology of Joseph that was in synch with what Moses had made up - he must have made it up if Joseph did not exist and God had not revealed his myth - for the Hebrews previously. Sorry, that makes very little sense to me.

*** Most JEDP scholars understand this perfectly well, which is why they deny the historicity of any of it. That option is not open to J. Field because he has already posited a real Moses, which presumes an historical Exodus.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I understand the temptation

As much as it pains me, I'm going to defend religious liberals, a little:
Both Judaism and Christianity assumed that the Pentateuch -- the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) were written by Moses, as the Bible itself states. However, in recent centuries, alternative authorship has been proposed. The documentary hypothesis is now accepted by essentially all mainline and liberal theologians.
I hate JEPD, just hate it. In short, JEPD is the theory of authorship under which Moses was not written by Moses, but by a handful of others over the centuries whose handiwork we can "discover" by careful analysis of the scriptures. A duplicate verse here, a different name for God there, and pretty soon we have an hypothesis* that Moses is not necessary at all. And it's not just the OT. The NT has its own hypothetical** documents with "Q" being the most famous example. It seems that any time there seems an insoluble problem in discovering documentary relationships, there's some liberal theologian willing to make up a source to save the day.

After tonight, I'm a liberal. Oh, the humanity!

It actually has nothing to do with the Bible but with Nennius, that psychotic 9th Century Welsh historian whom it seems to be my fate to follow. And the story goes something like this...

I mentioned earlier today on Joel's blog that I ordered a copy of the Venerable One's Historia Ecclesiastica last week. It arrived today. And though I'd been thru my online version, having a deadwood edition really allows one to focus the study, right? Right. Anyway, tonight I'm trying to decipher to what extent Nennius relied on Bede in his sections covering Roman Britain. That ought to be easy enough: Bede wrote a century before Nennius, so anywhere they agree, Nennius copied from Bede***. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Problem multiplied.

The Problem is essentially this:

a) From Caesar to about 400ad, Bede covers these subjects: Caesar, Claudius, Lucius, Severus, Diocletian, Alban, Arius, Maximus, Pelagius.

b) In the same period, Nennius covers Ceasar, Claudius, Lucius, Severus, Carausius, Constantius, Maximanus, Maximus.

c) In the areas they both cover (Caesar, Claudius, Lucius, Severus, Maximus) their facts are nearly identical.

d) The areas Bede covers that Nennius does not (Diocletian, Alban, Arius, Pelagius) are primarily religious (persecutions, heresies, etc.)

e) The areas Nennius covers that Bede does not (Carausius and Constantius) are purely secular (not to mention of questionable historicity).

So here's the ish: Nennius obviously copied Bede in certain areas, because Bede wrote first and their words (the subjects covered and the way they are covered) are for the most part identical. But Nennius didn't copy Bede in areas where he ought to have, like the Pelagian Heresy, which was addressed in Bede by the very Saint Germain who gets 3 later chapters in Nennius with nary a mention of the very heresy that brought him to Britain.

So
a) why doesn't Nennius copy Bede in those sections, and
b) Where does Bede get his information, since the Angles (and Bede is English) don't arrive until long after all this happens?

And I found myself proposing a hitherto-undiscovered British source to explain it, one that covered political but not Church events (e.g. Caesar's invasion, Severus' wall) that was used both by Bede and by Nennius. There is no documentary evidence that it exists, yet only it can explain why Nennius seems to follow Bede politically but not religiously even though Nennius obviously had an interest in things religious.

And in doing so, I'm right in the camp of religious liberals, who seek to explain exactly the same types of "problems" in the scriptures by proposing documents for which there is not a shred of actual documentary evidence.

So I can see where they are coming from. Truly, I can. Their Documentary Hypothesis, which seems to undermine the integrity of Moses' writing and the writings of Luke and Matthew, turns into a necessity as soon as one wishes to explain the sources of the information they have.

But rather than making me a religious liberal, it has caused me to rare back on what the "obvious" solution is, a hypothetical document and with that a process that caused it to come into being. Because I think they are wrong, I find myself doubting that I am correct when I do the same thing to comprehend a similar issue. In short, it's too easy a solution.

But I do understand them now. Not agree with, not at all. But perhaps I am a little less critical of their motives. Isn't that itself a worthwhile outcome?

* I think there's a better answer - at least for Genesis - that being the Table Theory.

** "hypothetical" being the operative word here. There is not a shred of documentary evidence that any of these exist, yet scholars spill barrels of ink agruing over their most mundasne details and they are accepted as fact in most press accounts.

*** The parallels with the Synoptic Problem ought to be obvious, but if they're not, they'll have to wait for another day.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Prooftexting

"The Bible Stands Against Alcohol," so I read. And while the exposition seems to be written by someone for whom English is a second language*, the idea is clear enough: the Bible is always and everywhere against drinking it.

Those who know me are probably not surprised I disagree. In fact, I just poured myself a tall cold rum and Coke and settled in for a good Friday night reading session. What better subject to write on than this one**? Now what annoys me is not that someone disagrees with me - I'm more than happy when people do, because in opposition I find inspiration for cogitation - but that they believe, as too many do, that by flinging a bunch of verses, out of context, at a subject, they can discover and deliver everything God says about that subject.

In fact there are quite a few such verses on the list, and at the risk of boring my most faithful readers, whom I truly adore and appreciate for their ability to put up with my bizarre obsession with things biblical, I'd like to lay a few of them out. The purpose of this is not to "prove" the writer wrong as if this were a competition, but rather is to illustrate a dangerous habit of the lazy and uninformed Christian: prooftexting, throwing out a sentence from the scriptures while completely ignoring the context, subject, object, and audience, and presuming all those while pretending that this sentence is an absolute command for everyone everywhere. You'll see what I mean when I get to them.

Here's a caveat, however: I'm going to pick on the easiest ones. And the reason for that is not that they are simple to defeat, but that they best illustrate the dangers of prooftexting, the main one being that you are liable to have your lunch handed to you by anyone who actually bothers to look the verses up. Because some of my best friends are Jewish (and you know who you are) I'll be sure to include a number of Tanakh texts, though to their credit Jews - and Catholics - tend to be a lot more reasonable*** about the subject at issue.

So anyway, here goes. You'll be able to check whether I'm being honest with the page by clicking thru, but if you don't, then believe me that I am reproducing the verses exactly as they are presented. I will cut a few of them short in the interest of space, but please believe that I am trying to be fair with the writer. First up is the first verse:
There is nothing from outside of the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."
-
Mark 7:15-16
I don't know if I'm more astonished or aghast that this verse leads the charge. Truly. Because this set of verses has nothing to do with alcohol, but is actually a response of Jesus to Pharisaical criticism of his disciples' slovenliness. They were criticized for not washing their hands, to which Jesus replied that it was not a religious offense. Things going into you do not defile you (make you unholy or unclean), but things - by this he means words and actions - that come out of you. Can we apply this to alcohol? I think we can, but not in the way the writer assumes.
...for he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb - (Luke 1:15)
Exercise for the student: What is the first question to ask when one is presented with a verse like this? As the Irish scholastics would reply, "Not hard." The first question, "Who is 'he'?" And the first part of the answer is, "John the Baptist." The second part is, "no one else." That John the Baptist would never drink does not mean that no one else will ever drink, which we will illustrate by skipping forward a few verses:
For John the Baptizer came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard; a friend of tax collectors and sinners'
- Luke 7:33-34
John didn't eat bread or drink wine; we know that from the angel's instruction to his parents and from Jesus' description immediately above. But what is Jesus saying? He is *contrasting* himself with John. I know this is a hard concept for some, but there's a certain parallelism here that we'll flesh out:

"John came eating no bread/the Son of Man came eating." What have we here? A contrast. John ate no bread - that was part of his gig, which to be honest was to illustrate to the Israelites that appearances didn't matter, they would reject both John and Jesus. But what did Jesus do in contrast? He ate bread. So far so good, because no one seems to be against bread.

Now, "John came drinking no wine/the Son of Man came drinking." I'll let the reader work out the contrast there, in full consideration of the specific charge leveled at Jesus. And I should not be surprised if he reaches the conclusion that the passage teaches the opposite of "The Bible stands against alcohol."

By this point, the Chosen People are feeling left out, so let's jump back to Proverbs 31:4-7. We've all heard of a "Proverbs 31 Woman." Let's talk about a Proverbs 31 King:
...it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes to say, 'Where is strong drink?' lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the justice due to anyone who is afflicted.

Give strong drink to him who is ready to perish; and wine to the bitter in soul: Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.
I've separated the 2 parts into 2 parts because here we again have a contrast. It is not for whom to drink wine and why? It is not FOR KINGS to drink so they don't PERVERT JUSTICE. This is a perfectly good, if restrained, limitation on the use of alcohol. None of us would want to be tried for a crime before a judge who had been drinking. If we want to expand it, we might reasonably say that drinking at work is not a good idea for anyone. The same principle applies to another verse from the list, Lev. 10:9 ("Drink no wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting..."). It was a command to the priests to not drink while performing their vocation. Good advice, that.

But, but, but, there's another verse, because there are some who SHOULD drink. Who? The dying and the bitter, the frustrated and the poor. Drink can bring forgetfulness or at least release from the chains of the now, and here we have a command that some should be given drink for the very release which drink brings. While remembering that the purpose of a proverb is to state a truth rather than give a command, it is still difficult to conclude that this verse makes the Bible stand against all alcohol always and everywhere. For at least some, drinking is an acceptable escape.

Sticking with the OT, we find an interesting quote in the Law of Moses:
Then shall he that offereth his offering unto the LORD bring a meat offering of a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of oil. And the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering shalt thou prepare with the burnt offering or sacrifice, for one lamb.
- Numbers 15:4-5
How this is to be constued against alcohol I don't know, because we can conclude that the Hebrews were commanded to produce wine, if only for sacrifice to God. But there is an interesting command (Deu. 14:24-26) that goes with that and which applies to people for whom the traditional place of sacrifice was to be made was too far away:
And if the way be too long for you...Then you shall turn (your sacrifice) into money...And you shall spend that money on whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink...and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you and your family shall rejoice."
So not only could you sell your sacrifice for money, but you could buy Captain Morgan with it and have a celebration. It's again hard to see how this is "against alcohol." But it is easy to see how the Bible is for rejoicing.

One final one, from Proverbs again (Chapter 4) and we'll let it go. This one illustrates the biblical limitations on wine and why the Prohibitionist is incorrect in his biblical argument:
Don't be among ones drinking too much wine, or those who gorge themselves on meat: for the drunkard and the glutton shall become poor; and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
Here we have a parallel, those who drink "too much wine" and those who "gorge themselves on meat." Must the Christian be a vegetarian because of this verse? I have never seen anyone promote it as such. So then does the problem not lie in "too much" rather than the thing there is too much of? The Christian is to be just as concerned with gluttony as alcoholism, and the minute he speaks out about overeating in a church full of fatassed Americans, that minute he can be taken seriously for using this verse against alcohol.

But what about positive verses? All we've done here is shown that the verses presented against alcohol are not against it per se but against inappropriate or excessive drinking. Isn't there some positive? I believe there is****: Gen 14:18-20. It occurs immediately after Abraham rescues Lot from the four kings (bandits) who have captured him. On his way home, Abe is met by Melchizedek- whose ministry Jesus' is favorably compared to in the Book of Hebrews (Chap. 5). An interesting thing happens:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And Melchizedek blessed Abram, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which has delivered your enemies into your hand."
Here we have a priest of God, meeting with a man of God, to celebrate an act of God, and what do they drink?

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.

The point is that a long list of verses, devoid of both thought and context, may shock and awe, but they do not a good argument make. One can make a decent argument against drinking on the part of the Christian - though it's obviously one with which I disagree - but one cannot truly make a good biblical argument for *anything* unless one is willing to respect and explain the context, who is being spoken to by whom under what conditions and why. If that still supports one's argument, then great. In this case context, IMO, not only defeats the argument but shows the Christian making it to be both lazy and ignorant.

* This is not a cheap shot. Read the page. I simply do not know what "here are quite a few biblical references where it states it as test of the nation" means, if anything.

** NO! I'm done with housing I tell you, done.

*** Whether it's because they know they know less and therefore speak less I don't know. Baptists on the other hand (and I are one) tend to know less and speak more. It's apparently an occupational hazard of knowing ahead of time that everyone else is wrong.

**** Actually I believe there are a large number, but this one will have to suffice.