About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."

2018/05/23

The ancient name

Jerusalem was in the news recently and unfortunately, for all wrong reasons of conflict, hostility, naked power, bigotry and intolerance. At the same time, Jerusalem with its ancient and long history can also present positive alternative models of tolerance, diversity and hope. 
    We can start with Jerusalem’s name. The oldest version was RUŠALIMUM as it appeared in Egyptian inscriptions predating anything in the Bible by at least a thousand years. In the El Amarna diplomatic correspondence it was spelled URUŠALIM. Assyrians knew it as URSALIMMU and in Hebrew it is written as YERUŠALAYIM.
    A folk etymology (explanation of the name) simply translates Jerusalem as “Foundation of peace”. This explanation is quite popular for its reference to peace which has been, as we all know very well, something dearly missing there for years and years. It is an appealing explanation, but it does not respect the rules of construction of ancient names. It is not particularly helpful either because the terms of any peace are always defined by those who are pronouncing it. In the protracted and vicious conflict even the peace becomes partisan. 
    Scholarly consensus goes deeper and leads us to a surprisingly diverse place. Jerusalem is in fact a standard theomorphic name, the name incorporate, invokes a deity. Thus, Jerusalem can be translated as "Foundation/City of god Šalim". (Interestingly, the name of the same god ŠALIM is also very likely present in the names of Salomon or Absalom.)
    The god SHALIM/ŠALIM/SALIM was a Venus god and more specifically an Evening Star. In ancient texts he was often mentioned together with his twin brother as dual god Šachar and Šalim - Morning and Evening Star/s.
    Thus, the name Jerusalem has this polytheistic DNA, something difficult to claim by any of the modern hyper-partisan monotheists who are fighting over the control of this ancient city. Jerusalem has these undeniably different and beautiful ancient mytho-poetical roots – it is a City of the Evening Star, a City of the divine Dusk. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

    Join us this Sunday as we search in the long history of Jerusalem for further hopeful notes of  tolerant and inclusive faith and coexistence.

2018/05/16

Divine joyrider

Can you imagine God as a joyrider? That is exactly what the Psalm 104 hints when it speaks about God (YHWH) riding “the cloud chariot”.
    You might think, what a lovely and playful metaphor! And it also makes good sense: divine realm is in the heavens and at that time (in Ancient times from Middle Bronze Age onward) chariots were the most advanced and truly aristocratic mode of transportation (for hunts and wars).
    But there is a problem. The “Charioteer of the Clouds” was a standard and well established title of the Canaanite god Baal. This Baal’s title appears countless times in the Canaanite mythology. It was so common that it designated Baal without even naming him.
    We know, that the Biblical religion grew out of this Canaanite polytheistic milieu and as it grew ever more monotheistic and also centralized, the god Baal was attacked and suppressed. In this process, many of Baal’s important functions, characteristics and titles were taken over and adopted by god YHWH. (I talked about this process of monotheisation in one of my lectures and earlier blogs under the name How many gods made up God?)
    Charioteer of the Clouds is one such function and a title. It was a beautiful Canaanite polytheistic metaphor, which was adopted and thankfully preserved in the Bible. Thus, God in the Bible is, indeed, riding a confiscated or even car-jacked heavenly vehicle.
     And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

Join us this Pentecost Sunday when we return to Psalm 104 this time for its beautiful and differently surprising Pentecostal message.  

A Late Bronze Age depiction of the chariot hunt on a gold bowl from Ugarit

2018/05/09

Reclaiming Conversion

When I say Conversion in the church setting you probably imagine
a) Joining or changing an established religion.
b) Melodramatic, often histrionic public testimonials among fundamentalists.
c) Conversion therapy - a discredited evangelical practice of “unlearning” sexual orientation.

A true Biblical concept of conversion cannot be further from this farcical mockery. 
i) The Hebrew word for conversion and repentance is תְשׁוּבָה TESHUVAH and it simply means “return”. Return and, discovery or reestablishment of genuine, meaningful relationships with other people and with God.
ii) And Greek word is
μετάνοια METANOIA, it is often translated as “change of mind”. It actually means even more - finding a deeper/true meaning which lies above and beyond.
 
    This Sunday, with the help of a story of one great spiritual person of the 20th century, we will seek an alternative, deeply spiritual and thoughtful conversion with the hope of reclaiming conversion for ourselves as progressive liberal Christians.



2018/05/03

Hawai'ian miracle


Symphony Grape Vines blooming at Volcano Winery
Aloha kākou (Greetings to everyone!)
As many might know we have just returned from Hawai‘i. There we came across a miracle, something highly unusual - a tropical vineyard. Grapevines do not do well in tropics as they came from and they belong to the temperate zone. Some would say that they do best in Mediterranean climate.
     This Hawai‘ian vineyard was just blooming and doing very well. It grows and prospers only because it is planted 4,000 ft above sea level just next to an active volcano and thus in cooler air.
      The Bible came to us from the cradle of viticulture. All the biblical authors and audiences were surrounded with vineyards. They understood them and took them for granted.
      And although we do not live in the tropics (or the arctics) and although New York State (especially the Finger Lakes Region) is famous for its wines, we are not truly familiar with vineyards, their work, culture and symbolism.
      Join us this Sunday in uncovering the deep meanings of viticulture. Join us in rejoicing in their mystical, ethical and emotional meanings.

      A hui hou
(See you soon!)
    

And a small geo-theological observation.
      Theologians and scholars have been paying attention to the historical setting (historical context) of the biblical message. (World view has changed over the past thousands of years). But what about the geographical setting and climatic context of the Bible?
      Polynesians are not surrounded with vineyards, Papuans don’t keep sheep, Chinese normally don’t eat bread, Inuit fishing certainly looks different from the one on the lake of Galilee... These are, indeed, extreme examples. But they remind us not to make simplified inferences and easy unreflected assumptions about climate and our most basic life experiences.

2018/04/06

Jesus' twin?

Dragon Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari) from Socotra
Three things you might not know about Early Christianity.

1) Gospels (Matthew 13:55f and Mark 6:3) mention matter-of-factly and in an adversarial context (therefore credibly) Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Only some fundamentalists and conservative Roman Catholics usually have a problem with it artificially explaining it as Jesus’ half-siblings or cousins. But then there was a disciple called Thomas. His Aramaic name (nickname) literally meant “a twin”. And if there were any doubts about the meaning of his name, Evangelist John (11:16; 20:24 and 21:2) translated it into Greek as Didymos so that everyone would know that it indeed meant a Twin. If Thomas was a twin, where was the other twin? Some early Christian writings provided the answer. Thomas was supposed to be the twin of Jesus. The oldest recorded legend dates to the brink of the 2nd and 3rd century. And rumors of this kind must clearly be even older, dating back to the late biblical times.
     At least some early Christians thought that Thomas was Jesus’ twin brother. And that is something you might not know about Early Christianity.

2) According to the early Christian legends, Thomas was a missionary to India, especially its western shore around the Arabian Sea. But well documented legends connect Thomas’ missionary work with one other surprising place - an island of Socotra. Now this island belongs to Yemen, but it is just off the easternmost tip of the Horn of Africa. It is an interesting place with many endemic plants such as Dragon Blood Trees and Bottle trees. In ancient times the island was famous for its frankincense and other aromatic resin. Thomas was supposedly shipwrecked there on his way to India and converted the island to Christianity and it stayed Christian until medieval times when it converted to Islam.
     This Thomassian mission might be legendary, but there is little doubt about a far reaching early mission to India and around the Arabian Sea. And that is something you might not know about early Christianity.

3) Earlier I mentioned legends and writings associated with Thomas. In fact there is an entire library of early Christian literature written under Thomas’ name. The Gospel of Thomas, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Thomas, Book of Thomas Athlete/Contender, Apocalypse of Thomas and even Psalms of Thomas. All these writings are very different, they survived in different languages, and were influenced by different theologies. At the same time they have something in common - not a single of these writings made it to the Bible. Writings associated with Thomas were mistrusted by the official church and many of them were actively suppressed. Censorship was so successful that some were discovered only recently and by pure chance. That begs a question: Is it possible that the famous biblical story of “unbelieving Thomas” (John 20:19-29) was an attempt by early orthodox Christians to label, brand, dismiss and suppress these heterodox writings and groups which produced them? Or did different unorthodox Christians pick the “unbelieving Thomas” as their patron in protest? We might never know, and both approaches are not mutually exclusive.
     This extensive and diverse literature associated with Thomas shows us the great theological broadness of early Christians. And that is also something you might not know about the early Christianity.

2018/03/23

Royal asses

According to the gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. (Mark 11:1-11, Matthew 21:1-9, Luke 19: 28-40 even John 12:12-15). As overwhelmingly confirmed as it looks, it is difficult to know whether it really happened. All the gospels are mutually connected and at least in their current form are shaped as traditional "fulfillment narrative" fulfilling an ancient prophecy. Matthew and John even quote (each in slightly different words) that prophecy (Zachariah 9:9). Matthew then goes still further by talking about two animals, she-donkey and her colt. While in Zachariah two, even three animals are a part of the Semitic poetical style (poetical parallelism), Matthew makes two animals part of his story. (Literalistic/fundamentalistic tendencies together with misunderstanding of the Semitic poetic style among Christians are clearly of a very early date! :-) )
            Interestingly, the prophecy of Zachariah is not the oldest preserved parallel to the Gospel story. The oldest known parallel is preserved on the cuneiform tablet from Ugarit. (KTU 1.4.iv.1-15). Goddess Asherah is departing for a visit to her partner and the head of the Pantheon, god El. Her assistant/s are summoned and then he/they saddle a donkey for her.
 
And the Great Lady-who-Tramples-Sea replied:
‘Listen, O Qadesh and Amurru,
     O fisherman of the Great Lady-who-Tramples-Sea!
Harness an ass,
     saddle a donkey,
put on trappings of silver,
     and golden fitments.
Prepare the harness of my she-ass!’

And  Qadesh and Amurru obeyed.
He prepared an ass,
     he saddled a donkey.
He put on trappings of silver,
     and golden fitments.
He prepared the harness of her she-ass.

Qadesh and Amurru took her,
     he helped Athirat on the back of the ass,
          into the most comfortable saddle on the donkey.

Qadesh took a torch,
     Amurru was like a start in front.
While Virgin Anat and Baal
     departed to the heights of Saphon,
Athirat indeed set her face towards El,
     towards the source of the (four world) rivers,
          in between the springs of  Two Deeps ....


     It is epic poetry, so again, we have here plurality of animals, a donkey, an ass, her she-ass. But we have here also the fitting and saddling of the animal. And finally, just like in the gospel of Luke, there is also lifting up and seating of the rider.
     It goes without mentioning that Evangelists definitely did not know Ugaritic texts. They are more than 12 centuries older. But all four canonical Gospels, prophecy of Zachariah as well as polytheistic myth from Ugarit clearly show that among the West Semitic peoples: a) donkeys were traditional divine and royal riding animals and b) preparing, saddling of the animal and even c) lifting up and seating of the rider were integral parts of a royal protocol/ritual.
     The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem might look like a piece of a bucolic idyll but in reality this story reflect an ancient royal ritual with deep religious and political roots predating the gospels by many centuries.
     And that is something you might not known about the Bible.
 
 
A detail from  Mycenaean krater from Ugarit

2018/03/08

For love of the Universe

Three weeks ago I spent with Martina few days in Tromsø (It was her anniversary wish). Tromssø is a Norvegian city way above the Polar Circle right in the “Auroral zone” – this is a geographic belt around the poles which is excellent for observing Auroras (Northern Lights). That was our goal - to see Aurora Borealis. During shorter days temperatures stayed around single digits (Fahrenheit) and overnight they were dipping deep into the minus territory (cold waters of a fjord were steaming like a boiling pot).
            We spent nights outside hunting and observing this awesome celestial spectacle. Streams and curtains of light are flowing and swirling across the wide expanses of sky from one horizon to another. This marvelous display was often as bright as street lights, illuminating Norwegian fjords, mountains and peaks with its predominant bright green light.
            Aurora received its name from the name of the Latin goddess of the dawn. As if the ancients knew about its close association with our Sun. Polar lights are caused by particles of solar wind which are deflected and captured in the high atmosphere (High Mesospher and low Thermosphere). Northern lights are in fact a spectacular sideshow by which our planet is protecting and keeping all of us, terrestrials, alive.
            While I was preparing for this trip, I refreshed my high school education and perhaps learned a little bit more about the Northern lights. Understanding them was great, but direct experience was awe inspiring.  And theologically (in thinking of faith) this combination of beauty and protection revealed to me a prime example of the divine love of the Universe.  It will be our theme this Sunday - reclaiming the famous John 3:16 from the clutches of evangelicals and fundamentalists and highlighting its beautiful message of inclusive divine love.