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."

2021/06/10

Biblical automata

When we say these days that something is automatic we probably imagine some mechanical contraption or a behaviour which is certain and predictable. But this association of automatic with machines is relatively recent, 200 or maximum 300 years.

            When the ancient people spoke about automatic they meant something completely different. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible as well as the New

Testament and even Jesus in one of his parables spoke about automatic behaviour and they did not mean any mechanical contraptions.
            AUTOMATOS (Αυτοματος) in the Greek literally meant “to act on its own inner volition, by its own inner desire, simply self-willing.” Automata acted without clear or obvious reason or causation by themselves and from within. The ancient automaton was not any dull machine performing mechanically preset commands. In certain sense all creatures including humans could be called automata when they acted on their own and without commands or obvious causation, when their actions were coming from the inner mental space and independent, free will.
            Thus, when Jesus, just like the Old Testament spoke about the Earth automatically growing and producing crop - they actually assigned to the Earth this inner mental space, its own agency and even its independent and free will. Quite a radical idea and something you might not know about the Bible. 

 

And you can join us in worship this Sunday in celebrating the divine gift of life which is the ultimate force of nature. 

2021/06/03

Beelzebub or Beelzebul

In the New Testament Jesus was accused of conspiring with Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, which was how he was able to heal and expel demons. We all know that Jesus had a quite tense relationship with the religious authorities of his time. No surprise there! What is really interesting in this instance is the name of his alleged demonic ally.
      In the New Testament he is consistently called Beelzebul, while the Hebrew Bible presents him as Beelzebub.
      The Hebrew version of this name can be easily translated as Baal (Lord) of the flies (unpleasant insects). This interpretation is further confirmed in the Septuagint, an Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, where it is translated that way into Greek.
      So why does the New Testament have only Beelzebul, what does it mean and what is the significance of it? It cannot be easily translated. Over the years theologians offered a number of different explanations and translations: 1) The Lord of the lofty house; 2) The Lord of the Flame; 3) The Lord of the illness/affliction.
      Then, in the middle of the 20th century, as the cuneiform texts from Ugarit a Late Bronze city in Syria were translated and better understood there were many surprises and among them scholars noticed that the word zbl was used as a title also with a number of divine names. Soon a consensus formed that it was a royal title, something like “Prince” “The elevated one” “His highness”. And in those texts were also instances where name was b‘l zbl -- Ba‘al Zebul best translated as Baal the prince.
      Thus it was confirmed that Hebrew Bible’s - Beelzebub Ba
al Zebub was an intentional misspelling to denigrate, to slander a foreign god. We know that the biblical scribes did that especially to the god Baal - replacing his name occasionally with BOSHET - “shame”. In this case they replaced the royal title with the unpleasant insects - from “Baal the prince” was “Baal/The Lord of the Flies” 
      But in the Ugaritic texts were also another rendition of this divine name
zbl b‘l ars - which can be translated as Prince, Lord of the netherworld. And there were several (unfortunately badly broken) incantations which invoked this Prince, Lord of the underworld, to drive out illness/demons. That well fits the well-known role of the chthonic (underworld) deities who were often believed to possess these curative powers over illnesses and demons.
       So here you have it - the New Testament rendition of this divine name Beelzebul was closer to the original pagan context rather than the one from somehow older Hebrew Bible. And even the accusation of healing with the help of Beelzebul, the lord of the demons better fits the ancient context.
       And that is something you might not know about the Bible. 

 

And on this Sunday (2021-06-06) you can join us in worship, we will certainly mention the dark forces instigating the civil strife in our world, but we will go further and rejoice in the truly healing, life giving, realm of our Prince of Peace.

2021/05/27

Not a Gospel?

Rylands Papyrus P52, the oldest fragment of NT
with the text of John 18:31–33
dated roughly to 125 CE.
Is the Gospel of John really a true gospel? I mean in a manner like Mark, Matthew and Luke?
      If you ever opened the Bible and read these gospels you know what I am talking about. The differences are glaring and they stare right into your face.
      For instance, synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) contain a plethora of short healing stories. They are presented in just a few sentences and sometimes closed with brief controversies. John on the other hand has just a handful of miracles which are presented in a highly loquacious style. John calls them signs. And they are followed with lengthy exposition speeches explaining their spiritual meaning.
      Another difference, perhaps even more important - Mark and especially Matthew and Luke contain quite a number of Jesus’ parables, aphorisms and pointed pronouncements called logia. Jesus is frugal with words and often compares the rule of God, (kingdom of god) to everyday mostly farming experiences. In John’s account, on the other hand, Jesus is unrecognizable, delivering lengthy, convoluted, repetitive and often pompous spiritual speeches. The Kingdom of God, Jesus’ hallmark message in Mark, Matthew and Luke is all but gone, and so is his concern with social, political and religious justice. In John it is replaced with philosophizing about light, life, word, truth and the like. Jesus would almost certainly not recognize himself in this “gospel” of John.
      And so there is a large consensus among the scholars that what is called Gospel of John is in fact a theological and philosophical reflection of one of the early Christian groups on the importance of Jesus from the distance of at least three generations (60 and possibly 90 years later). Thus - strictly speaking, the Gospel of John is not really a gospel, certainly not in the sense of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke or even the non-canonical gospel of Thomas. John is a theological reflection, or if you wish, an early Christian spiritual essay on the importance of Jesus. And that is something many might not know about the Bible.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a good thing to have this insight into early Christian reflections. They offer us insight into the spiritual development of our faith and the early interpretation trends. And one of those powerful theological dicta about the world changing importance of Jesus will be our theme this Sunday. We will hear how much God loved the world.

2021/05/20

Biblical Phoenix

Our subject today is a creature whose mythic origins are obscure in the thick mist of religious history.  It is a mythical and mystical creature proverbial for its extreme longevity but irrespective of its extreme great age not at all frail and decrepit because it is endowed with an uncanny ability of periodical rejuvenation.
            Every five hundred years or so the story goes this creature builds a nest of fragrant spices in which it closes itself and dies only to be reborn. Sometimes it is described as being reborn in flames, sometimes even as rising from still glowing embers. You probably guessed by now that I am talking about the Phoenix – that ancient mythical bird associated with Sun and elemental fire.
            The Bible mentions quite a number of mythical beasts, fiery serpents like Nehushtan, dangerous mega-beasts like Behemoth, dragon-like monsters like Leviathan. And in this mythical biblical bestiary there is also one unique but quite clear allusion to the phoenix in the Book of Job. 

And that is something you might not know about the bible.

 

            And this biblical-mythical Phoenix is a marvelous and hopeful image for us this Pentecost Sunday just as we are slowly emerging from the trials and tribulations of the past year and half. Join us in worship if you can.

2021/05/14

Liberating the Ascension

Evangelist Luke was a highly gifted and creative theologian and also pedagogue. You might not know it, but it was evangelist Luke who was responsible for coining the temporal sequence of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Before Luke - it was all part of one transformative eschatological mega-impulse.
    Luke took different theological aspects of the Easter Message, he analyzed them, distilled them, divided them, and distributed them along the time axis. Thus the resurrection was followed by the ascension, which was followed by the gift of the Spirit.  This Luke’s solution is simple, instructive, easy to remember, and it became the foundation of the Christian calendar ever since it was created.
    But as simple, instructive, easy, and ubiquitous as it might been, it also trivialized, domesticated, and de-radicalised Easter faith and theology. It led to what I would describe as spacial-temporal fundamentalism and a simplistic historisation of the original radical early Christian message.
    This Sunday we will try to undo this Luke’s approach and liberate the Ascension from its temporal and special caricature into a radical event which continues to shatter boundaries of time, space, and authority.
 
A caricature of the de-eschalogised Ascension

2021/05/06

God our mother

“In the name of God, most gracious the most merciful.” Almost every Koranic Sura opens this way and also it is opening of many Muslim scholarly discourses. God most gracious and most merciful are divine epithets of God in Islam.

      The Bible has a similar, almost identical way of speaking about the LORD. “Gracious and Merciful LORD, slow to anger and big in love.” (חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם יְהוָה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וּגְדָל־חָסֶד)

     At the center of both Hebrew and Arabic expressions is the word translated to English as “Merciful” and both in Arabic and Hebrew this word is closely associated with the root rḥm expressing gentleness and softness and word reḥem - רֶחֶם (Raḥim in Arabic) which means the womb.

     Thus when Al Quran or the Bible speak about the Merciful God, when Jews, Christians and Muslims appeal to divine mercy we all appeal to the motherly, tender, love of God

     And that is something you might not know about God in Abrahamic religions and about Semitic languages.

 

But this expression of divine tender love can be traced even further beyond this mere metonymy of tender love an womb.  There are archaic biblical passages clearly hinting a possibility that Hebrew God actually was perceived as having a womb and giving birth to his people. I talked about it in a videoblog a few months ago.

 

It is absolutely appropriate for the people of faith to worship "God our mother". And on this Mother’s day Sunday we will do just that - rejoice in Motherly love of our God. 

2021/04/30

God the Vinegrower

In the gospel of John Jesus says, “I am the grapevine (or even vineyard), and my father is Ό ΓΕΩΡΓΟΣ - the farmer, the gardener, orchard keeper, simply anyone cultivating the soil.

It was and remains a powerful and highly charged metaphor.

            In the biblical tradition Creator God was the planter of the garden of Eden, and thus the Gardener of the world. The grapevine was the national tree of the Jewish people. It even overlapped with the idea of the tree of life. And the vineyard, vineyard of the LORD, was a poetic way to speak about the biblical homeland, the Promised Land and its people.

            Whenever you hear in the Bible about a grapevine, vineyard, gardener or vineyard-planter or keeper think first about the divine prerogative over the land, what we would call these days politics and even social justice. And secondly but with the selfsame though, think about the creation, the divine garden, nowadays we call it ecology, environmentalism.

            If you were a Roman soldier or administrator listening in to Jesus and his contemporaries - it might sound like farmers discussing agriculture - but anyone who grew up in biblical tradition knew they were discussing so much more! Fairness, justice, divine hope and divine plan for them and for the rest of the world. And that will be our theme this Sunday.