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."

2021/02/18

Adopted Son of God

Mark 1:11 in the Codex Sinaticus
Note the inserted verb making the sentence more regular.  

In the Greek Bible, also called the New Testament, there are several instances that indicate that Jesus became the Son of God at a certain point of his life, and actually, even after his death.

            That is exactly what we hear in the opening verses of the Epistle to the Romans. According to Romans 1:4 The Spirit of holiness appointed Jesus, through his resurrection to be the Son of God. 

            The same sentiment is shared a generation later in the Acts of Apostles 13:33. There it is a legendary rendition of the early Christian preaching - but the message is almost identical - In Jesus’ resurrection the Psalm too was fulfilled which says: You are my Son; today I have begotten you.'

            Furthermore in the Gospels we hear about at least two other occasions when Jesus is promoted and made into the Divine Son. One is on the mountain of Transfiguration which is associated with the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem. The other one, earliest in Jesus’ life, was at his baptism, when he came up from the water, saw the skies opened and heard the voice declaring him the Son of God.

            Each of these biblical instances references, or even directly quotes ancient formulas which made and inducted kings into their office. The Ancient Near East king became a king by being declared the Son of God (being adopted to the Sonship of God). And so in the New Testament we have at least three different moments when it was supposed to happen to Jesus - at the resurrection, at the transfiguration, or at his baptism.

            Yet this uncertainty about the time is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the fact that it is mentioned at all because from the early fourth century onward claiming that Jesus became the Son of God, regardless at what point of his life or afterlife, could cost people excommunication and eventually it might cost them even their very lives.

            So here we go, even on such an important matter as the sonship of God, the Bible itself contains what the later church would declare to be a grievous error. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.        

 

And let me say one more thing - all of this might sound academic, pedantic, perhaps dull - distant from our daily reality - what’s the big deal, and who cares? But knowing this and grappling with issues like this can protect our faith and our sanity. It is theological inoculation against all sorts of fanaticisms, fundamentalisms and dangerous religious manipulations. This is why I share it with you: to keep our faith informed and healthy.

 

This Sunday, the first in Lent, we will read one of those texts about Jesus’ baptism. However, we will not discuss this issue which the church made into heresy, but we will rather concentrate on Jesus’ liberating and hopeful message.

2021/02/12

Evolution weekend

Every mid-February on the weekend closest to the birthday of Charles Darwin (the 12th of February) at Rutgers Church we celebrate the Evolution Sunday. We do it because we know and want to affirm that our Christian faith can coexist with evidence based science. We want to affirm that evolution is the intrinsic aspect of all that is alive. Thus even religious rituals and religion itself evolve and yes, even God evolves as I have preached about it in past years.
            This year the entire world is in the clutches of a deadly pandemic. We cannot avoid recognizing how evolution and evidence based science can directly inform and protect our lives and our health. The evolution is not only about the past – how plants, animals and humans came into existence – the evolution is an ongoing process and for instance, infections are evolving right before our eyes. Our understanding of this evolution is literally vital for all of us. Or taken from an opposite angle - any denial of evolution and of the evidence based science is a mortal threat to everyone.
            Interestingly, spread, development and evolution of biblical infectious illness of leprosy can lead us to a better understanding of the Bible and of our faith. It has been recognized for some time that the biblical leprosy was not fully identical with the Hansen Disease (modern scientific name for leprosy). At the same time modern DNA typing and anthropological and historical research of this disease can greatly contribute to our understanding of the Bible and the ancient sources of our faith.

            You can join us this Friday at 6 pm for a documentary and discussion of the evolution of illnesses and on Sunday at 11 for worship and celebration Charles Darwin and beneficial coexistence of science and faith, faith and science. 

2021/02/04

Not a Lunacy

The biblical message is quite unequivocal and resolute: 
       When you look up to the heavens and see
       the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven,
       do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them.
 (Deuteronomy 4:19)
Worship of heavenly bodies and any astrology were forbidden.
But then the prophet Isaiah (40:26) takes us in an exactly opposite direction:

       Lift up your eyes on high and see.
       Who created all of that?
      The one who brings out the host (of stars) in full number,
      calling them all by name;
      because of his great strength and mighty power,
      not a single one is missing.

On the surface it all looks quite orthodox. It looks just like a lovely celebration of the Creator of the splendid and awesome night sky. No problem, no conflict there, until .... Until we realize that the prophet describes biblical god with well known attributes of the Moon god - Yarikh (also transliterated as Yarih, Jarich or Jarikh).
            Behind the prophet’s words was the mythical image of the Moon god leading out each evening the flock of stars like a shepherd - that would be the peaceful version of that mythical image - or like a king leading his heavenly army to war - that would be a more bellicose image.
            And so there is no doubt, Isaiah is not the only instance in the Bible quoting this old myth. The same mythical image appears also in Psalm 147:

            The LORD determines the number of the stars;
            God calls all of them out by their names.

In Isaiah or in the Psalm the Moon God Yarikh is never mentioned by name, but YHWH is eloquently described as the moon god. And that is not a lunacy. There clearly was a time when the Hebrew god was merged and fused with the Moon god Yarikh and took over many of his attributes and functions. And this Biblical fusion of biblical god YHWH with the Moon god Yarikh is something you might not know about the Bible!


This Sunday we will observe what it might mean for our faith. Not a lunacy! But rather we can draw inspiration from our predecessors and ancestors, take it as encouragement to seek justice in our own turbulent times, and draw encouragement and hope for the future generations.  

2021/01/28

Demons demythologised

I still vividly remember one of my early seminary colloquia in the NT theology. Our New Testament professor was an internationally recognized scholar and that day he challenged us to take seriously the biblical world-view teeming with demons.
            At first, we students wanted to dismiss it as an outdated superstition. He agreed with us that demons were part of the ancient mythological world-view but he also wanted us to approach it more creatively. He pointed out that ancient people were not stupid, they were just as intelligent as we are. They perhaps did not have modern laboratories, and modern science, but they were keen observers. They experienced rapidly spreading infections and they quite correctly surmised an influence of some kind of invisible agents which were hopping from one person to another. They called them demons while these days we called them bacteria and viruses.
            But he went further and talked about demons causing what we would call mental illnesses. In that instance our professor quoted his wife, a clinical psychologist, and soon to be a psychology professor at the Charles University. He proposed to us that the world-view with demons responsible for mental illnesses was in fact very benevolent, gentle, kind and gracious.
            That ancient perspective was benevolent because it allowed a clear distinction between the person and the demon. The possessed person was not evil to the core, evil behavior was caused by the demon which controlled him or her. Only the fully developed and most mature psychology, psychiatry, and sociology were able to reach this level of insight, sophistication and humanity recognizing influences of environment, physiology, family history, and personal or societal trauma.
            I am thankful to my professor for this lesson, for showing us this example of constructive Bultmanian demythologisation, this respectful interpretation of an ancient world-view.

            We do not need to truly believe in demons or engage in magical exorcisms to appreciate their deeper and still relevant lessons leading us to a more humane way about illness and people in distress. 

 

 

 

2021/01/21

Fishing adynaton

 A spoon lure - a shiny metal disc used for sport fishing.
Some fish are clearly attracted to glittering objects
yet it is highly unlikely any fish would swallow a coin and then another hook.  

Humor is a very efficient way of resisting and even subverting the unjust status quo. Jesus was a master of this technique. Many of his parables tell that story and are gems of humorous observations and social commentary. Sometime, he went even further employing absurd humor.
            Here I need to give you a little bit of an introduction. Disciple Peter, we are told was accused that his master Jesus did not pay the temple tax. Peter lied claiming that Jesus did. Jesus probably overheard it, afterward took Peter aside and talked with him. He asked him whether children of a king paid taxes to their father. Under feudalism the answer was self evident - Of course not! Then Jesus gave to Peter a very bizarre instruction. Take a fishing rod, catch a fish, find a silver coin in its mouth and pay with it taxes for me and you.
            The pious commentators twist themselves into knots interpreting this bizarre instruction and firmly asserting an even more bizarre and unique self serving miracle. Well, the miracle is actually not reported. Commentators just infer it - if Jesus commanded it, it must had happened that way!
            Oh, how very pious and at least, according to my opinion, how very wrong! Can you imagine fish with a large silver coin in its mouth being caught on a hook? And that was exactly the instruction. I am not a fisherman and I know it is an absurd situation.
            It was an Adynaton - sarcastic hyperbolic figure of speech. When hens grow teeth, When cats grow horns, When fish build nests on the poplar trees, On the second Thursday of the week! Those are all modern European examples of this type of expression. And we know that Jesus used that figure of speech before - do you remember threading a camel through the needle’s eye?
            In our English speaking world with not that many fishermen among us I would interpret Jesus’ instruction this way: Peter, go to a forest, catch a flying pig, sell it and pay our taxes.
            Jesus had a keen sense of humor and resisted unjust taxation with biting sarcasm. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

 

This Sunday we will hear about Jesus calling fishermen what he offered them and what they provided back to him. And why it is still relevant for us today. 

 

2021/01/15

Gate and road logion (new reading and interpretation)

Enter through the narrow gate;

for the gate is wide and the road is easy

that leads to destruction,

and there are many who take it.

For the gate is narrow and the road is hard

that leads to life,

and there are few who find it.

 

Gospel of Matthew (7:13-14 quoted here from NRSV) preserved for us this saying of Jesus with clear signs of Semitic parallelism. Gospel of Luke has an abbreviated version (13:24). It is therefore highly probable that this logion was preserved in the Q source (A presupposed Early Christian collection of Jesus’ logia).

     Often it is being interpreted along the lines of Christian ethical or moral exclusivism. I would like to suggest a different reading based on the historical context and how ancient city gates and roads were built and how they functioned.

 

The Hellenistic walled cities, and sometimes even cities without walls, had what can be described as a ceremonial gate - a main entrance to the polis which was used for different processions and for welcoming dignitaries and imperial or royal messengers. This main ceremonial gate was built on a main road leading to the city. Besides this main entrance, the city often had several side entrances connecting it to the countryside either in the form of postern gates, if the city was walled, or just streets extending to surrounding farmland.

 

A network of the Roman imperial roads is not necessary to introduce. Romans inherited and perfected earlier similar networks which were built by preceding empires (Hellenistic kingdoms, as well as Persian and Assyrian empires). It is also well understood that these imperial roads were built for easier and more efficient administration but primarily for military purposes of communication and easier movement of armies. On the other hand local roads were formed by local communities to serve their immediate needs of local commerce and farming.

 

Based upon these observations I would like to offer my dynamic equivalence translation of this logion:

 

Always take a narrow gate.

            The main ceremonial city gates

            and straight Roman roads

            are built for armies and lead to destruction.

But the narrow gate and the twisty roads

            are for civilians and lead to life.

 

This reading (interpretation) clearly goes beyond the narrow moralistic exclusivism and offer richer and deeper context, anti-imperial outlook, and theology which fits well with the rest of Jesus’ message. 



2021/01/14

Choose life

Several years ago, while talking about the biblical beatitudes, I also mentioned that the Bible contains lists of curses. I will never forget the surprise of one of our dear members!
     Of course, there are curses in the Bible. When it comes to important matters in life you cannot have blessings without complementing curses. Actually, there are entire lists and even solemn cursing liturgies.
     Here is a sample from the Book of Deuteronomy:

"Cursed be anyone who moves a neighbor's boundary marker."

And all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person of the road."

And all the people shall say, "Amen!"

"Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice."

And all the people shall say, "Amen!"

 

      Hebrew Prophets often composed litanies of woes and prophetic invectives. Here is just a verse from one of the litanies in Isaiah: 

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,

who put darkness for light and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

     In the New Testament Jesus' famous beatitudes are complemented with what can be described as his rant of woes against religious and political hypocrites. Here is an example.

Woe to you, religious teachers and leaders, you hypocrites!

For you proudly give religious tax even of mint, and dill, and cumin, while you neglected what really matters to God, justice and mercy and humble faith.
     There are clearly times and situations when matters are truly serious and present us with a stark choice between blessing and curse. Just as Moses of Deuteronomy reminds us:

     "Today I have placed before you choice between life and death, blessings and curses. And I call on heaven and earth to witness your choice. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your children might live!