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."

2012/03/30

Open-Ended Prayer

How do we Protestants close the Lord’s Prayer? With a doxology of course!
   For thine is the kingdom,
   and the power,
   and the glory,
   forever.
   Amen.

The problem is that, in this respect, the Catholics have been right all along, and the Reformation got it wrong. This doxology was never part of the original prayer. The “traditional” doxology first appeared several centuries later! Here is the list of some similar doxologies. Some are very old, some quite recent. Interestingly, the oldest example, which predates even the Hebrew Bible by many centuries, is probably the closest to our current traditional doxology.
Closing Petition
from Rapiu Psalm
1 Chronicles 29:11
Lord’s Prayer Doxology
from Didache
Cuneiform text from Ugarit  around 1200 B.C.E.
Hellenistic period cca 4th  Century B.C.E.
Early 2nd Century C.E.
May your strength,
your help, your power,
your rule, your splendor,
be in the midst of Ugarit,
for all the days of Sun and Moon,
for all the years of El.
Yours, O LORD, are the greatness,
the power, the glory,
the victory, and the majesty;
for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours;
yours is the kingdom, O LORD,
and you are exalted as head above all.
For your is the power and glory, forever.
Traditional Doxology
of the Lord’s Prayer
Alternative Doxology
of the Lord’s Prayer

Eastern (Antiochian) tradition from 4th Century
Medieval Greek manuscript

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory,
forever.
Amen.

For your is the kingdom
of the Father,
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
forever. Amen.

.
We know for certain that the traditional doxology or any other doxology was never part of the original Biblical text of the Gospel of Matthew. We can also be quite certain that Jesus never taught his disciples any such doxology with this prayer, even though such doxologies traditionally belonged at the end of similar prayers. Thus I am convinced that Jesus left this part of his prayer intentionally out. His prayer was intentionally open-ended and unfinished. People felt this tension and started to fill it with words, which they soon started to solemnize and codify. This Sunday we will try to uncover, understand and start practicing Jesus’ original intention behind the missing doxology, behind his radical, avant-garde, open-ended prayer ...

2012/03/26

Poetry of coincidences and social nets

       Ivan Blatný was a young promising Czech writer and poet. Then, in 1948, the Communists took over power and he escaped to England. Uprooted from his home, language, family and friends, he was completely lost, and he experienced recurring episodes of disorientation. The British National Health Services sent him first to a psychiatric hospital and then to a sanatorium. By the time he got to that sanatorium, no one around him knew that he was a published poet (although in another language).
His constant scribbling on any piece of paper he could lay his hands on was seen as part of his peculiar eccentricity. Many decades later, one of the nurses payed attention to his scribbles. Ivan was rediscovered as a literary figure. After many years spent in the sanatorium he remained there until his death, but he was able to publish two more excellent collections of highly interesting code-switching poetry (part Czech, part English).
       When I came to Rutgers, there had been a homeless man sleeping regularly on the church steps. He was very shy. Not many people noticed him and even fewer managed to speak more than a sentence with him. He would come quite late and get up early and would always sleep right by the door. The custodial staff kept an eye on him, helped several times to store his stuff, and they protected him a few times. Our good-hearted accountant, Tina, gave him some warm clothing and one winter she bought him a sturdy sleeping bag. He did not take it right away, waiting for several months. He really was very shy. Once or twice, when it was bitterly cold, we had to call #311 for shelter responders, we were worried he might freeze on our steps.
       Over the last summer an elder of our church started to bring him breakfast and established and built up trust and a relationship. Thus we learned quite a surprising story. His name was Mirumil (Not his real name, although also Slavic), and he was originally from the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia at that time). He escaped to America shortly after the Russian troops crushed political hopes during the Prague Spring of 1968. At that time he studied mathematics at the university. Here in NYC he got by by taking some menial jobs. Uprooted, without family, or any close community or friends, something happened. He lost his documents, job and home and ended up on the street.
       When I started to write about it, the church elder expressed it very nicely: “In reaching out and doing small things, we can individually make real differences in other people's lives. The first morning I brought Mirumil breakfast, I had just learned that my uncle had passed away after a battle with cancer. Events like this make you focus on what is truly important -- life is short and we have value through serving others and doing God's work... we have the power to take actions which can have real impact.”  
       In the autumn we celebrated Mirumil's 65th birthday. Our elder prepared a delicious honey cake. And while we ate it, we learned more helpful details. Mirumil was born in a small city in Moravia. I knew that place, because my best friend grew up there. Mirumil’s high school teacher, who inspired him to study mathematics, was my friend’s school headmaster. With a little bit of internet searching I was able to find out and communicate with the city registry office and soon we got a copy of Mirumil’s birth certificate. By that time he also agreed to go to a shelter without risking another winter on our steps. Meanwhile the elder initiated the process toward the recovery of his SSN and his immigration card. As soon as he had all the documents, we hoped to help him find some more permanent accommodations and work.
       As uncommon as it might look, Mirumil’s American part of the story is unfortunately quite normal on several counts. As my friend Laura, who has been professionally serving and helping homeless people for many years, reminded me: 1) Wherever safety is found, that becomes ‘home’ (Rutgers Steps), 2) It takes months to develop trust and trust can only come with patience and kindness and no demands. 3) when trust is developed, there is always a thread of connection (in this case a skein) 4) It takes 6-10 people to house one individual who has been living on the streets.
       And this observation clarifies why I intentionally built this column on the juxtaposition of stories of Ivan and Mirumil; they are similar, and they are different. Thankfully both have positive outcomes. But I still wonder: How is it possible that an episode of disorientation and vulnerability (Ivan’s case was actually medically more serious!) could have such diametrically different solutions?
       Society becomes compassionate and humane in two complementary ways: by being composed of many dedicated and compassionate individuals, but also by putting in place adequate government-guaranteed social safety nets. As a person coming from abroad who still can claim a certain“outside” perspective, I have been always deeply moved and impressed by the American spirit of volunteerism, individual compassion and help. Similarly I have often been surprised and even shocked by how little attention is given to systemic social and medical matters.
       Those two aspects are like two legs of our society: without training and using both of them simultaneously, our society cannot run or walk, it can only hop and hope. When I recently heard some presidential candidates seriously proposing to a innumerable claque that the social services should be built only on volunteer basis and available only to citizens, I realised that we might be hopping and hoping for a long time.
       I sincerely wish that Rutgers will be a place where we learn to walk, run, skip, jump and launch ourselves into a positive future for all people, and especially those in greatest need of our compassion. 
This was written in spring 2012
--------------------------------------
THE STORY CONTINUES
On Monday, the 2nd of December 2013, I received a check with a donation for our church. It was a personal check from Mirumil! I can hardly describe my emotions as I wrote him a thank-you card. 
Mirumil now has a permanent resident card and got his SSN back. We keep in touch as he stays in WSFSSH transitional home at Valley Lodge waiting, any moment now, for his permanent home!
Thank you to Dermonte, Tina, Nancy, Laura, Lili and many others!

---------------------------------------------
THE STORY CONTINUES FURTHER
On Thursday, the 20th of March 2014 Mirumil moved to his apartment in Euclid Hall, right on the Broadway and 86th Street - one of the WSFSSH houses. Today (Saturday 22) I brought him some basic homewars for an improvised homewarning party. Welcome home, Mirumil!

2012/03/23

Lord's Prayer as Semitic Poetry

In the Bible we have two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. 
The first version in the Gospel of Matthew is closest to what we say in worship. 
The second version and much less known is in the Gospel of Luke.
Here they are side by side from the New Revised Standard Translation:


At the first glance it might look like Luke was forgetful or that got lazy. But there is no question that this prayer was originally composed either in Hebrew or more probably in Aramaic, Jesus’ daily language. 
If it is so, we should apply to these prayers the rules which are governing Semitic poetry. And immediately it all starts to make sense! Semitic poetry is not based on rhymes, neither is it based on strict rhythm or meter like Greek or Latin poetry. Biblical poetry is based on parallelisms - noetic structures  - pairs of complementary meanings. Both prayers are poetry, Luke's version of the prayer is interesting by some abbreviations, Matthew's version is interesting by slight expansions, while both preserve the identical meaning. This is the noetic beauty of biblical poetry in action. Individual words do not matter much. Words are not holy, words don’t form any magic spell; most important is the meaning!
This is also why our church has been courageous in using regularly in our worship a deeply meaningful modern rendition of the Lord’s prayer. Individual words are perhaps different, the meaning is preserved:
     Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, 
     Source of all that is and that shall be, 
     Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven: 
     May the hallowing of your name echo throughout the universe. 
     May the way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world. 
     May your heavenly will be done by all created beings. 
     And may your commonwealth of peace and freedom 
     sustain our hope and come on earth. 
     With the bread we need for today, feed us. 
     In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. 
     In times of temptation and test, strengthen us. 
     From trials that are too great to endure, spare us. 
     From the grip of all that is evil, free us. 
     For you reign in the glory and the power that is love, 
     now and forever.  Amen. 
                                 Used with permission from Jim Cotter, Cairns Publications, 1983 
On this Sunday we will look more closely into the meaning of the last petition of the Lord’s prayer, and search for ways to stay tenderhearted in the midst of afflictions and in the world which is so often inundated with bad news.

How many gods made up God?

Many Deities of the Bible 
Parade of biblical divinities 



While biblical testimony postulates discontinuity between the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, material culture clearly demonstrates continuity of religious culture in Palestine. These two slides look particularly at depictions of female deities in religious artifacts unearthed in Palestine. Similar continuity could be observed with other deities and their physical representations. Certain artistic trends and diverse influences can be observed but continuity is overwhelming.
In the Biblical tradition the Semitic god Baal is presented as YHWH’s main antagonist.
The god Baal is a well known West Semitic Deity. Like many other gods, Baal’s name has two linguistic (semantic) functions; it is both the name of a deity and a common (secular) noun. In the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic Text) both semantic meanings are represented with the same frequency. Baal’s titles (divine epithets) as well as Baal’s depiction portray him as a primarily meteorological deity. Baal ruled over thunder, lightning and traveled on the chariot of clouds.

Even in the biblical texts we can discover clear signs that originally Baal and YHWH coexisted peacefully. Some old biblical theomorfic names confirm this original peaceful coexistence. Only later were these names re-punctuated (vowels were changed) in order to hide the high profile of god Baal. This is also confirmed in datable artifacts of Samaria Ostraca. It is possible that in the 9th and 8th centuries devotees of YHWH used the name Baal/baal to refer to YHWH.

These two slides list two textual examples where god YHWH took over main attributes which were originally associated with the god Baal:  god of storm, rider on clouds, a god victorious over the powers of chaos, preserver (almost creator) of the Cosmos. One can easily imagine Late Bronze Semites singing both these hymns in celebration of the god Baal. In the Biblical religion YHWH took the place of Baal and Baal’s attributes and characteristics. The god Baal was suppressed and antagonized , and the name of the god Baal was eliminated and censored out as much as possible.

Another Semitic god El (Illu) was treated differently. The name of the god El has again two mutually interdependent semantic functions. El is a name of a deity, but it is also a common noun “god” or “divine”. This word “el” appears many times in the Hebrew bible (Masoretic Text) and it is proverbially difficult to decide whether and where it is a name of a deity and where it is just simple appelative.
From extra-biblical sources we know El’s function and characteristics.



These two slides list some of the most common Biblical manifestations of El with different atributes and forms. Most common is ELOHIM which is generally understood as the plural of majesty. (Although occasionally the same word can simply describe a plurality of other gods).
Gods YHWH and El (most commonly in the form as Elohim) were completely merged until el/elohim became just another way of talking about YHWH. YHWH took over all the major function and attributes of the god El. As we saw in the first lecture, in this full asimilation process YHWH also took over El’s consort, the goddess Asherah and for some period of time was worshiped together with her.


West Semitic Venus deities are also present in the Bible. Shahar is often translated as dawn/Dawn and in some places Shahar functions as a mythical character.
Shalem is represented in several high profile theomorfic names. Although Shalem can be again translated as both appellative (peace) and the proper name (a name of a deity) in such a situations theomorfic names are almost certainly the originals.

These two slides outline the Biblical presence of a well-known Semitic deity of disasters/war and plague, the god Resheph. The existence of this deity is hidden by presenting him as a simple appellative (disease/plague). Resheph often appears with his retinue of demons and other malevolent gods. Almost ironical is an impressive appearance  of these divine “nasties” malevolent deities and demons in the curse in Deuteronomy (while Deuteronomy is normally considered to be a guardian of biblical orthodoxy :-)   


YHWH was also assimilated with the main god of the night skies. Worship of Jarich - god Moon was officially forbidden, but YHWH took over the control, functions and main attributes of the moon god. It is a repetition of a strategy which was used with the god Baal.
    In this lecture we could observe these three main strategies of monotheization
1) full assimilation (as used with El) 2) assimilation of functions and attributes while rejecting the original deity or name of the deity (Baal, Jarich...) 3) attempted elimination of the memory of deities by their re-interpretation as secular appellatives or concepts (Resheph, Shalem).







And finally an religious/philosophical apothegm - the development of monotheism did not come without serious cost.
    Polytheism, for instance, has neater and simpler way of explaining the presence of evil and suffering in the world (malevolent deities, conflicts between gods, siding with the wrong deities), while dogmatic monotheism always struggles with a quandary of theodicy.
    Monotheism also brought a new secular epistemology. Ancient polytheistic deities shared what I would call metaphoric attributions. We can observe it in our constant difficulties distinguishing between appellative names and proper divine names. The original speakers/thinkers almost certainly did not see it as a problem. For them it was the main feature and the main advantage of their language and thinking about the world. The very reality of their world was divine by the semantic definition of their own words. They were immersed in the divine. They clearly did not want to distinguish, for instance, between Shalem as an evening star, the divinity Shalem, and the idea of divine peace and harmony. For them it was just one reality. They cherished this possibility of speaking about all these concepts while using just one undivided word. They lived out a completely different gnoseological(epistemological) paradigm.
    As soon as Shalem became a spectrum (divinity-planet-peace) the paradigm got more and more dislocated. When these individual aspects got fully separated with some aspects carved out for God, some suppressed and some secularized, the whole epistemological paradigm got irreparably broken. Mythical epistemology was on its way out. For centuries and millennia the divine and the world became separated.




2012/03/16

Debt forgiveness


Can God forgive debts (especially financial debts)? 
Very earthly institutions like banks or governments are not at all inclined to doing it, how could a spiritual entity like God accomplish such a task? 

Well, Semitic gods always did! The solar god Šamaš instructed king Hammurapi (King of Babylon in 18th century B.C.E.) to institute a debt amnesty in his famous legislation. Similar institutions are known from other Ancient Near Eastern instances. The Judeo-Christian tradition preserved and continued these ideas which are as old as our civilisation.
Americans pride themselves to be special people of faith. Let us then, have a look at the social and economic system which is envisioned in the Bible. The Torah (The Law of God) puts forward clear divine economic principles - they might be surprising reading for many!

       No interest allowed: One commandment of the Law after another forbids charging any interest (not only usury, simply any interest). For instance: You must not lend on interest to your neighbour, whether the loan be of money, of food, or of anything else that may earn interest. (Deuteronomy 23:19)

       Collaterals regulated: Several independent commandments of the Law strictly regulate collaterals on loans with intention to control potential social consequences. For instance: No one may take a mill or a millstone in pledge; that would be to take life itself in pledge. (Deuteronomy 24:6)

       Regular remission of debts: Long outstanding loans and loans which became unrepayable must not become an outstanding burdens to society. Rather than bankruptcy, the Law suggests regular remission of outstanding debts through the institution of the amnesty of the seventh year. At the end of every seventh year you must cancel all your debts. And this is how it must be done. Creditors must cancel the loans they have made to their neighbours. They must not demand payment from their neighbours or relatives, for the LORD's time of release has arrived. (Deuteronomy 15:1f.)

       Regular manumission of debt-slaves: The same institution of the seventh year also applies to freeing debt slaves. For instance: If you purchase an Israelite man or woman as your slave and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that slave free. And when you send them free, you will not send them out empty-handed. (Deuteronomy 15:12f)

        Regular reversal of dispossession: In agricultural society a land ownership was a major source of wealth. The Law attempted to control growing disparity between rich and poor by instituting a Year of Jubilee - every fiftieth year all the property was restituted to its original owners or their heirs. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty... It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property... (Leviticus 25:10) 


          I know well enough, that there are serious scholarly doubts whether these rules had ever been fully put in practice. I know that in the realities of our everyday life and economy these rules look quite impractical. Perhaps they were never intended to be put in practice in this form. Perhaps, they were aspirational,  intended to represent an ideal alternative, and offering us a new perspective
          Using the tools of these economic commandments, God directs our attention to true values of a strong resilient society: Mutual responsibility, caring for each other, respecting the dignity of the weak and poor, protecting those who are most vulnerable, encouraging the strong ones to care for the weak ones, because with the twist of fortune they may trade their places.
          Our current human economy is propelled by fear and it trades with debts and shortages. It is governed by mortgages, indebtedness and financial enslavements. The divine Law presents to us an alternative, new (no matter how old!) model of economy, which is based on joy and it shares all the available abundance. 
          So if you ask me, whether God can forgive debts, I say: Indeed God can! If only people took God seriously, and recognized that happy and harmonious society cannot be built and cannot prosper on principals of selfishness, rampant individualism and egotism, but rather on ancient principals handed to us in the divine law.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors - this is an anxious, eager and earnest prayer for the divine year of JUBILEE!


King Hammurapi (standing) receives divine laws from seated god Šamaš

Magic in the Bible

The Charm of Biblical Polytheism
Short outline of the presentation


What's wrong with magic?  Biblical Oracles: Rediscovering many surprising biblical divination practices.




Preceding two slides represent two artistic depictions of a famous story of the Witch of Endor (1 Sam 28). Rembrandt draws an almost mundane scene at the time when witch hunts were still regrettably quite common. William Blake in a more enlighten period and influenced strongly by the artistic style of Romanticism, depicts the same scene with vivid, almost psychotic, imagination.





This slide lists and explains the basic vocabulary of mantic. Definitions show that there is a very fine, often barely discernable, line between magic and religion. Prayer for instance is not a spell, yet, at least in its popular understanding, it also often attempts to influence and direct the supranatural powers.




This slide lists some common social science theories of the origins and explanations of magic.
Each approach has certain explanatory advantages but also serious drawbacks. For instance the evolutionary perspective is often presented as a simple linear function. Such a simplistic perspective then fails to explain why highly urban, secular, progressive and rationalistic Mannhattan is packed with so many shops of psychics and palm-readers. Similarly, the sociological explanation describes different functions and societal roles, but does not account for empire gathering and the communicating of teratomantic information.







Often the magical world view is described as logic gone crazy. Human intellect looks for cause and consequence even though there is very little to go by, often just irregular coincidences. In reality, magic is an alternative epistemological paradigm. The supranatural realm is postulated and used as an explanatory strategy for otherwise disconcerted phenomena or events.











This slide attempts to outline three dimensional categorization of mantic depending how the interpretation is A) obtained, B) performed and C) used.
According to this three-dimensional scheme a very similar mantic phenomenon can end up in completely opposing quadrants.
A personal dream is unrequested and can be interpreted with the help of a published dream-key, and be used by individual to fill the lottery numbers.
Royal incubation (a special ritual requesting a dream) in the time of a societal crisis can lead the king to visit a respected temple and perform an incubation ritual. The king’s dream can be interpreted by a special priest who delivers an explanation of the dream in a state of trance, and the result is anything but individual, because it influences societies of two neighboring nations bound for war.



The Bible generally rejects divination and other magic practices in a very unequivocal way (punishments declared are often very harsh). When magic is reported in narratives, they are criticized either directly or indirectly (contextually and teleologically/by their outcome).



The Bible often reports and ridicules the divination practices of other nations. Sometimes this ridicule is contextual and teleological. Superstition is ridiculed by its outcome; in the book of Esther the casting of the lots set the date of a planned pogrom a full year away and thus provides enough time to prepare a rescue.







The Torah (the Law) officially institutes two divination practices. The lots of Urim and Thumin and a divine judgement (Ordal) of the bitter water. Yet many more and very diverse divination practices are hinted at, reported and partly hidden in narrative parts of the Bible. For instance Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6) was clearly a divination practice, Jakob’s rods (Gen 30) hint at some kind of magic. Jonathan’s shooting of arrows was originally almost certainly a divination practice (1 Sam 20:20-23+35-38).





A positive appreciation of astrology is present in the Bible only indirectly through hints of a knowledge of celestial myths or myths associated with celestial bodies and constellations. Astrology is based on assumption that celestial divinities have direct influence over the lives of earthlings.




These are some possible examples of residual phyllomancy practices.





Two slides dedicated to examples of biblical incubation.




One of the highest-valued and also most-trusted methods of divination in the Ancient Near East was hepatoscopy; the divination of the liver of a sacrificial animal. When a sacrificial animal was slaughtered, its entrails would be closely inspected for any anomalies. The liver especially would be studied in detail and its form and shape interpreted by specially trained priests. Clay models of a liver for training purposes as well as reports of individual readings were discovered in ANE. It is possible that the prophet Amos was by profession (his training) hepatoscop.









Augury is generally associated with Hellenistic and Roman times. A hint of augury in Ecclesiastes fits well with its authorship often being dated quite late in this period.



       In general terms a magical world-view is operating with a different epistemology, is built more strongly on poetical - metaphorical thinking and preserves a charming holistic explanatory code of the world.
       On the surface, the Bible dismisses most of the magic and divination as illicit practices. Under the surface (hidden and partly censored by the later editorial work) is a vibrant landscape of diverse magical practices, which were never reserved only for the so-called popular religion, they were practiced in the royal court as well as in official religious sanctuaries.
       In different stages and to a different degree, magic was integral part of biblical stories. Later editors, influenced by the ascending orthodoxy, attempted to hide this reality, but never truly succeeded.



2012/03/11

Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers

This Sunday (March 11th, 2012) we talked about "Our Daily (EPIOUSIOS) Bread". Our Gospel Lesson were two pericopies from Mark 2:13- 17 and 18-20. To illuminate Jesus' attitude to eating and feasting, we also listened to these apocryphal stories:

Three newly discovered fragments of the Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers.

       One day, Jesus took Martha, Mary and Peter and they went to pick up groceries. After the last evening party bible class in Martha’s home, their fridge was almost completely empty. And so they stopped at the local farmers market and then on to their regular store. Just as they were about to go home, they were intercepted by the self-appointed moral policemen of any religious movement, those self-righteous nitpickers who always know best. 
       They said: “Just look at these snobs! Jesus and his followers only pretend to be friends of the poor people! On their own, when they think nobody is looking, they are elitists who shop in this exclusive and expensive organic stores!
       Jesus calmly replied, “You have got it completely wrong! We are determined not to buy cheep junk. We value the farmers, and the health of our planet and of ourselves. That is why we buy local and organic food, and the fair trade stuff! Our meals are more expensive, but they are not payed for by health of our planet.”


       On another day, Jesus again gathered a large group of his followers and they went down to the City Hall and palaces of banks and corporations. They were loud and protested against the unfair and crooked priorities of the government. After the demonstration they sat down and ate their lunches seasoned with some pepper spray.
       That is when some unfriendly onlookers commented: No wonder you are so agitated and angry all the time if you eat this stuff! We see you are eating vegetarian risotto and chickpeas, and drinking mineral water and herbal teas! Just take look at those happy Southern Baptizers; they love hamburgers, deep fried meals and loads of corn-syrup coke! They are well fed, well shaped, and happy and thus the bible belt is still expanding its waistline.
       Jesus replied: “Don’t come to me in decade or so with a metabolic syndrome; I have other things to heal rather than sloppy eaters!


      Another time Jesus went to Alaska and visited an Inuit village. Some paparazzi caught up with him in helicopters and snapped a few pictures of him sitting at their meal and celebrating with the locals. The media were full of speculations; some accused him of being a hypocrite: "We always thought you were vegetarian, and look! Here you are eating meat with the Inuits!"
       Jesus said: "Let the media be, it does not make much sense to argue with them." But when they were alone, he said to his disciples: "It's a matter of judgement and priorities. For the Inuits meat and some berries are their only food, and if they kill a seal, it feeds their whole extended family and they will use every last bit of it, and they don't throw away a single thing. They don’t kill for pleasure nor do they waste food. And being vegetarian? It is not my ideology! Friendship with the locals is what matters most.”
       And then he added, “I would wear a kilt and even eat haggis and survive the bagpipe serenades, if I knew I could save at least some of those stubborn Scottish Presbyterians!”
------------------------
I know, these stories are little cheeky, provocative, perhaps gently disrespectful to certain traditions or ways of life. But in this respect, they are not unlike original sitz im leben of real biblical stories (how they would be perceived/experienced by the original hearers).
And here is the gentleman after whom our church and these apocrypha are now named:



2012/03/09

Outrageous Biblical Patriarchs

The Charm of Biblical Polytheism
Short outline of the presentation


Outrageous Biblical Patriarchs (and to a lesser degree matriarchs) - Myths in the Bible
or why is it that Biblical characters act so often so strangely?




Especially in Genesis and some other narrative Biblical books (such as Judges) we find the main characters acting in a very controversial manner. On this slide there is a short list of morally questionable behavior from the book of Genesis. I always smile when Conservative Christians point vaguely to the Bible as a source of their “family values”. I am tempted to ask, “Do you mean pimping your wife like Abraham and Isaac, or of Jacob’s deception of his disabled father, or surrogate motherhood in that entire family?”
Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi - What is appropriate for god (Jove) is not appropriate for oxen (bovine).



Higher Textual Criticism has been analyzing these texts for centuries. Scholars soon recognized that in these stories we are not dealing with regular mortals . The Biblical characters are clearly larger than life. These stories are not simple moralistic tales. Biblical scholars across the centuries and continents agree that these stories have a complex and long religious pedigree. They disagree on details of exact origins and development. I quote an example more than a century old. Unfortunately, there were also detractors driven by different ideological motives (religious or nationalistic) who wanted to prove bible correct -like W.F Albright, Yigael Yadin/Sukenik. and others.

Here is an attempt to use a modern metaphor of modulating a radio signal (amplitude modulation) to explain the complex process of tradition.
1) We have a carrying wave (with high frequency) - that would be language (grammar and syntax, vocabulary and basic metaphors).
2) The modulated signal represents the original story (an ancient mythical or legendary story)
3) The original modulated signal can be re-modulated. The original story can change some characters or their names, and/or it can be set in a different place. Characters could be “democratized.” Originally divine characters could be morphed into human characters (heros or ancestors). A theological or moralistic point could be added etc. Such re-modulation often leaves some inconsistencies as remodulation is not thorough. Inconsistencies can be used to uncover the original signal and understand the intentions behind remodulation.


One example of remodulation is for instance a story of the incest of Lot. On the surface it is a moralistic judgmental story about shameful origins of the ancestors of difficult neighboring nations of Moab and Amon.



In history this story of Lot’s incest has been a popular material for painters. We can also observe cultural changes and trends by the amount of skin exposed. (I used a painting by Hendrik Goltzius from 1616 as a wallpaper for most of the slides in this series - Picasa software and this blog automatically censored it clearly for being too explicit ;-)



 

After the discovery and decipherment of texts from the North Syrian city of Ugarit, scholars realized that one of the texts constitutes a close mythical parallel to Lot’s story.


Another biblical text about twins became of some interest. It is probably a different reworking of the similar mytheme, with few changes. In all probability it was originally a North Semitic (Canaanite) story intended to preserve and defend the forces of fertility over against the human attempt to manipulate and limit them. In this respect Conservative Christian bioethics shares so much with those whom they would call despicable polytheistic pre-Isralite Semites! ;-)


The final example is a story of the intoxicated and stripping Noah. In the Bible this story functions to cast in bad light the ancestors of Canaanites as those who took advantage (probably also sexual advantage) of an intoxicated father-figure.

Direct sources from these polytheistic Levantines/Canaanites show, that although they were aware of the intoxicating powers of alcoholic beverages, and probably drunk a lot. They had a well-developed code of conduct and ethical norms for such situations. The Levantine/Canaanites themselves would be horrified at the behaviour of Ham. The story itself could be of pre-biblical (Canaanite) origin. While blessing and curse or probably as little as some changes of names of characters could be parts of the remodulation.