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."


Biblical Poetry of Same-Gender Loving Relationships

The Hebrew Bible contains some exquisitely beautiful poetry in celebration of same-gender loving relationships. It has been known to theologians and biblical scholars for centuries but the minds of people were blinded by all our modern rancor about “homosexuality.” The biblical authors were more nuanced than is often recognized. They could condemn abusive behaviour and at the same time celebrate deep loving and devoted relationships in the most beautiful ways. Take for instance the famous Davidic dirge over Jonathan killed in battle.
    I grieve for you, 

    My brother Jonathan,
    You were most dear to me.
    Your love was wonderful to me

    More than the love of women. (2Sam 1:26)
This is a JPS Tanakh translation, the nicest English translation of this verse I could find. But there could hardly be a translation which would do justice to the beauty and gentleness of the original Hebrew poetry. It is a marvelous expression of the grief and deep love of a gay man. How could it be? Was David not a well-known biblical womanizer? Do not forget that the biblical David is a literary figure! As such, the biblical David is composed of many and divergent, often contradictory, strands of oral tradition. The Bible is like a broad mosaic which depicts human experiences in all their complex diversity. This particular part of the biblical mosaic is a beautiful celebration of deep and committed same-gender relationships.
    David’s poem is not the only example of same-gender biblical poetry. There is also a well-known description of the relationship of Naomi and Ruth (1:16+17). And this Sunday I would like to take us to the book of Ecclesiastes (4:9-12) for yet another special poetic celebration of the same-gender committed relationships.


Sociology of "Family Values"

Rutgers Church sent an overture to 220th General Assembly requesting some changes in the Book of Order which would unequivocally allow Presbyterian Churches to celebrate same gender weddings and thus fully embrace and support same gender families. This is a second short article from the perspective of biblical hermeneutics(interpretation of ancient religious texts). Earlier articles with the similar themes are  Biblical argument for same gender marriage,  Biblical hermeneutics and homosexuality, Family in the Bible and Family now and Reformers and Family Laws.

French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd developed an interesting sociological theory based on family structures. He found persuasive correlations between different forms of families and the social and political shapes of societies. For instance, he claims that there is a clear correlation between the number of endogamous marriages (marriages between close cousins) and a conservative totalitarian form of a tribal society ungovernable by modern means.
Marriages between first cousins in any given society in the late 20th century:
Sudan 57%; Pakistan 50%; Mauritania 40%; Jordan 36%; Saudi Arabia 36%; Yemen 31%; Egypt 25%; Iran 25%; Turkey 15%; West  below 5%.

Also, predominant family models correspond to modes and strategies in which societies as a whole deal with periods of crisis or transition. Societies with a long tradition of authoritarian family models have a tendency to find authoritarian solutions to periods of instability. Societies with egalitarian models of family (for instance egalitarian inheritance) tend to find more equitable solutions in times of crisis. These characteristics persist for a considerable period of time long after the original family models have weakened and almost disappeared.

Our American societal discourse has been shaped most recently by advocates of the so-called “traditional family values.” When these values are analyzed they present only marginally different forms of patriarchal, autocratic, and inequitable/meritocratic models. 

On the other hand, it has to be mentioned that although these advocates might be vociferous and well organized, thankfully they form only a minority. American families represent a wide kaleidoscope of different models based on the different cultural backgrounds of immigrants. This in itself creates a unique atmosphere of diversity and consequently tolerance (different models coexist side by side along one street and in NYC even on one floor of an apartment building). Our society in general does not allow abusive behavior even within families. Thus these “traditional family values” are in, perhaps prolonged, but inevitable retreat. The emergence and growing acceptance of nontraditional same gender families is just a logical continuation of the same unstoppable trend. 
The defenders of the “traditional family values” got one thing right - the shape of families does influence the future of our society. And for that very reason we oppose them and strive for a tolerant, benevolent and egalitarian society.


Biblical Asymmetric Warfare

Did you ever own a slingshot? In my childhood I had several small ones. But when hostilities with boys from the next street escalated as they did in La Guerre des boutons (War of Buttons) I secretly developed a weapon-grade slingshot in my father’s garage (one-month’s lunch money went into powerful rubber tubing). I proudly owned it for just two days. Before I could smash any windows or hurt anyone, our neighbor (Rat! I muttered to myself then.) spotted me and told my father. Regardless of my clear argument that it was purely and solely for self defense, my brand new slingshot got confiscated and was returned only when I went to college. Without my shiny slingshot I lost the leadership in our band, and my political career was cut short before it even started. Eventually I became a boyhood diplomat, a pacifist, and later a church minister.
    This Sunday we will hear how a sling (ancient predecessor of the slingshot) can lead even to a kinghood. Yes, on this Fathers’ Day we will talk about David and Goliath. But a sling in Bible times was not as homespun and boyhoodish as it might seem to us today. Even our most powerful slingshots could hardly match the reputation and use of ancient slings. Many do not know that during the Persian Empire a sling was a real weapon of war. For instance, Xenophon in his Anabasis (Book III part III) learned to respect Persian military slingers and their lead projectiles. Units armed with slings are depicted on Neoassyrian reliefs and remain a regular part of armies until medieval times. Ancient history and archeology help us to date more precisely our Biblical stories (For instance dating David’s saga to late Persian or Hellenistic period, 400 and 300 B.C.E.). Thus we can better understand the meaning of these stories and appreciate their message about strategy of asymmetric warfare, about bullying, about propaganda, and even about their long-forgotten wit and jokes.

And for those who read this far:
Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman (David and Solomon; In Search of the Bible's Sacret Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition) recognize Goliath’s armor as that of a Greek hoplite (originally Greek soldier in heavy armor). Based on this fact and some other textual circumstances they date Goliath with earliest presence of Greek mercenaries in the late VII. century B.C.E. John Van Seters (The Biblical Saga of King David) approaches this story from the literary perspective. He convincingly argues for David’s saga being written in the late Persian period (IV. century B.C.E.). Both positions are factually reconcilable. Finkelstein and Silberman set the earliest possible date for the presence of Greek hoplites, but their presence certainly became better pronounced and more dominant later, most especially during and towards the end of the Persian period. And because these stories usually reflect the past realities, we can even hypothesize that at the time of composition, the Persian Empire as well as the period of hoplites were already part of history - that would mean the early Hellenistic period. 

Ancient Greek military slinger


Tall Tales of the Early Church

Did you know that bedbugs can be kept at bay with prayer? To read how, refer to Early Christian Acts of John.
Do you want to read a vivid description of the afterlife and hear from Isaiah about Jesus’ visit to hell? Read what is now called The Pilate Cycle.
Have you heard about the apostles preaching sex-strikes all the way from Rome through Asia Minor to India? Read The Acts of Peter, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, and The Acts of Thomas.

The early church produced a true flood of these and similar tall tales. They are superstitious, we can laugh at their naivete. But they are also captivating and greatly amusing, and they represent one of the extremes of a long continuous spectrum of religious (biblical) storytelling and thus they help us better understand the ancient mentality. Take for instance the early church’s  preoccupation with virginity, chastity and celibacy. It was in fact an important element of true sexual revolution. In the first few centuries it was not a tool to suppress people; it was an instrument of liberation. Today we would call it a sex-strike, and it was originally a very effective way to claim individual dignity and personal intimate rights under the abusive circumstances of an oppressive patriarchal system.

This Sunday we will open another such book - The Infancy Gospel of Jesus, and will hear about school-age Jesus and what he did when he was supposed to go to school. These stories clearly are tall tales, but besides being odd and somehow farcical, these stories had deep meaning. Not the stories themselves, but their meaning and their ethos could be traced all the way back to Jesus, and thus these stories profoundly changed the way we see children and childhood.


Reformers and Family Laws

Rutgers Church sent an overture to 220th General Assembly requesting some changes in the Book of Order which would unequivocally allow Presbyterian Churches to celebrate same gender weddings and thus fully embrace and support same gender families. This is a third short article this time looking at this matter from the perspective of reformation theology (history of theology). Earlier articles with the similar themes are  Biblical argument for same gender marriage, Biblical hermeneutics and homosexuality and Family in the bible and Family Now.

The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church USA (W-4.9001) clearly states that “Marriage is a civil contract”
This statement about the civil nature of the institution of marriage goes back to the time of the Reformation and was an integral part of reformation struggle for the spiritual freedom and autonomy of individuals from the overreaching and over-controlling medieval church.
Reformers unequivocally declared marriage to be a civil contract and not a sacrament.

Martin Luther in his early work, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, clearly states and demonstrates that there is no convincing argument for the sacramental nature of marriage. He even uses biblical and historical observations to make a contra-argument:

“Furthermore, since matrimony has existed from the beginning of the world, and still continues even among unbelievers, there are no reasons why it should be called a sacrament of the new law, and of the Church alone. The marriages of the patriarchs were not less marriages than ours, nor are those of unbelievers less real than those of believers; and yet no one calls them a sacrament.”
John Calvin in Institutes (Book IV. Chapter 19 §34) stood strongly against the sacramental nature of marriage.
“Marriage is a good and holy ordinance of God. Just as agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, and shaving, are lawful ordinances of God; but they are not sacraments.”
And a few paragraphs later Calvin gives his theory about why marriage was declared sacrament:
“When once the Roman Church obtained this sacramental control over marriage they appropriated to themselves the cognisance of conjugal causes: because now the thing was spiritual, it was not to be intermeddled with by profane judges. Then they enacted laws by which they confirmed their tyranny...”  Calvin gives a substantial list of contemporary examples of an overreaching church.

Reformation theologians were quite clear that the institution of marriage was not sacramental in nature and did not belong under the direct jurisdiction of the church. The Reformation did indeed open the space for the autonomy of the secular and individual. In protestant churches there is no such a thing as a “Christian Marriage”; there is no definition of Christian Marriage, and protestant churches do not have marriage laws in their codices. To the best of my knowledge all protestant churches have immediately or eventually delegated marriage law to the secular authorities (Family courts etc.).

Protestant theology can speak only about marriages of Christian(s) or marriages conducted by Christian ministers or marriages sealed within the bounds of Christian congregations and communities. In our protestant ethos, the institution of marriage is ultimately shaped, formed and regulated by any given society and their appropriate civil authorities. As civil authorities of many states broadened the realm of freedom and expanded the rights to marry to same gender couples, it is in the spirit of Reformation to allow churches and congregations in these states to treat marriages in a similar and equal manner. Church should not be lured back to Babylonian Captivity, sacerdotal tyranny (spiritually disguised), and clerical overreach in which it attempted to rule individual lives.


Family in the Bible and Family Now

Rutgers Church sent an overture to 220th General Assembly requesting some changes in the Book of Order which would unequivocally allow Presbyterian Churches to celebrate same gender weddings and thus fully embrace and support same gender families. This is a second short article from the perspective of biblical hermeneutics(interpretation of ancient religious texts). Earlier articles with the similar themes are  Biblical argument for same gender marriage. and Biblical hermeneutics and homosexuality.

Anyone at least superficially acquainted with the Hebrew Bible knows that its narratives cannot be used today as a model for family life. In these narratives polygamy is standard, endogamy (marriages withing family, clan or tribe) is desirable, certain biblical family institutions are completely foreign and difficult for us to understand (levirate law, surrogate motherhood anchored in marriage contracts...). These biblical narratives clearly presuppose a very different and distant patriarchal tribal society.
    In addition these narratives were part of an oral tradition and later became part of the written literature. Literature almost always records special, unusual, irregular, and all sorts of departures from the norm, in order to educate and/or entertain. As a result, biblical patriarchal and royal families present themselves as kaleidoscopes of pathologies. They almost always represent warnings, hardly ever positive examples.
    When we move to the New Testament and the Gospels, the cultural and societal setting seems more familiar. This impression is unfortunately quite deceptive. Substantial elements of Hellenistic family institutions would be to us very foreign. While modern western families are predominantly nuclear (parents and their children living in their own home) Hellenistic families were complex multi-generational units with married sons living in their father’s house (such large households often included family servants and slaves). An important ancient family function was economic production (family farms, trades, shops), while today’s urban families are predominantly places of economic consumption. Our marriages are based on individual commitments, while Hellenistic marriages were negotiated by families and were accompanied by formal payments. Almost all of the sociological aspects of our family life are different.
    If anyone wanted to use the the NT as a model of family life, even the return to the Victorian “traditional” family would be insufficient. Any such attempt would have to revert further back to a pre-industrial setting not unlike that of Amish communities. As picturesque and nostalgic as it might look, it is certainly not a viable model for modern and postmodern society.
    Ancient forms and shapes of family institutions are clearly part of the biblical historical background and not an essential aspect of the biblical message. Many biblical family models transplanted to our times would be considered highly unusual, nontraditional or outright abusive and illegal. 

      The Bible does not provide a model for slavish direct copying, it gives an indirect spiritual and moral compass in a constantly changing societal and cultural environment.


Biblical hermeneutics and homosexuality

Rutgers Church sent an overture to 220th General Assembly requesting some changes in the Book of Order which would unequivocally allow Presbyterian Churches to celebrate same gender weddings. I was assigned to advocate for this change from the perspective of reformation theology (And I plan to publish this argument soon), but I also prepared some elemental prolegomena from the perspective of biblical hermeneutics.  (Earlier article on this theme can be viewed in this blog under the title Biblical argument for same gender marriage.)
It has to be noted that there was no homosexuality before the middle of 19th century.
There certainly were same gender sexual or erotic attraction and behavior, but there was no "homosexuality" as we know it and name it today.
The word homosexuality (itself a strange combination of Greek HOMOIOS - “same” and Latin SEXUS - “gender”) appears only in the mid 19th century. The concept of “homosexuality” has all the characteristics of a social construct. It was developed as societal attempt to name, describe and control (proscribe) certain forms of sexual dispositions, feelings and behaviour.
Using the word “homosexuality” while dealing with the Bible is a clear example of an anachronism and betrays imprecise exegetical thinking. It does not help our understanding of the Bible and leads to the wrong application of biblical testimony today. What the bible (OT as well as NT) speaks about are perhaps some very narrow and highly specific aspects of what we would today describe as homosexuality. Almost all, if not all biblical passages which are so often quoted to condemn “homosexuality” actually address and condemn abusive sexual behavior. In today’s terms: the Bible condemns such aberrations like Abu Graib sexual humiliations and torture(and alike), not same gender loving and committed relationships.

One biblical example - Genesis 19 (infamous Sodom and Gomorrah passage) has a close, less known historical reworking of this classical mytheme (or mythical topos) in Judges 19 (Gibeah atrocity). When these texts are taken as a doublet, it becomes clear that these passages are not primarily about same sex relationships, but about:
     1) serious violation of the concept of Xenia (hospitality and protection of foreigners and guests), 

     2) Grave violence and sexual abuse regardless of gender, 
     3) Disintegration of society which leads to brutal consequences (in one case divine judgement, in another, what we would call, civil war).
     This understanding is further strengthened when you compare a
broader Sodom and Gomorah story (Genesis 18+19) with examples of theoxenia (visits by gods in disguise of strangers) in classical literature. Here I wrote about Philemon and Baukis.
For the ancients, it was lack of hospitality towards strangers and God(s) which constituted grave sin. 
And for those who read as far as here one more observation:
It is well known fact that the same gender penetrating sexual act between two males was the subject of a strong prejudice in the entire Ancient Near East World. It was severely punished not only in the Hebrew Bible!  For instance Middle Assyrian Laws Tablet A §§ 19 and 20 was quite clear and even in the Classical Greece male-male intercourse was hardly tolerated between men of the same rank. It is quite important to note that the penetrating party was usually punished while the penetrated was acquitted. From this pattern of punishment it is evident that same gender male sexual intercourse was perceived as (or was punished if/when perceived as) a form of abusive, forced and violent behavior towards the penetrated. This is another reason why ancient concepts, rules and laws cannot be easily and straightforwardly applied to different cultural setting many millennia later.