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."


It Ain’t Necessarily So!

Porgy and Bess - When George Gershwin wrote this jazz opera in the 1930's he was accused of repeating racial stereotypes and the perpetuation of old prejudices against African Americans. But reading the libretto I realized it has an uncanny resemblance to what I hear from my wife (a medical doctor) returning tired after long days from her “medical mission field” in the Bronx: violence, gambling, fluid family structures, abject poverty, positive drug tests even among grannies in retirement age. But that is only one side of the picture, just as in the opera there is often a marvelous supportive and resilient communal spirit and inclusiveness, raw yet real gentleness, religious moralism but also surprising loving tolerance, superstitious religiosity as well as freethinking (religious skepticism), respect towards real helpers and suspicion towards and rejection of official agents of government. In fact, even many decades later, the opera reads just like a sociological study set to music, and what music!

It Ain’t Necessarily So! - Right at the center of the Gershwin opera is this playful song. In colorful Rabelaisian style it says: Don’t trust everything they told you about biblical characters. Although this song is sung by a shady character, a gambler and drug dealer, it represents a bright skeptical protest against biblical literalism and against use of the religion as a tool of manipulation. It was clearly quite close to Gershwin’s own persuasion and was informed by his own upbringing and his own scepticism. The song mentions four biblical characters: David, Jonah, Moses and Methuselah. In the first four Sundays in September we will look in order at these biblical characters. We will attempt to liberate them from ideology of biblical literalism and thus allow them to speak to our current political, ecological, social and spiritual issues.

Li'l David was small, but oh my! - Yes, this Sunday we start with David and his and Solomon’s elusive empire. Gershwin would been surprised to learn how fully his misgivings about biblical literalism were vindicated and surpassed by recent scholarship. According to the Bible, the empire of David and Solomon should had stretched from the Euphrates to the boarder of Egypt (1 Kings 5:4). But there is absolutely no archeological evidence for it. Despite generations of archeologists’ diligent search for this royal realm, it becomes ever more certain that even Jerusalem at that time was hardly more than a larger village of few hundred inhabitants. It certainly was not the capital of an empire as described in the Bible. This fact itself has great liberating potential! But the stories of David have so much more to offer! Understood as stories and as commentaries about a different historical era, they contain a revolutionary and stark warning message about our human proclivity to abuse power. Simultaneously they highlight the importance of keeping the power under close scrutiny, in our day by supporting whistle-blowers and courageous journalists.


And for those who have read this far a few more details.

It is becoming ever more clear that the narratives of David and Solomon are modeled on the Israelite (Northern) Kingdom under the Omride dynasty (a different political entity, a different time period). The historical military, political, bureaucratic and social accomplishments of Israel under Omri and Ahab were to a large degree misappropriated by biblical authors, projected further back in history and re-assigned to (most likely) the legendary figures of David and Solomon.
     Also the final form of these narratives about David and Solomon was heavily influenced by the Ancient Persian, Achaimenid, experience. The entire ambience of palace politics, the intrigues of the royal succession and rebellions, the use of messengers with written texts, multiethnic mercenary armies (even the use of slinger units in combat! - I wrote about it about a year ago here.) nicely correlates with the late Persian period and even better with the Classical or early Hellenistic literary rendition of this period.
    These observations have a profound affect on our understanding of these stories. Take for instance the famous story of David and the wife of Uriah which has a close parallel to the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard. As soon as this close parallel is recognized and taken seriously, it becomes clear that the Bathsheba story is not primarily about sexual morality but about abuse of power. Brutally realistic, non-hagiographic, almost cynical depiction of legendary heroes further highlights the need for constant vigilance towards those in the positions of power. The higher and greater the power, the higher and greater is the need for close scrutiny.

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