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."


The Book of an Open-ended Dialogue

"It Ain’t Necessarily So!" This song by George and Ira Gershwin has inspired the last four Sundays in our church. We could see:
  1. That David and Solomon’s empire really never existed, yet their saga is a thrilling intra-biblical argument about the use and the abuse of political power.
  2. That the Bible contains true mythical remnants like sea monsters, but even so it can still inspire our ecological awareness so relevant in our modern age.  
  3. That Moses is, by and large, a legendary figure and the Eexodus from Egypt never really happened as recorded in the Bible; nevertheless it was and remains a powerful force and inspiration for freedom seekers around the world. 
  4. And finally, that although astronomical life-spans of biblical patriarchs are clearly legendary and unrealistic, they can trigger honest and relevant discussions about highly relevant matters like the end-of-life health and palliative medicine.

The Bible has never been a book with a single narrative story-line. It was composed over millennia, written and edited by many different authors. It contains diverse literary and religious genres. It is a book of an open-ended dialogue in which all are invited to participate. 
    This weekend we will have marvelous opportunity to step inside, participate and deepen this discussion during our Autumn Visiting Scholar Weekend. Our guest will be the preeminent biblical scholar, Ancient Near East historian, archeologist and published author Neil Asher Silberman. The Saturday program will start at 10:30 with a lecture: "The Bible and Archeology"; in the early afternoon we will continue with a luncheon and conversation: "Biblical relics and biblical fakes." At 2:30 we will have a seminar: "How can archeology affect faith?"
     The Sunday homily will crown this discussion, searching for an answer to the question  “Who owns the Hebrew Bible?” Please consider participating in any of these events.


The curse of eternity

    This Sunday is the last in our Gershwin series “It ain’t necessarily so!” And the last verse of the Gershwin song is also the most randy and provocative.
    Methus'lah lived nine hundred years, But who calls dat livin', When no gal will give in, To no man what's nine hundred years?
    Actually, according to the Bible, Methuselah lived full 969 years! And he was not the only one in the Bible to live more than 900 years: Adam is said to have lived 930 years, Seth presumably lived 918 years, Enosh lived a wimpy 905 years, Kenan only 910 years, Jerad almost matched Methuselah with 962 years, and Noah lived 950 years. And there is no easy rational escape from the logic of these numbers. You cannot simply divide them, say, by 10 - because in such a case the patriarchs would had to have children as young as 6!
    Gershwin was fully justified in poking fun at these astronomical life spans. In his time Paleo-anthropology was just cutting its teeth, but people already knew enough to recognize the inverse correlation between the distance in history and the length of human life. The further back we go in time, the shorter and more miserable human (hominid) life gets. Median adult life expectancy (not counting infant mortality) in medieval times was about 40, in Jesus’ time it was about 37, median life span of early stone age farmers was below 30 years, and we know it was not much better before that.
    Gershwin was fully justified in making fun of those utterly unrealistic numbers. And his humor, just as all good humor, had also quite a serious side. We strive, largely successfully, to prolong human life. But is the length of life the only measure of its meaning and value? Does not Enoch, the father of Methuselah, have something to tell us. His life is told to be the shortest among the oldest patriarchs (only 365 :), yet he is also the only one blessed and welcomed (approved) by God.
    With our modern civilization and its medical achievements don’t we resemble Tithonos, a hero of Classical mythology? His lover, the goddess of dawn, Eos requested and obtained for him the gift of immortality, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. So after a short and blissful spell, Tithonos now eternally ages, well kept and fed by Eos, yet unable to die, he for ever sinks and shrinks from sight, leaving behind just a sniveling cry.
    Gershwin highlights exactly the same theme in the Bible and he leaves us with questions: can’t our striving for eternity actually be a curse? Can’t our striving for longevity be just our collective avoidance maneuver? What actually is the true value and real meaning of life?
    Yet again, what seemed to be the most randy and provocative, turned out to be the most seriously relevant. Yet again we can see that “It ain’t necessarily so!”

A detail from an Attic wine jug dated between 470-460 B.C.E.
depicting Eos pursuing Tithonus now in Louvre Museum

The story of Eos and Tithonos from the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite.

Aphrodite tells the story to Anchises:
In much the same way was Tithonos abducted by Eos,
    the goddess of the golden embroidery.
He too belonged to your family line,
    looking like the immortal ones.
Then she went with a request to the Son of Kronos [Zeus],
    him of the dark clouds,
asking that her lover become immortal
    and live for all days to come.
Zeus nodded yes to her
    and brought to fulfillment the words of her wish.
Too bad that her thinking was disjoined!
The Lady Eos did not notice in her thinking
    that she should have asked for eternal youth
    and a stripping away of baneful old age.
Well, for a while Tithonos held on to his youth,
    enjoying Eos, the one with the gold embroidery,
    the one early-born.
He lived at the far reaches of the Ocean,
    at the very limits of the earth.
But when the first strands of gray hair appeared,
    from his beautiful head and his noble chin,
    then the Lady Eos stopped visiting him at his bed.
She still nourished him, with grain and ambrosia.
    keeping him in her palace,
    and she kept him well dressed.
But when hateful old age was pressing hard on him,
    with all its might,
and he couldn’t bend his limbs,
    much less lift them up,
then in her resolve she thought up this plan,
    a best counsel she could think:
She build him a special chamber,
    and closed him behind shining doors.
From there his voice pours out
    - it seems in never ending stream -
but he has no strength at all,
    that kind he used to have
    when his limbs could still move.


A Baby-Shipping Lore

This Sunday we continue our Gershwin series based on the song “It Ain’t Necessarily So!”
Of course Gershwin was fully justified in having his doubts about “Li'l Moses being fished by Ol' Pharaoh's daughter from the stream.” 
More than a century ago (as soon as the Ashurbanipal Library was published and translated) it was known that there was another story about another new born baby, in another reed basket, also sealed with asphalt, floating in another river, rescued by another royal figure, and it was also about a baby who made it big in his life. 
In that story the royal figure wasn’t Ol’ Pharaoh’s daughter, it was a Sumerian official, the river wasn’t Nile, it was the Euphrates, the baby wasn’t Moses, it was King Sargon of Akkad. 
        You see, in a playful operatic setting, Gershwin was fully justified to have his doubts about the historicity of this story. Of course there were no two baby-laden baskets floating on two major waterways of the ancient world. Without any doubt, both the stories of Sargon as well as that of Moses are ancient legends. But as legends, they are so much more powerful than a mere recounting of history. As history, the event would be done and locked in the past, as a legend it is still powerful, it still conveys to us a glorious as well as challenging message! 
This Sunday, at the beginning of another Church and school cycle, quite appropriately, we will take seriously the Exodus story, the story of liberation, which never was and yet always will be! (To paraphrase philosopher Saloustios.) Come to rejoice, celebrate, be liberated from all sorts of slaveries and be challenged, encouraged and empowered to become liberators of others. It is the noblest and most joyous calling of the people of God.
Bronze head of a king, most likely Sargon, from cca 2300 B.C.E.
unearthed in Nineveh, now in the Iraqi Museum.

   Legend of Sargon of Akkad

Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkad am I!
My mother was a high priestess, my father I knew not.
His ancestry was among the people of hills.
I come from The City of Saffron, on the banks of the Euphrates,
there my mother, the high priestess,
conceived me, and in secret she bore me.
She set me in a basket of reeds;
with bitumen she sealed my lid.
She cast me on the river which rose not over me.
The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the Drawer of Water.
Akki, the Drawer of Water, lifted me out as he dipped his ewer.
Akki, the Drawer of Water, took me as his son and brought me up.
Akki, the Drawer of Water, appointed me as his gardener.
While I was a gardener, goddess Ishtar showed me her favor,
and for four and thirty years I have been king.
The black-headed people I ruled and governed
Mighty mountains with chip-axes of bronze I conquered.
The upper ranges I scaled,
The lower ranges I traversed,
The sea and lands three times I circled.
Dilmun my hand captured,
To the great Der I went up, 
Kazallu I destroyed

Whatever king may come up after me,
let him rule, let him govern, the black-headed people;
let him conquer mighty mountains with chip-axes of bronze,
let him scale the upper ranges,
let him traverse the lower ranges,
let him circle the sea lands three time!
Dilmun let his hand capture,
let him go up to the great Der and…!
From my city Akkad.

Name Sargon translates - "The Legitimate King"
The “The Drawer of Water” - was a high title similar to the Master of Irrigations.
Adapted from translation by E.A.Speiser


Glacier lesson

This summer our volcanological hobby brought me and Martina to Iceland. On our first day we visited the Þríhnúkar (Three-summits) volcano. We went all the way to the highest summit and descended right down through the lava chimney to the large cavernous magma chamber. It was a special experience to be 400 ft. deep inside of an extinct volcano. But it was something we planned and expected.
       What I was not prepared for were the experiences on the opposite side of the temperature scale. Hiking on Langjökull, one of the largest European glaciers was truly breathtaking. It was the middle of summer, and as far as the eye could see there was nothing but ice and more ice, in some places 1,900 ft. thick. The sound and feel of a summer glacier is indescribable; it flows and it sings, it breaths and rings. Melodies of brooks and moulins (meltwater cascading into deep cracks) are part of the experience of a summer glacier. Unfortunately it has been melting faster than it can be replenished through winters.

Martina on Langjökull near group of  moulins.

       The next day we climbed Snöfellsjekull, a 4,744 ft. tall volcano also covered with a white cape of permanent snow and ice. (This is the volcano which Jules Verne picked as an entry point for the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” – and no, we did not find any entrances, only some lava tubes.) At first, our ascend of Snöfellsjekull was gentle on a dry volcanic tephra, but soon we transited to the glacier and the going got steeper and steeper. All the way up we could see the summit; it seemed so deceivingly close, but it was not getting much closer as if the mountain played tricks on us.

Glacier-covered stratovolcano Snöfellsjekull from distance of about 30 miles.

       But then, when we finally reached the summit, suddenly the full panorama opened up on all sides. It felt like a religious experience for us breathless hikers. First hand we could experience why so many important biblical events took place on the mountaintops. It is a combination of spiritual and physical breathlessness, it is a combination of spiritual and physical exhaustion and exhilaration, it is a combination of new and broader physical and spiritual horizons. Such experience never comes without strain; you have to climb the hill, you have to invest the effort - at the same time with that overwhelming panorama all around, you also know preciously well that your personal effort was only a small part of this profound reward.

Andrew near the top of Snöfellsjekull

       Yes, you have to commit, you have to invest your own energy, but you gain a manifold reward which is so difficult to describe in words; it has to be viewed and experienced, it has to be felt, like the gusts of wind, sparkling of ice crystals and views of land and ocean. It is a profound gift of eagle-like perspective.

Snæfellsnes (peninsula) from Snæfellsjökull (volcano)

       And then comes the time to return, time to descend down to the mundane life down below in the valleys. The descent can be as strenuous as the climbing up, and perhaps a little bit more dangerous; just watch for those ice crevices, some could be several stories deep!  But a returning person has been inwardly transformed, illuminated, with new perspectives, with broader horizons.
       I consider such mountain-hiking to be a fitting parable for our spiritual life, our spiritual life journey. The grace of our Lord is free, but it isn’t cheap! In our faith and in our life together as a church we have to invest our effort and physical as well as spiritual energy. Sometimes we might think that it is too hard and too steep, but in the end we receive manifold reward in refreshed minds, broadened views and deeper appreciation and love. So let us take a hike together through spiritually breathtaking landscapes, a hike for a stronger, committed and enlightened faith.


Duckling Monsters!

What do yellow bathtub duckies, ancient mythical sea-monsters and nuclear pollution have in common?  A lot! Let me tell you.
    We can start with duckies. On the 10th of  January 1992 a vicious storm hit a container ship sailing from Hong Kong to California. Four containers opened and went overboard in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean (45°N 178°E). Twenty-nine thousand cuddly bathtub toys were released into the wild. Within weeks ducklings started to appear on beaches in California; in few months they washed up in Indonesia, East Australia and eventually in South America. But this group was just 2/3 of this duckling flotilla which took a southerly direction. About ten thousand duckies went north, towards Alaska, and then Japan. Three years later considerable numbers made it through the Bering Strait and soon froze solid in arctic ice drifting slowly towards the North Atlantic. The first ducks reached the Atlantic in Year 2000. In 2003 they appear on the eastern shore of Canada and the US and reached Iceland and North Scotland. A number of them hitched Gulf Stream  near the American shores and arrived in Cornwall and Devon (the South West Coast of England) in 2007. In 15 years this flotilla of rubber duckies made it all the way around the world.
    These rubber ducklings are just a modern reminder of a deep wisdom preserved in ancient myths and biblical allusions. Some of the oldest creation myths tell us about the world being created inside of the stomach of a sea monster (Like a Jonah in the stomach of a great fish). Often the monster of chaos is vanquished, split up, divided, pulled apart and a habitable world is formed between its two parts. In ancient imagination the world was like a giant bubble floating inside of a monster body of watery chaos. This ancient cosmology (understanding of the world), as mythical and unreal as it might look, has some profound consequences. For instance the world, especially our habitable world, might look large and almost endless, but it is not infinite! In fact it is quite small and very tightly interconnected. Little rubber ducks can make it around the world in less than 15 years. Anyone can figure out the consequence of the poisonous radioactive pollution leaking, say, from Fukushima. A bathtub toy in the ocean as well as ancient mythical monsters bring us the same trivial but needed message: It is shortsighted to pee into water in which we take a bath!
    You see, It ain’t necessarily so! Some myths look ridiculous (especially when taken literally), until we discover their true metaphorical meaning. Come this Sunday to search for this ancient wisdom: some aspects warn us, some bring us meaning and spiritual transformation. Thankfully It ain’t necessarily so! It’s so richer, more important and interesting. Come to celebrate!