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."


Jonathan and David

For many a year there has been quiet talk among biblical scholars about the nature of the relationship between David and Jonathan. In the 1960s, the now legendary and pseudonymous Allen Edwardes, wrote about it in his(her?) “Erotica Judaica.” This book was based on surprisingly, for 1967, advanced and open minded biblical scholarship. Since then Biblical and Near Eastern scholarship has continued to advance.
    Now it is becoming ever clearer that most of the Hebrew Bible was recorded and written in the late Persian and Hellenistic periods (as was also mentioned in the previous article on this blog about Greek speaking David). That brings to our attention close parallels between the stories of Jonathan and David and another classic heroic couple, Achilles and Patroclos, whose relationship is a pivotal plot in Iliad. The erotic nature of these couples is never really mentioned in the oldest renditions (Iliad and Bible) but can be easily inferred from the cultural context.
    While the exact nature and ordering of Achilles and Patroclos’ relationship has always puzzled both ancient and modern authors, there cannot be any hesitation about the ordering of Jonathan and David’s relationship. Jonathan clearly assumes the role of  ERASTES - a mature (bearded) man in full strength who acts as lover, mentor and protector. David, on the other hand fulfills the role of EROMENOS - a young (unshaven or clean shaven) man or a teen, a love-boy, a mentee and protégé.
    In classical Greece this relationship was called pederasty and over the centuries it rightly became denounced as a highly problematic and abusive love arrangement. Jonathan would today be in great trouble, considered immoral, and most likely also criminal. From our modern perspective the relationship of Jonathan and David is not problematic because of its homosexual nature, but because of the power difference and also the age difference.
    So here you have it. The Bible cannot serve us as a simplistic and literalistic moral compass, not because it is outdated and prudish, but because it is outdated and too wildly immoral (as is often the case - if only people payed attention!).
    True wisdom, joy and morality in life and faith are not born from the fundamentalistic, slavish, mechanical following of any rules, even those religious or divine, but from the existential grappling with difficult conundrums of everyday living and in the search for the deeply rational as well as emotional understanding. In this very quest the ancient biblical texts can serve us sometimes as sparing partners and sometimes as guides.


Greek David for Pride Week

What do you think, did King David speak Greek?

But wasn’t he the famous Jewish king? Shouldn’t he speak Hebrew?

Well, there is a developing consensus among progressive theologians, archeologists and Middle Eastern scholars that the legendary unified monarchy of David and Solomon really never existed. The lively stories about David are exactly just that: lively, formative stories which were composed many centuries later under the influence of Hellenistic culture.

Those are quite bold, if not presumptuous claims! Is there any evidence to support them? 

There are hardly any archeological traces of the unified kingdom of David and Solomon. Jerusalem at that time was a small settlement of about few thousand. And in the Bible, those lively and thrilling biblical stories abound with interesting anachronisms. For instance, units of Greek mercenaries among David’s troops were impossible before the late Persian period. Above it all, the literary style of grand narrative prose would have been itself anachronistic, something like that came only with Greek historiography. Before that, such expansive heroic storytelling was all in poetry. The literary character of king David was inspired by Greek culture, and as such he could easily understand or perhaps even speak Greek! 
It is all Greek to me! After all, who cares? What real difference does it make?

Oh it does, for instance on this Pride Sunday, it can liberate us from the shackles of religious fundamentalism. It can help us to confirm and celebrate a unique biblical loving relationship between two men, Jonathan and David. It can also help us to better understand and celebrate surprising cross-culturality rooted deep in our Judeo-Christian faith.

Then, let us celebrate!


Spiritual Camping

Camping is more than just staying in a tent. It has a deep cultural dimension. Human culture, especially western industrial society, is driven by the profound fear of insecurity, temporality and transience. We do our best to insulate ourselves from the elements, from the surprises and hazards of nature and thus we build our homes, our cities and our infrastructures to cocoon ourselves.
Our little HubbaHubba tent at 12'000 ft above sea level.
     Camping takes almost all our cultural pride (and if you want, arrogance) away. In a tent we are only a thin fabric away from the elements. In a tent we cannot ignore the fact that we are just a part of the universe. This spring I was reminded of it in a very profound way. We were hiking in Hawaii. The night caught us high on the slopes of Mauna Loa, snow patches were all around us. We pitched our little hiking tent right behind a rock shelter. Even in mountaineering sleeping bags we were just about cozy. The tent groaned and rattled all night under the strong wind, providing us with a tenuous protection and only a short and shallow sleep. And yet it was a most memorable vacation night and also a very powerful spiritual experience. We were just a thin fabric away from pinching cold, buffeting wind, bright night, crisp Milky Way and the world biggest active volcano! 
     Of course you do not need to climb high mountains to experience this spiritual dimension of camping. In any tent, when you lie down to sleep, you can hear every rustle of a leaf on a nearby tree, you can hear a chipmunk scrambling about, and to an untrained ear it often sounds like an elephant. In a tent one can hear even a beetle climbing a stalk of nearby grass, not to mention buzzing, and whistling of those thirsty mosquitoes - thankfully that they are held at bay by the tent! The weather can turn nasty, and we can see from beneath a drumbeat of rain and perhaps hail and feel every gust of the wind. How thankful we are for that hair-thin insulation from the raging elements! 
     Camping is a marvelous experience; it is a perfect reminder that we are part of nature. It is also a gentle reminder and illustration of the insecurities and transiency of our lives. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience and exercise. No wonder it has been a part of our Judeo-Christian religion. Every autumn our Jewish neighbors celebrate the holidays of Sukkoth. During that holiday they are to stay for a week in tents or temporary booths - something quite difficult to accomplish in an urban place like New York City. Yet even in Manhattan it can be done. Around that time, you can notice some strange structures on balconies, rooftops, courtyards and around some synagogues. The holiday of Sukkoth is a vivid reminder of the original simplicity of life and the humble nomadic origins of our faith. Yes, of our faith! Because as Christians we share those same origins. What is alive in Judaism was unfortunately all but neglected and forgotten by the Church. 
     I do not think we should slavishly adopt the celebration of Sukkoth, but consider this summer or any next appropriate time to spend at least one night in tent. Especially for us city-dwellers, it can be a transformative and deeply spiritual experience.

Hiking and camping in Hawaiian snow.


Worm Theology

You can’t have butterflies without caterpillars! I was about kindergarten age and picking caterpillars with my grandpa from his cauliflower plants. Although my grandpa was an ardent gardener, the instruction was clear: “Pick as many as you can but no problem if you leave one or two behind.” It is age-old wisdom shared by many cultures around the world.
    The next year when our next-door neighbor started to keep a flock of chickens, my grandpa let them into his vegetable garden and my caterpillar picking duty was over. The cabbage whites did not disappear altogether. An occasional butterfly still fluttered around, but the pest infestation was over. Chickens clearly followed the same rule picking most, but not all of caterpillars.
     When we lived in upstate New York I had exactly the opposite experience. In a hysterical fit our neighbor discovered a wasps’ nest under the roof of her garage. It was not causing anyone any harm, but she was convinced that it was too close to their swimming pool. She sent her husband to dose the nest with at least one insecticide spray. They never stopped buying insecticides, bottle after bottle all rest of that year. Without wasps nearby, caterpillars got out of control in their small vegetable garden. Their garden was turned into a lifeless chemical battlefield. I would not touch their kohlrabi with a ten-foot pole, they fed them to their kids.
     Only stupid and greedy gardeners and farmers try to eliminate all the pests. Healthy gardens always have few cabbage whites fluttering around. I believe it is a deep spiritual truth which is integrated into the very essence of our world and a part of what I call worm theology. Even creatures whom we call vermin deserve to live. You won’t have butterflies without caterpillars! Come to celebrate, be empowered and transformed by worm theology.

Of course this is an inchworm and not a cabbage white caterpillar, but I like it as an alternative gesture to pesticides.


Locust psychiatry?

You can hardly guess it, but some tiny green grasshoppers can in certain circumstances completely change their color, their appearance and their behavior from cuddly, solitary, harmless creatures into a billion-headed voracious army. It is able to devastate entire countries stripping them bare of every last piece of greenery. It is such a stark change, that for centuries people thought that these two forms were two different insect species.
Gregarious             &            Solitary Locust

    Only few years ago scientists discovered that this change was triggered by the neurotransmitter called serotonin (in humans used to treat depression and anxiety). Climatic and environmental stresses push solitary grasshoppers together, they start to produce more serotonin in their brains and when critical numbers are reached a disaster is on its unstoppable way. Even our modern insecticide warfare is hardly coping with numbers beyond counting. Now scientists hope they can eliminate or at least limit this natural disaster by treating manic grasshoppers with neurological drugs (insect specific serotonin inhibitors). One can be only seriously worried that this emergence of what can be called insect neurology or psychiatry does not cause generalized dysphoria among all other animals, including humans.
    Of course, none of this scientific understanding were known or even anticipated in the biblical times. Ancient people considered swarms of locusts to be prime example of divine visitation and judgement. We might have a better scientific understanding of swarming locusts, but we can still learn from our courageous ancestors in faith. They lived under the spell of prejudice, nevertheless, developed ingenious strategies on how to survive the judgement of an angry God. Come this Sunday to rediscover and celebrate these ancient theological, practical, ethical and environmental insights and courage.