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."


Jewish Temples

The Bible is quite clear. The only legitimate Jewish temple was to be in Jerusalem. Any other temple was illegitimate and a sign of heresy and apostasy. But have you heard about the Elephantine Jewish colony? Elephantine was a military fortress on the island in the Nile which was protecting Egypt’s southern border. A Jewish mercenary colony thrived there during the early Persian empire.
            We know about the Persian Elephantine from many documents - personal and diplomatic letters, business and wedding contracts, manumission of slaves, property deeds, even accounting sheets. These documents were unearthed from the late 19th  through the early 20th century and they made their way into different libraries and museums around the world. A substantial collection of these documents is also kept in the Brooklyn museum. All these documents are collectively know as Elephantine Papyri and they offer an invaluable insight into the economic, legal and political life of people in Persian Egypt (around 400 BCE).
            Now, several diplomatic letters are about a Jewish temple in Elephantine and one letter requests from the Persian administrators a permission for the reconstruction of a Jewish temple of YHW (which is a variant spelling of YHWH) in Elephantine. The letters show that the original temple had stood in Elephantine for generations before it was destroyed by priests of the Egyptian god Khnum.
            We do not know whether the Elephantine Jewish temple was ever rebuilt, probably not. But regardless of the outcome, these documents attest to an active Jewish temple in South Egypt as late as the Persian period. And that is something you might not know about Biblical Judaism.
            This is actually quite a big deal because this Egyptian Jewish temple must had been in flagrant violation of the Biblical rules. Yet, the letters between Elephantine and Jewish authorities seemed supportive, collegial and harmonious. One explanation might be that the biblical rules about the centralization of the Jewish cult to Jerusalem were not enforced. A more radical alternative is that these centralization rules were not in place at that time and the book of Deuteronomy was not codified or even not yet written.

And this broad unorthodox fluency of Jewish religion as late as the Persian period goes even further. An Elephantine papyrus mentions an oath-making in front of a divine couple Anat - YHW. YHW is a version of YHWH and Anat is a well documented Canaanite goddess. In the Ugaritic myths she is a passionate and violent partner of god Baal. Clearly, among at least some of the Jews in Elephantine Anat was a partner, a consort of YHWH. And that is another thing you might not know about Biblical Judaism. 

Why am I bothering you with this old dry scholarship? Because the more we know about our faith tradition, the better we can understand its broadness and better we can resist the dogmatic fundamentalism around us. The biblical testimony had been clearly just a narrow sliver of the real religious life and must be taken with respect but also with some latitude (just as it was clearly done by the ancient people).  

And here is a letter from Elephantine Jewish leader Yedoniah requesting permission to rebuild the Temple.


Praise Shalem, Jerusalem!

Jerusalem was in the news recently and unfortunately, for all wrong reasons of conflict, hostility, naked power, bigotry and intolerance. At the same time, Jerusalem with its ancient and long history can also present positive alternative models of tolerance, diversity and hope. 
    We can start with Jerusalem’s name. The oldest version is RUŠALIMUM as it appears in Egyptian inscriptions predating anything in the Bible by at least a thousand years. In the El Amarna diplomatic correspondence it was spelled URUŠALIM. Assyrians knew it as URSALIMMU and in Hebrew it is written as YERUŠALAYIM.
    A folk etymology (explanation of the name) simply translates Jerusalem as “Foundation of peace”. This explanation is quite popular for its reference to peace which has been, as we all know very well, something dearly missing there for years and years. It is an appealing explanation, but it does not respect rules of construction of ancient names. It is not particularly helpful either because the terms of any peace are always defined by those who are pronouncing it. In the protracted and vicious conflict even the peace becomes partisan. 
    Scholarly consensus goes deeper and leads us to a surprisingly diverse place. Jerusalem is in fact a standard theomorphic name, the name which incorporates, invokes a deity. Thus, Jerusalem can be translated as "Foundation/City of god Šalim". (Interestingly, the name of the same god ŠALIM is also very likely present in the names of Salomon or Absalom.)
    The god SHALEM/SHALIM/ŠALIM/SALIM was a Venus god and more specifically an Evening Star. In ancient texts he is often mentioned together with his twin brother as dual god Šachar and Šalim - Morning and Evening Star/s.
    Thus, the name Jerusalem has this polytheistic DNA, something difficult to claim by any of the modern hyper-partisan monotheists who are fighting over the control of this ancient city. Jerusalem has these undeniably different and beautiful ancient mytho-poetical roots – it is a City of the Evening Star, a City of the divine Dusk. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

    Join us this Sunday as we search in the long history of Jerusalem for further hopeful notes of  tolerant and inclusive faith and coexistence.


Divine joyrider

Can you imagine God as a joyrider? That is exactly what the Psalm 104 hints when it speaks about God (YHWH) riding “the cloud chariot”.
    You might think, what a lovely and playful metaphor! And it also makes good sense: divine realm is in the heavens and at that time (in Ancient times from Middle Bronze Age onward) chariots were the most advanced and truly aristocratic mode of transportation (for hunts and wars).
    But there is a problem. The “Charioteer of the Clouds” was a standard and well established title of the Canaanite god Baal. This Baal’s title appears countless times in the Canaanite mythology. It was so common that it designated Baal without even naming him.
    We know, that the Biblical religion grew out of this Canaanite polytheistic milieu and as it grew ever more monotheistic and also centralized, the god Baal was attacked and suppressed. In this process, many of Baal’s important functions, characteristics and titles were taken over and adopted by god YHWH. (I talked about this process of monotheisation in one of my lectures and earlier blogs under the name How many gods made up God?)
    Charioteer of the Clouds is one such function and a title. It was a beautiful Canaanite polytheistic metaphor, which was adopted and thankfully preserved in the Bible. Thus, God in the Bible is, indeed, riding a confiscated or even car-jacked heavenly vehicle.
     And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

Join us this Pentecost Sunday when we return to Psalm 104 this time for its beautiful and differently surprising Pentecostal message.  

A Late Bronze Age depiction of the chariot hunt on a gold bowl from Ugarit


Reclaiming Conversion

When I say Conversion in the church setting you probably imagine
a) Joining or changing an established religion.
b) Melodramatic, often histrionic public testimonials among fundamentalists.
c) Conversion therapy - a discredited evangelical practice of “unlearning” sexual orientation.

A true Biblical concept of conversion cannot be further from this farcical mockery. 
i) The Hebrew word for conversion and repentance is תְשׁוּבָה TESHUVAH and it simply means “return”. Return and, discovery or reestablishment of genuine, meaningful relationships with other people and with God.
ii) And Greek word is
μετάνοια METANOIA, it is often translated as “change of mind”. It actually means even more - finding a deeper/true meaning which lies above and beyond.
    This Sunday, with the help of a story of one great spiritual person of the 20th century, we will seek an alternative, deeply spiritual and thoughtful conversion with the hope of reclaiming conversion for ourselves as progressive liberal Christians.


Hawai'ian miracle

Symphony Grape Vines blooming at Volcano Winery
Aloha kākou (Greetings to everyone!)
As many might know we have just returned from Hawai‘i. There we came across a miracle, something highly unusual - a tropical vineyard. Grapevines do not do well in tropics as they came from and they belong to the temperate zone. Some would say that they do best in Mediterranean climate.
     This Hawai‘ian vineyard was just blooming and doing very well. It grows and prospers only because it is planted 4,000 ft above sea level just next to an active volcano and thus in cooler air.
      The Bible came to us from the cradle of viticulture. All the biblical authors and audiences were surrounded with vineyards. They understood them and took them for granted.
      And although we do not live in the tropics (or the arctics) and although New York State (especially the Finger Lakes Region) is famous for its wines, we are not truly familiar with vineyards, their work, culture and symbolism.
      Join us this Sunday in uncovering the deep meanings of viticulture. Join us in rejoicing in their mystical, ethical and emotional meanings.

      A hui hou
(See you soon!)

And a small geo-theological observation.
      Theologians and scholars have been paying attention to the historical setting (historical context) of the biblical message. (World view has changed over the past thousands of years). But what about the geographical setting and climatic context of the Bible?
      Polynesians are not surrounded with vineyards, Papuans don’t keep sheep, Chinese normally don’t eat bread, Inuit fishing certainly looks different from the one on the lake of Galilee... These are, indeed, extreme examples. But they remind us not to make simplified inferences and easy unreflected assumptions about climate and our most basic life experiences.