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."

2020/10/14

Ancient Sinai Caravanserai

Did Hebrew god YHWH have a wife? Was there a time when Hebrew people worshiped a divine couple - god YHWH and goddess Asherah? If you read only the Bible you might think those are silly and even offensive questions. But they are not as silly if you consider the full picture. There is a number of indications that this was exactly the case.
            For instance deep in the Sinai Peninsula is a place now called Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (30°11'10.59"N  34°25'40.91"E). On the walls and on the pottery of that place was a number of religious inscriptions expressing prayers, best-wishes and blessings in the name of YHWH and his ASHERAH (Paleographically dated between 800-760 BCE). And there were also drawings further suggesting and strengthening this religious interpretation.
            Scholars argue about the exact purpose of that place. Based on the religious graffiti and some other artefacts it might have been a wilderness shrine for desert nomads. Based on its solid structure it might be a small detached garrison protecting an otherwise desolate stretch of the road. And it could also be a caravanserai - a stop and watering place just off the main north south trading road from Gulf of Aqaba to Mediterranean shore.
            Or it could be all of those things together. Frankly, all three functions are easily mutually compatible. In desolate places, people tend to gravitate together. And if you travel through the empty expanses of New Mexico or Nevada you can easily come across a gas and service station, police outpost and small chapel catering together side by side for travelers’ elemental needs of sustenance, safety and spirituality.
            And thus from graffiti written and drawn by a number of ancient travelers in the Sinai Peninsula we realize that the Bible presents to us an official, orthodox, if you want a high brow, version of religion while regular folks along the ancient roads had their own thoughts and hopes, their own religion. And traveling through the vast spaces of dangerous wilderness they put their trust in the divine couple, YHWH and (his) Asherah.
      And that is something you might not know about the bible and the biblical times.
(Here I wrote about it a little bit more.)

And there is another lesson specifically for religious experts, while they write their books people draw their faith in graffiti. People have always believed what they wanted. I found it profoundly humbling. Every rabbi and every pastor should take it to their heart and remember it.

And finally this is also an invitation to our Sunday Worship. We will not talk about Yahweh and his wife. This Sunday will be about who is our neighbour and openness to hospitality talking about open and diverse nature of inns and caravanserais. Join us if you can.

 


 

2020/10/09

Compassion and healing

Crown prince Yaṣib came to his father,

he lifted up his voice and cried:

    Listen, I besiege you, O noble Keret,

    listen, and let your ear be alert!

You have not defended the widow,

you have not protected the powerless!

You have not stopped the plundering of the poor.

You have not fed the orphans under your rule,

you have not protected widows around your throne!

    And for all those reasons

    your bedfellow is illness,

    your concubine is disease.  (KTU 1.16.vi.46-51)

 

This is a short and slightly adjusted quotation from an epos recorded on a clay tablet about three thousand years ago. All that long ago people already knew that there was a connection  between arrogant, abusive and corrupt power and suffering and illness. (Aren’t we reminded of it by our recent national events?!)

            But please, understand me well, I do not believe for a moment in a vindictive God. This was composed centuries before the first sentence of the Hebrew Bible was ever written! Yet people already knew what constitutes a healthy society! It was and still is taking care of the widows and orphans, the poor and powerless. There is simply no denying that there always has been this connection between selfish, incompetent rulers neglecting the most vulnerable and the suffering of their subjects and their societies. In fact it is also a heartbreaking logic because the vulnerable always suffer twice - first they suffer being neglected and then they suffer the secondary consequences of that neglect - unhealthy and collapsing society. 

            Thankfully there is a way out of it if only we decide to take it. This logic of lack of compassion and illness can also be reversed and compassion does lead to broader healing.

            Have you noticed how many examples of just that healing we have in the Gospels? They give many accounts of Jesus’ miraculous healings. But this Sunday we will listen to a very special healing story from the gospel. To my best knowledge, among all the miraculous healings, this is the only healing which is part of a parable thus being a direct invitation for all of us to step in and follow the suit.     



2020/10/01

Priest and King

Biblical writings are proverbially difficult to date. They contain some very old stories (myths and legends or prophesies and poems) which were transmitted orally for generations and then reworked and substantially edited by generations of authors and scribes. Thus it is very difficult, almost impossible, to date any text in the Hebrew Bible.
            But then, there is Psalm 110. With this psalm there can be hardly any doubt when it was written. The psalm itself gives us the date of its composition. It is spelled out in the ACROSTIC. Acrostic is a stylistic device, a form of alliteration, in which the message can be hidden in plain sight. Each line or each verse or each paragraph opens with a letter and those letters together give a message. In this Psalm the first letters of each verse read in Hebrew SIMON (THE) AWE(SOME) and they refer to a known historical figure Simon Thassi, or Simon Maccabee. He was an early and important ruler from the Hasmonean dynasty who ruled over Judea between years 142-135 BCE.
            This identification is further confirmed by the content of the psalm. Interestingly, this psalm mentions an obscure, legendary, MELCHIZEDEK. This mythical figure is directly connected with Simon Maccabee. Simon had a problem as he was from a priestly family and he was of Aaronic lineage but did not have any royal legitimacy - no connection to the  Davidic dynasty. Melchizedek was brought up to help with it because he is mentioned in Genesis as a King but at the same time receives from Abraham an offering. Melchizedek is king and priest at the same time. Simon’s propagandists lifted up Melchizedek from obscurity to legitimize similar conflation of royal and priestly function. This psalm is also particularly fierce and bellicose. Thus well suited for a bellicose and chauvinistic Maccabean ruler with a legitimacy problem.
            Psalm 110 might be ascribed to David but was written centuries later in Hellenistic times as propaganda tool for the Maccabean priestly dynasty attempting to legitimize their political rule. And this psalm might be just the tip of an iceberg. Many scholars suspect that substantial parts of Hebrew Bible were actually written quite late in Hellenistic times and with similar religious and political agendas.
            And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

And for our Sunday service we need to understand that priests in ancient times were unlike any modern priests. They were not only religious professionals but they were directly associated with the leavers and structures of power. They were princes like bishops in feudal Europe, like ancient Billy Grahams and Jerry Falwells deeply implicated in corrupting religion and being corrupted by power structures of their times.