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."

2021/06/17

Biblical Chaoskampf

Can you walk on water? I would doubt it! Such skill is reserved only for deities!
Prophet Isaiah (43:16) speaks about YHWH

     who makes a way in the sea,

           a path in the mighty waters.

And similarly Psalmist (77:19) sings about YHWH:

Your way was through the sea,

    your path, through the mighty waters;

        yet your footprints were unseen.

And for those who might be a little slow in understanding the Psalmist spells it out and drops a direct hint:

            You led your people like a flock

            by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Of course, those walking-on-water reports are actually references of Exodus and the Israelites escaping from Egypt across the sea. The Hebrew Bible, especially the poetical parts, seems to have plenty of these direct and indirect hints of God subduing, defeating and controlling unruly waters while at the same time liberating and protecting God’s faithful people. And, of course, that image is picked up in the New Testament when Jesus calmed the stormy sea and even walked on it. All these biblical passages are hinting, alluding and reenacting the Exodus - this formative and quintessential event of the people of faith - both Jews and Christians.

            But then... then there is a problem. Actually an entire mound of problems, big problems

because such references and allusions are not limited to the Bible. There are many renditions of this image of calming, subduing or walking on an unruly sea which are predating not only the Hebrew Bible - they also predate the theoretical date of Exodus whenever you might think of placing it. These Ancient Near East examples predate anything in the bible by hundreds and even thousands of years.

            In the Babylonian myth  Enūma Eliš god Marduk defeats, crushes and tramples on the watery monster Tiamat and you can find similar stories throughout the Ancient Near East. Among the scholars of religion this mytheme is called Chaoskampf - struggle, fight against the powers of Chaos.  And there are also many iconographic examples - cylinder seals, engravings and other depictions from all over the ancient Near and Middle East. On an attached picture is a stela of god Baal from the late bronze age city of Ugarit. You can see  Baal standing, trampling and thus dominating waves of the sea. Just like we read in the Psalm or in prophet Isaiah.

            These could not be allusions of Exodus because that was still in the distant future for many of these examples. And hardly any orthodox Jewish and Christian theologian would claim these instances were pagan prophesies foretelling the birth of those religions.

            But strangely, in a special, unique way, these might very much be exactly something like that! Those Bronze Age Babylonian and Syrian myths can be seen as foreshadowing the future. They were preparing a building material for the future, for the birth of the biblical religion.

            And the authors of the Hebrew Bible and later of the Christian New Testament took over those myths and used them, adapted them to tell their own stories about their own heroes and their victories over chaos and creation of the new world, new people. But most importantly, their re-purposed stories had the same function and purpose - reassuring audiences, listeners and readers of ultimate divine victory and thus bringing hope to the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

          When Jesus walks on the billows of the sea and calms the raging waves or when we hear about Moses leading people from slavery through the sea to freedom - in these dearly beloved biblical stories – we hear that God will act the same way again. And while listening we are actually touching something very precious. We share our hopes and our stories with people at least 4,500 years ago and we are connected with the dawn of the civilization, almost as far back as the written records go. In these formative stories of our faith we encounter deep archetypal fears and also hopes. And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

There is also a YouTube video clone of this blog.

 

Join us this Sunday, we will rejoice in the New Testamental reworking and reshaping of this powerful ancient theme.

And here is a video from the worship.

 

2021/06/10

Biblical automata

When we say these days that something is automatic we probably imagine some mechanical contraption or a behaviour which is certain and predictable. But this association of automatic with machines is relatively recent, 200 or maximum 300 years.

            When the ancient people spoke about automatic they meant something completely different. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible as well as the New

Testament and even Jesus in one of his parables spoke about automatic behaviour and they did not mean any mechanical contraptions.
            AUTOMATOS (Αυτοματος) in the Greek literally meant “to act on its own inner volition, by its own inner desire, simply self-willing.” Automata acted without clear or obvious reason or causation by themselves and from within. The ancient automaton was not any dull machine performing mechanically preset commands. In certain sense all creatures including humans could be called automata when they acted on their own and without commands or obvious causation, when their actions were coming from the inner mental space and independent, free will.
            Thus, when Jesus, just like the Old Testament spoke about the Earth automatically growing and producing crop - they actually assigned to the Earth this inner mental space, its own agency and even its independent and free will. Quite a radical idea and something you might not know about the Bible. 

 

And you can join us in worship this Sunday in celebrating the divine gift of life which is the ultimate force of nature. 

2021/06/03

Beelzebub or Beelzebul

In the New Testament Jesus was accused of conspiring with Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, which was how he was able to heal and expel demons. We all know that Jesus had a quite tense relationship with the religious authorities of his time. No surprise there! What is really interesting in this instance is the name of his alleged demonic ally.
      In the New Testament he is consistently called Beelzebul, while the Hebrew Bible presents him as Beelzebub.
      The Hebrew version of this name can be easily translated as Baal (Lord) of the flies (unpleasant insects). This interpretation is further confirmed in the Septuagint, an Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, where it is translated that way into Greek.
      So why does the New Testament have only Beelzebul, what does it mean and what is the significance of it? It cannot be easily translated. Over the years theologians offered a number of different explanations and translations: 1) The Lord of the lofty house; 2) The Lord of the Flame; 3) The Lord of the illness/affliction.
      Then, in the middle of the 20th century, as the cuneiform texts from Ugarit a Late Bronze city in Syria were translated and better understood there were many surprises and among them scholars noticed that the word zbl was used as a title also with a number of divine names. Soon a consensus formed that it was a royal title, something like “Prince” “The elevated one” “His highness”. And in those texts were also instances where name was b‘l zbl -- Ba‘al Zebul best translated as Baal the prince.
      Thus it was confirmed that Hebrew Bible’s - Beelzebub Ba
al Zebub was an intentional misspelling to denigrate, to slander a foreign god. We know that the biblical scribes did that especially to the god Baal - replacing his name occasionally with BOSHET - “shame”. In this case they replaced the royal title with the unpleasant insects - from “Baal the prince” was “Baal/The Lord of the Flies” 
      But in the Ugaritic texts were also another rendition of this divine name
zbl b‘l ars - which can be translated as Prince, Lord of the netherworld. And there were several (unfortunately badly broken) incantations which invoked this Prince, Lord of the underworld, to drive out illness/demons. That well fits the well-known role of the chthonic (underworld) deities who were often believed to possess these curative powers over illnesses and demons.
       So here you have it - the New Testament rendition of this divine name Beelzebul was closer to the original pagan context rather than the one from somehow older Hebrew Bible. And even the accusation of healing with the help of Beelzebul, the lord of the demons better fits the ancient context.
       And that is something you might not know about the Bible. 

And here is a video clone of this blog on YouTube.

And on this Sunday (2021-06-06) you can join us in worship, we will certainly mention the dark forces instigating the civil strife in our world, but we will go further and rejoice in the truly healing, life giving, realm of our Prince of Peace.