Wednesday 30 July 2014

Working towards completeness

At last, the third thought-petal of my five which I first listed here with elaborations herehere and here. But this is more than a petal. It is the stamen itself.

Completeness indicates the end of the story. Completeness is another synonym for the whole. The word for complete in Hebrew has the three-letter root taf-mem-mem תמם. And it appears at the end of the movie, thus: תם, tam, meaning 'THE END'.

This word is used quite frequently in the Psalms. As in English, it can mean ended as in finished, wiped out. And it can mean completed in the sense of filled full. So it belongs in the domain of finishing, consuming, and satisfaction. Some of these words overlap with the semantic domain of destruction. In my very terse analysis of the Psalms by semantic domain here, I list this word as one of 11 under the idea of wholeness. The full list is long winded and full of fuzzy decisions.
אחד once, one, single 
גמל grow, benefit, mature, pay back, nursing child, reward
חסד loving-kindness, covenant mercy, mercy, reproof, show kind, and חסִִיד

these I treated as separate roots though they are really the same. I gloss them as loving-kindness or some variation on kind or mercy. The noun is merciful one, or in the plural, those under mercy, and also stork. Traditional glosses for the plural include saints, or holy ones, and for the singular, godly, all a bit misleading in my opinion.
יחד together, altogether, one, unique, solitary
כל all, every
כלל כלל, glossed as perfection, occurs only once in the Psalms, in Psalm 50. from Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined. It is a strange verse for today, when perfection is not exactly what we could associate with trouble in the land.
צמד couple, see Psalm 106:28 for example.
רפא heal, also its homonym, used as shades in Psalm 88.
שׁלםשׁלם is perhaps the most obvious of the group, glossed as peace, make whole, but also pay and payback. It is part of the name Salem and Absalom.
תמםcomplete, and once as filled full. Psalm 73 
How in a moment they are desolated
floundering, filled full from frights.

According to that psalm, this is the sudden 'end' תם of the wicked.

What constitutes my end - is it complete or not? Is such completion desirable? Can I know it before the end? Do I know in advance what is complete for me? or for others? or with others? The word perfect is often the gloss used for תם. So God says to Abram (before his name change to Abraham), Walk before me and be complete. Or as in the King James Version, be perfect. It is Yahweh, appearing to Abram as the mysterious El Shaddai, saying

Walk in my presence and be complete. אֲנִי־אֵל שַׁדַּי הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִֽים׃

These are hard questions, and do not admit of an easy theoretical answer. The answer comes through error, struggle, and destruction of barriers to the wholeness that is sought. Perhaps that is why Jerusalem is such an image of conflict in its whole history. The place of peace cannot find its achievement. The Holy is elusive.

The question then is focused: by what means did Abram find this walk? And how shall we? Let's leave the question there for the moment. Perhaps by the time we get to the fifth petal, the form of the stamen will be more in evidence.

Hint: death is proleptic.

Ponder the mystery in that inimitable poem by T. S. Eliot. A proleptic Death is equally available in the faith of Abram as it is in the faith of Abraham or of the NT through the circumcision of the Anointed.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down 
This set down 
This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? 
There was a Birth, certainly 
We had evidence and no doubt. 
I had seen birth and death, 
But had thought they were different; this Birth was 
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. 
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, 
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, 
With an alien people clutching their gods. 
I should be glad of another death.

Monday 28 July 2014

New hymns - old hymns

Here's a rendering of Psalm 114. What could be done with it? This is in essence the original tonus peregrinus. It proves that Suzanne Haik Vantoura was on to something with her method of transcription of the cantillation marks in the Hebrew text.

I tried poetry before - it's a hard discipline! This translation is a blend of mine and the traditional Coverdale.

The stress marks in the above are for the English underlay - plus you should add a few unwritten rests. I made all the barlines invisible to make it harder to be wooden.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Long-winded former prophet - 1 Samuel 21

Whatever other meanderings are in this post, be sure to read the music here. This is a very amusing chapter containing David's hobnob with the priest Ahimelek over bread, girls, and Goliath's sword. Et qui rit des curés d'Oc.  Let no one laugh (too much) at the priests of Oc (Languedoc - no it's not in the hill country of Israel - but the wine is good).

1 Samuel 21:10 has a recitation of 39 beats in length concerning the sword of Goliath. I am glad to say that my programming passed the test and counted them correctly over the maximum bar length of 24 that I allow. You might need more than one breath to sing it.

This chapter also provides inscriptions for a couple of Psalms: Psalm 52 concerning Doeg and Ahimelech, and Psalm 34 concerning David and his feigned madness before the king of Gath (Akish or Abimelech). This incident also concerns David getting bread from the priest. See also Mark 2:25 and parallels - only Mark raises the question as to what the name of the priest was, Ahimelech or Abiathar. But given the subterfuge of David - saying he has secret orders from 'the king' and his lads are stashed away wherever, we might want to read the Jesus story with a little more humour as well.

The psalms are far apart in the Psalter. Psalm 34 is one of the four acrostics in Book 1. Psalm 52 is the second of the Davidic collection in Book 2, and not one that is very famous - in contrast to Psalm 51. Who bothers to remember Doeg, the snitch? Yet here he is remembered in a psalm as that 'champion of villainy'. The phrase is from the Jerusalem Bible following the Greek. I took a different route and tried to make sense of the Hebrew. Doeg is for me 'a reproof of God all the day long'. I.e. he is deaf to the Anointed, and continuous reproof makes no headway in him - yet David rebukes him hoping for a miracle, that enemies might be transformed into allies. Doeg is an Edomite. It was tribal warfare in those days as it is today. I am sure that assigning roles, whether of loyalty or betrayal, to friend and foe is as complex then as it is now.

As it happens, I wasn't even going to consider the opening verses of this chapter, confused as they are with differing numbering systems even in Hebrew versions. The Leningrad codex begins with verse 1 as the last statement of the prior section: וַיָּ֖קָם וַיֵּלַ֑ךְ וִיהוֹנָתָ֖ן בָּ֥א הָעִֽיר  And he (David) rose up and left, while Jonathan went to the city. Current Hebrew Bibles begin verse 1 as וַיָּבֹ֤א דָוִד֙ נֹ֔בֶה אֶל־אֲחִימֶ֖לֶךְ הַכֹּהֵ֑ן And David went towards Nob to Ahimelech the priest ...

The story is unexpectedly full of deceit, fear, weakness, and subtlety on the part of David, running for his life into the arms of his enemies, completely alone - in the solitude of solitude, without his lads, his army, his infrastructure (the city), even if it was limited to playing the harp for a mentally disturbed king, and so he too feigns madness and escapes.

There is a new musical pattern in the text. It is the presence of two consecutive ornaments: qadma followed immediately by zaqef qatan. It is too subtle at the moment for me to work out a reliable search to see if this is a rare combination or not. I.e. my data is not quite in the right shape to search for musical patterns... In this case the patterns form a frame for the whole chapter - almost as if the king of Gath was mimicking the melody of king David heading towards Nob. I suspect no one would interpret such a little thing. But maybe both of them are somewhat at sea in these episodes. Also there is a strange bar where David is making up his story for the priest - and the chant is a boring single note - 10 syllables with no ornamentation.  This is quite rare - and fits the sense that David is making up his answer to the priest's question on the fly.

There are a couple of subtleties in both transcription and musical phrasing that I don't want to look at in detail in the program I have written. It has been weeks and I wonder why the output is exactly what it is - but it may be sequence of the coding of the data - and in any case the final result is under the control of the musician. The program can only produce a draft. If the original manuscripts are consulted (e.g. at the Aleppo codex online) there will be a lot of possible manual adjustment of the music.

And another thing I noticed, the repetition of a phrase I thought was more rare - ki im, as in Psalm 1. (כִּי אִם)

If you are interested - read the story - and imagine this outlaw, the famous king David before his fame. Laugh? Not sure about that.

Here's an experiment - embedding the pdf in the web page. Or use the link above to my shared documents.

Patheos blogs are badly behaved

I am removing all Patheos blogs from my reader. That includes Marcus Borg, Peter Enns, and James Mcgrath. While the content of these bloggers is very good and very interesting, the hosts are impolite: ads that start without permission, images of naked ladies pasted all over, a serious consumption of CPU cycles from these pages, jerky ads that stop you from reading and ugly popups that ask if you want to be further disturbed.

Pathetic - as Eeyore would say.  Bye folks - see you on Facebook maybe occasionally - but you are toast - hosted by the evil world - and I'm out of here.

Monday 21 July 2014

2 Samuel 6 - David whirling before the ark

My reading partner has suggested this as a passage that demands a close reading. So there's nothing like translating and finding an underlay for the implied music to force a close reading. It is a strange passage. David is burned up just as Yahweh is burned up at the negligence of Uzzah. The passage is framed by laughter, translated 'play' in the KJV, but it is the same laughter as the derision of Psalm 2. A rollicking good time seems to be David's command as the king of all Yahweh's people. Yet he feared also. But the critical Michal is to have no children to the day of her death. The fear of making a scene where honour is compromised doesn't cut it as an excuse for David. Humble / base (Psalm 138:6) David will be and the maidservants will still honour him.

The music in pdf form with my inimitable awkward translation is here.

I am still thinking too, especially in the light of the face saving and dissembling that is going on in the world, about the third petal - how to approach completeness. I will get there, I hope.

Wednesday 16 July 2014


My second thought-petal when I was musing on what I value as "good for you" was acknowledging error.

Good for you is, by the way, the name of a bulk food store nearby, about 7 km away. We often go there for bread flour, oats, wheat germ, and other bulk foods.

So how can one classify error? (And I note to my relief that I included the verb acknowledging.)

First, of error, there is accident, mistake, things arising from ignorance, from complexity, from various kinds of action, things having unexpected consequences, things that happen where the mechanics are broken, such as in the case of disease or other damage to a human being.  It's not an easy list!  Some of these errors are easy to correct, and some cannot be fixed. And they are not necessarily anyone's fault.

And then there's 'sin'. What is it that we call 'sin'? It is always communal, always against another. While it may be committed by the individual, there is no escaping from its origin or its impact even if one considers oneself without it. And by definition, no one is without sin. You may have a necessary belief that someone is without sin, but if anyone is short of it, he can have some of mine. So in a sense, I refuse to go to the answer before I have the questions. I will undermine a theoretical faith because theory may prevent us from actually behaving in a manner suitable to our calling in faithfulness.

It was Northrope Frye who taught me through his book The Great Code, about the problem of having answers to questions. Answers consolidate the learning at the level of the question, and prevent the development of further questions. This (one among many other causes) produces stunted growth. The doctrine of 'original sin' is an example of theory that prevents growth. We can take no consolation from such doctrine if we do not find the reality of obedience. That is the real question. And it is not quite the subject of this second thought-petal.

So, secondly, how easy is it to acknowledge error? I think you know that it doesn't even matter which kind of error we are talking about. It is hard. Honour and shame can prevent us from even considering a typo. You didn't sin. You just had a fingering problem on the keyboard, but you didn't notice until it was published!

I found one in a delightful book the other day. The book is Aleph through the Looking Glass, Yale 2006, by Jonathan Orr-Stav. It is by far the best introduction to Hebrew letters I have come across. Late in the book, an inconsequential image omits the letter resh. Resh, he describes, is a fundamental stroke in the Hebrew script. The omission of resh in the image (twice) is curious but unimportant in the overall scheme of things. It may have happened for a variety of systemic reasons, many of them outside the author's control. In a book this many years following initial production, it may even be a recurrence of an error that had been fixed already.

Books like systems are a complex process. Many people must cooperate to produce such things. And in many senses they are never finished. This should put a limit to the perfection we seek and allow us to stand away from the products we build. To stand too close is to expose our need for perfection in a way that reveals deeper troubles.

There will always be misprints. Some of them we correct as we read and we never even notice. Such self-correcting processes are an essential component to life and our ability to operate in any fashion. Life would be boring without them. (What! O happy fault!)

If acknowledging a simple error is difficult, how much harder is it to face a situation where we damage others either by accident or by design, or as a byproduct of our own pursuit of self-interest? This fear of shame, correction, or inability to change is the cause of endless governance problems in our world. In fact, the line between systemic error and sin is not at all clear. Murder happens sometimes as a result of mental illness and this in turn is caused by systemic problems in either or both gestation or social structures.

So my second thought-petal reveals a serious set of concerns. Whether it be power to build, or desire to protect, or all the myriad of conflicts that emerge from our lives, how will we deal with the power and the desire within us when we ourselves have been produced by that prior generation that we are so happy to blame? First we must acknowledge that there is a fault-line.

Perfection in the limited sense of "working towards completeness" and with a byproduct of purity and holiness is our next thought-petal.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Till by turning, turning, we come round right

So goes the old Shaker song, 'tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be .... But maybe you didn't think that turning in this song meant repentance.

What do I mean by turning, my first petal. To turn is to change, to turn from something, to turn to something else. The turn may be very slight, as for instance, seeing faith as faithfulness, an action and an attitude rather than a belief, a concrete conversation rather than an abstract belief.  Maybe turning is impossible - maybe one needs a dance partner to help.

But repent?  That word is loaded. Yet its simplest meaning is to turn towards God - to face God, to know presence. Turn, face, presence are all themes Psalm 90. In verse 3, the poet writes of God:
you turn a mortal to contrition
and you say, Turn children of humanity
In verses 8 and 9, iniquity - ours - the corporate failure, is spoken of - and we face away from the face of God:
you put our iniquities before you
our dissembling in the light of your face
for all our days face away from your fury
we consume our years as a mutter
In verse 13, the poet appeals
Turn יהוה, until when?
And be comforted over your servants.

Of course that psalm should be read in its context, as the beginning of Book 4 and the focus on Moses after the failures recorded in Books 2 and 3.

Turn - repent - is the first command of Jesus in his ministry according to Mark 1:15. This call always bothered me. As if one could be called to good news by the word 'repent'. Repent always meant bad news. It concentrates on the things we have done wrong. It has nothing to do with good news so why should I pay attention.

O poison! How loaded words get twisted and distorted. Repent turned these gospel words for me into something worth running away from. Why! Who would not want to be face to face with the One who created us, the One who loves us, the One who suffers with us and longs for us to be present, facing, fully alive, in the created and redeemed world which is so beloved? Yes - there is work to turn away from destructive behaviour, but there is joy first to turn toward love.  If love is what you are expecting, of course.

But maybe we are expecting condemnation, judgment, criticism, (and maybe we deserve it). But who knows what one deserves or not. Can we believe there is good news? (Without making it up). If one stops the things that are destroying one's life, it is possible that healing and growth might be the result. Who knows? And who has the power to stop destructive things?

Anyway - turn is my first word. As the soil is turned to prepare for a planting, so we are turned to prepare for the impregnating word that will enter into our own humus.

Simple? Yet maybe not so simple.

Monday 14 July 2014

What's poison?

I raised a possibly disturbing question in my post on "good for you". Surely there's not poison in the Bible! Well, think about it. Even the best fertilizer will burn a young plant. And the wrong fertilizer will lead to lots of green growth but no fruit. So are these poison? Yes - truth improperly applied is falsehood.

But you can hold on to prejudice concerning perfection for the time being.

A few things I thought of while contemplating Psalm 2 and a book on the Suffering of God by Terrence Fretheim (Fortress Press 1984): Psalm 2 presents God and the human ruling jointly. One poison that can be taken from it is fear, specifically the fear that the rule of God is a domination structure, an unconditional set of orders. What kind of God is the God who is worthy of worship? How does God rule? True enough there is ridicule and derision in Psalm 2 but there is also a hint of humour, and an invitation to responsibility. The kindling with a touch of wrath is the gift of a sensitive conscience, to speak in human terms. There is refuge also and a completion of the opening command of Psalm 1 to be happy.

So hold on to prejudice but bear in mind it may need tweaking to allow some of this light to get in through the cracks. Bear also in mind that our prejudice may be a defense mechanism, designed to prevent light from entering into us because of a deep-seated dread that one prefers not to face.  To paraphrase those last few commands (invitations) of Psalm 2, fear a little in your service - tremble with joy, and kiss with purity - more on this later as we move into turning, the first of my five petals.

Saturday 12 July 2014

What's "good for you" in Christian teaching?

Alright, you theologians and atheists out there, here's finally something you can tear apart. First maybe I will begin with a list. And why pick 'Christian teaching'?  Is it different from Hebrew teaching or Greek teaching or Muslim teaching or human teaching?  There will be considerable overlaps - but also a few radical differences. In Christian thinking particularly, we have one unique component - the death of the anointed, the death of the beloved, the death of the chosen one, Jesus' death, our death.  This component is not available explicitly to any other teaching system - but it is always available everywhere implicitly.

Obviously this is a big topic. My list is this. These things are good for you.
  1. turning
  2. acknowledging error
  3. working towards completeness
  4. recognizing connections
  5. maturing
Look at that - no square script, no Greek, no Bible quotations, no God, no music even! If I were going to associate these 5 with Biblical words, they might be (though not limited to)
  1. repentance
  2. confession of sin
  3. striving for holiness
  4. seeing the body of the assembly (congregation, church)
  5. coming to the fullness of our humanity
Again, not a lot of text - I wonder if this spontaneous 5 fold list will hold up. The difference between 3 and 5 is the cooperative action of the human and the Holy One. There, I have made a first mention of God.

How then should we live? What are say, five things that we should avoid? Like growing plants, there is poison, imbalance, and there is fertilizer that enables and soil that encourages.

The list of poisons begins with
  1. revenge. And continues with 
  2. hatred,
  3. greed, 
  4. exploitation, 
  5. self-protection, 
and the violence that these things cause. What can we do in a world with apparently limited resources to deal with the natural presence and growth of these things in our lives?

The fertilizer is the word of God in theological terms - but what does this mean in non-Biblical words?
  1. Mutual respect, especially for elders, 
  2. healthy skepticism. Ultimately this will turn to the single word of
  3. loving the other, 
  4. loving the enemy
  5. loving oneself in a new way. 
This teaching, as you might guess, is fully available in the ancient poetry of the Psalms, but it requires some unpacking so that the poisons packaged in the same poetry do not get the better of sound judgment. Now for a quote to end this beginning (Psalm 2:10-12):
So now you sovereigns, let there be insight
be warned you who judge on earth
serve Yahweh in fear
and rejoice in trembling
Kiss, each of you - pure lest he be angry
and you perish in the way
for he kindles as a hint of his anger
Happy! all who take refuge in him
I hear cries of unfair! How can you begin Christian teaching with a word from the Old Testament? The question and the cry reveal just how wrong most Christian thinking and teaching is. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong in that there is always an attempt from the most junior to the most senior of teachers to wrap up the teaching and hit hard with it as if it were to be used as a cudgel for revenge on all those horrible people out there that are 'not me'.

You might ask - how can we grow in the presence of such poison?

One thought - hold your fire. All texts have their own packaging. Don't eat the package without unwrapping it. Yet eat the whole package. Even some foods are poison with the antidote included. Compare fruit juice with the whole fruit. The juice alone will be too high in sugar for the health of your body. The whole fruit will give you the necessary fibre so that your body can slough off the poisonous sugar.

Question that you may be wrong. I include myself in the collective 'you'. I will use the Scripture, and in so doing, I may simply reinforce traditional stereotypes. Let's hold our feet to the fire. Let's find out if the wheat and the darnel (poison) in the words of Scripture can be separated in us for the ultimate judgment in the here and now.

There - this essay is in preparation for next week's lessons on the parable of the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13:24 ff. Notice how in every case we have looked at so far Jesus' parables in the Gospel are surrounding textual references to the 'old' Testament (Matthew 13:52). And these are not read because these words are omitted in the lectionary reading, This is not good for you if you only hear the words that are read on Sunday.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Can you start hearing in the middle of a song?

Music and Scripture - is it really possible to hear that art-song that was finally imposed on the collected and edited words of the ancient writings in Hebrew? I cannot imagine that the song preceded the writing or even the collection. Like plainsong or Anglican chant, the writing must have preceded the musical genre, a pattern of melodies and modes created to adorn and package the text. The collected writings are so diverse and from so many times and places, it is not possible that the same musical motif would have existed without change over that 800 year period. So the music is late, imposed when it was realized that this tradition that forms the people must be preserved - not just with memory but with the technical assistance of music.

Like stones cast on the water, we have been skipping through Genesis for a few weeks. Now I will make a sudden switch to Isaiah. I am picking an alternative passage to the Bethel incident. Henry and Jody Neufeld are beginning a Google+ hangout session every week on selected lectionary readings. So I have gone with their choice in the lectionary. The reading and commenting on this strategy for reading is a complex business. It requires a two to three week planning cycle - such a discipline! No more random reads. And now I am a whole week ahead again. Liturgy has some interesting comments on the process here. It turns out that reading the Bible is, after all, rocket science.

Back to the question: The Isaiah lesson is only a few verses. Isaiah 44:6-8. A snippet, one of those where YHWH seems to 'predict' - yet the prediction is not specific and is not even in these verses. The prophesy has much more to do with the care of Yahweh for his people, both the chosen and indeed all the people of the world. Here it is.
So what does it mean? It is not that often that we have heard the low C. First, it occurs only in the prose books, not in the Psalms. In the examples I have so far, in roughly 1400 verses outside the Psalms, there are about 100 instances compared to 1400 for the tonic E or 300 for the D below the tonic. The dominant B occurs roughly 1300 times, the high C about 550 times.  We are not counting notes here - just occurrences of the sign itself. Extended recitation on the high C is frequent as can be seen immediately above. Such recitation on the low C is rare.

Here's a translation: 
6. Thus says Yahweh
with a little emphasis on says.
And the last syllable of the name is alone on the low C.
This may indicate that it was stressed on the last syllable.
the king of Israel and his redeemer, Yahweh of hosts.
The music comes to a rest at the mid point of the verse
 - a common occurrence
I am the first and I am the last 
First and last each get an ornament,
the pitch rises - it is an announcement
and apart from me there is no God

7 And who, as I do,  will call, will make it plain, will arrange it for me
to set in place the people of the age, and the things that are and that are coming,
let them make it clear to them
Who is to care for the people as Yahweh does
this is not a prediction of the future but a care for the present
but it is a challenge to anyone who would care for the world as Yahweh cares.
8 Do not be in dread and do not be afraid
Have I not from then made you hear 
and made it clear to you
that you are my witnesses
Is there any God apart from me, or any rock?
not to my knowledge.

This little section, Isaiah 44:6-8, makes little sense without reading the prior verses, Isaiah 44:1-5. [There is a pdf of the whole section in the usual place - where I store the hundreds of transcriptions I have done using the software that I have written to convert the text automatically to music.] The music does not stand alone in this case. So look at how the command to not be afraid wraps the whole chapter so far and how this chapter is to comfort the chosen people who have had such a burden to bear - that of being witnesses to Yahweh on behalf of the whole world. This is a consistent message with the Psalms. It also directly links to the NT lesson, the parable of the wheat and the tares, through the reference in Matthew 13:35 to Psalm 78:2, Israel as his parable. This phrase is also in Psalm 114 verse 2 - but no one translates it as Israel his parables except me.

Again the NT lesson has omitted the surrounding verses. It is like eating the bread of a sandwich without its content.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Generation and expiration, birth and death, musical patterns

Not only birth and children in Genesis of course, but also expiration and death. Abraham's death illustrates common patterns in the music of Torah. Here is the page where Abraham dies.

Notice the differing ways in which the diminished triad is used to approach a cadence either on the tonic or the subdominant.

We have six examples on the page:
1. D-E-F-G#-A
2. D-F-G#-F-E
3. D-F-G#-B-A
and he was gathered to his people - and then his sons buried him - in the purchased burial ground...
4. same as 3
5. same as 2
6. a new variation.

Can you see a circular pattern emerging? I wonder to what extent this is frequent in the music...

Children, children, children everywhere

I don't know why it is that our lives are filled with children these days - our own grandchild and the grandchildren of many and the children of many - all friends. When I was a child, friends was not automatic. Right now these all seem to be babes in arms and toddlers, but they too must grow into acceptance of the other and all the competitive aspects that arise with respect to character and resources.

It is true too in Genesis that the book is filled with births and with children, not just the ones who are central to the story and who provide the genealogy from Adam to Jacob. Since we began reading on the lectionary 8 or so weeks ago, we have noted Isaac and Ishmael, both blessed, and Isaac living at the well where Hagar was blessed. I asked a scholar at the SBL's Bible Odyssey if there are legends concerning Isaac and Ishmael and why it might be that Beer Lahai Roi (the well of the living one who sees me) would be mentioned these three times in the story - no answer yet.

Targum Jonathan reads: And Izhak was coming from the school of the Rabba Shem, by the way of the fountain where had been revealed to him the Living and Eternal One, who seeth, and is not seen. This transfers to Isaac the revelation to Hagar - strange...

It is notable that the two sons, Isaac and Ishmael are the ones who bury Abraham. So after the separation which Sarah forced Abraham to inflict on Hagar (Genesis 21:10), both children are still in contact. Not enemies yet.

The chosen line is Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. The other children are all over the map and there are a host of them (not included in the lectionary, Genesis 25:1-4). I note that the Targum Jonathan seems to identify Keturah as Hagar.

Abraham had many concubines so many tribes must then be descended from him. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob becomes Israel and Esau has children as well - but this is still to come in the story. Isaac will take both a Hittite wife and an Ishmaelite wife. Tribes galore and as today, many unknown futures.

Monday 7 July 2014

How do we respond to the readings of the Gospels when we leave stuff out?

Here is the lectionary for Matthew this week. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Do you notice anything missing? Yes - the citation of the passage from Isaiah at his calling Isaiah 6:9-10. Should we read these hard passages? Do we apply them to ourselves or only to the others? The lesson only includes the parable and the explanation- as if the congregation is only to be spoon-fed.

One way to avoid being deaf is to not read and not listen at all. I suspect this passage is omitted because it can be read as anti-Jewish. But it should be read as anti-me - so that my eyes might not be shut and my ears not plugged.

What was Isaiah's intent? He wanted the government to wake up? I wonder, is such a thing possible? Has Indonesia woken up to the reality of the street artists in its streets, or will this film Jalanan also be a flash in the pan? [I can't find where I heard of this - it was in the last few days on a newscast].

Here's what the Canadian director says of the film.
Their story is also meant as a provocative mirror through which we, in the more affluent part of the world, can reflect on our own lives and values, learning from the day-to-day perspectives and wisdom of the characters in Jalanan. Ho’s favorite mantra – as he bids farewell to bus passengers after entertaining them (or outraging them) with his songs, is that “Life must be fully lived!”
Here's the whole essay from the director, Daniel Ziv.

Saturday 5 July 2014

Wimbledon victory

Canada's week at Wimbledon has its highest point - winning the men's doubles championship. Bravo Vasek Pospisil (CAN) and Jack Sock (USA). #wimbledon2014

Paul's Messianic Christology

This is a fine essay especially all the negatives in the first paragraph.
The premise and the broad conclusion to which all assented is that Paul was and remained in his ministry as apostle to gentiles a Jew. He did not renounce his identity as a member of the Jewish people. He did not demonize his ancestral religion. He did not reject the Torah (“Law”) as false. He did not regard his Jewish past as one of frustration, failure, inability to observe Torah, or as something to escape. He did not play off the particularity of his Jewishness in favour of some kind of universalism.
This kind of NT thinking opens up the OT to a proper reading.

Thursday 3 July 2014

Rebekah's blessing

Rebekah's mother and brother Laban are recorded in the story as giving Rebekah a blessing - may your seed possess the gate of those who hate them.

I've been wondering what this means in view of the daily news we receive - whether concerning a certain office holder who has no idea what truth is, but who sits at the gate of a major North American city, or concerning tribal warfare today, or concerning revenge as policy, or even concerning confusion that can arise in a local family group.

Is this reference in Genesis simply a tribal suppression of other tribes, creating the very hatred it might prefer to avoid?  Or is it an appeal to good governance?  The gate is a place where decisions are made. See for instance the story in Ruth 4 where Boaz makes his case for exercising the law of Levirate marriage. Speaking with enemies at the gate is a phrase in Psalm 127. I interpret this as confidence in governance.

The blessing is a repeat but with a variant (enemies, vs those who hate them) of the blessing to Abraham in Genesis 22:17.

Bible Odyssey from SBL

This quite impressive site from the Society of Biblical Literature is now available to the public. I have asked a question - I wonder which scholar will answer.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Modernity as the background to the story of Rebekah and the servant

Why does Abraham not want Isaac to marry a Canaanite? Is it, as Lawrence Schiffman suggests that they were too modern? Is G-d a conservative? Is modernity always problematic?  I think you can't have it both ways. Abraham was called out from his clan and he cannot go back, nor can Isaac go back, yet there is no suitable wife in the new place. Perhaps there is an allegory brewing. It's not as simple as a good-clan bad-clan theme.

This week in the lectionary we finish chapter 24 of Genesis, the story of getting Isaac a wife. But we read only bits of it: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67. So what is it that is left out?

The servant is already in Aram and has already met Rebekah at the spring / well. We miss all that and the bit where he refuses to eat till he has told his story. We skip his repetition in his story of the possibility that the woman might not want to come with him. We skip the bit where the mother requests that the lass remain a few days, at least 10. One question I am wondering about is what sort of decision-making protocol was there in the household of Rebekah?

In the first part of the story, Rebekah has a considerable interaction with the stranger at the spring - and it is a full autonomy that she seems to exercise. She has considerable generosity and strength also. This speaks to a certain security as well as independence.

I am about to do the translation and will make notes on this question...

The first thing I notice is that the music begins as a reprise when the servant comes to tell the story of the promise he had to swear. But continues with some variation on the music and the words. The servant makes a strong case for the authority of Abraham. Perhaps this is part of the decision protocol. Here you are giving up a young woman to a stranger on the basis of words (but also on the basis of visible gold and all those camels). The servant wants to become free from his oath but this requires the decision of the family to allow the authority of the oath, as measured in the conversation and the sequence of secret prayer and Rebekah's response, to be obeyed. (The 'faith' of Rebekah is not mentioned in Hebrews 11.)

Bruggemann's Genesis points out some obvious characteristics of this story through the use of repeating words: 1 the wrapping of the sections in blessing. 2 the emergence of the prosperity theme. [Did Spock have a hand in this passage?] 3 the emphasis on loving-kindness and truth (he uses steadfast loyalty and fidelity). 4 The leadership of God in the way. While lead is a rare word, it occurs twice in the passage, way is a common word but finds an appropriate recurrence here also. ( has a nice way of highlighting single repeated words in a passage.)

It is perhaps worth noting also that Abraham uses a different word for kin as opposed to the repeated word in the second half of the story rendered clan. The scope of kin and family is perhaps to be noted. I wonder how all this might fit a looming metaphorical treatment - such as marrying into the household of faith. The grand metaphor is this: Abraham is like the Father, Isaac, received back from the dead, is like the Anointed son, the chosen beloved who inherits everything, and the aged unnamed servant is like the Spirit bringing the chosen bride to the one to be comforted for the loss of his mother (see how Paul treats Sarah in Galatians). Yes, Virginia, we do apply texts strangely sometimes - but not as if the original writer intended it so, only that the interpreter of Scripture (e.g. a reader of John 3:35 or Paul himself, the writer of Galatians 4:24-25) sometimes takes some radical liberties. (Notice how much 'at one' Abraham and the servant are - he has given all things into his hand, and how the servant explains that Abraham will give Isaac everything that he has. In the first part of the story, it is Abraham who is the servant's lord. In the last verse, it is Isaac.)

Back to the story - and the freedom of the clan to decide. It is more than that the woman might not want to come, the servant makes it clear that if the clan refuses to give, then he also is released (lit. innocent) from his oath. Notice how this extends the original question that the servant asked of Abraham. Notice also that this is omitted from the lectionary selection. How would this bear up in the allegory? If the church refused her bridal aspect to the Son who died and was raised from the dead, then the servant, the Spirit, is free from the promise to the Father. Give that some thought. Do we refuse the journey? Is this the sin against the Spirit? It is not good that the lectionary leaves this out.

When the servant relates his prayer to the assembled clan he does not use the term virgin, whom no man had known, (how would he know this?) but the term for a young woman. I can't say I like the ESV or KJV here (Genesis 24:43). They appear to me to be theological translations such that one would identify Mary as the bride, symbolizing the church being brought to her Lord. How, in my analogy, does the Spirit relate the nature of the mandate to individuals or to the church? Just a question - give it consideration.

Now the servant and Laban bargain. Like the bargaining for the burial plot for Sarah, it doesn't look like bargaining. These verses are not in the lesson either. More's the pity, for in the allegory, the bargaining is for the bride. Who is the stronger, Laban and Bethuel or the servant, the world or the Spirit? The world says - what can we do! This is from God - take her and go. But it is a feint. The world really wants to benefit from the transaction. So the servant lays out treasure for everyone and they stay the night. Even in the morning there is still a departure protocol. The servant must ask to be sent on his way. The mother then asks for a delay in the daughter's leaving. Ultimately, the decision is left to Rebekah. Is 24 hours sufficient notice for such a journey - just one day? Notice the ornamentation when the lasses finally ride the camels - you've got to look at the pdf's of the music.

But it is such a day - like the literary 24 uses of the word hour in John's Gospel. Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day, say Jesus. And here in this story we have another day - short yet long as the groom (whom we have been told about) awaits his bride.

Ultimately we must fade back into the real story of a distant man and his son in a foreign land finding a wife from his clan and her being blessed to great fruitfulness. She gives birth to twins - Esau and Jacob. These brothers are still at odds today.  And Rebekah's children do possess the gate even of those who hate them - what responsibility (See this post from Larry Behrendt at Jewish-Christian intersections).

[Aside: some years ago when I was working in Jamaica, I asked my African son what he would like me to bring him home. He replied - bring me home a wife. Unfortunately, I did not have rings and bracelets and sufficient gold and garments, not to mention the camels, to fulfill his request.]

On that note I conclude that this post is long enough. What do you think of this story? The music will get to the usual place (it is partly there now - I have a dozen verses to go). Translation is a slow process. 67 verses of Genesis is the longest bit of Torah that I have tried yet.

Thanks to Tim Bulkeley of the five minute bible and sansblogue for the pointers to the step bible and the online commentaries - useful resources both.