Skip to content

Is the new Booker Prize inclusiveness a Trojan Horse?

September 23, 2013

Well, the verdict seems in from across the Commonwealth and the US – including American novels in the Man Booker competition is a bust.  In the New York Times “Room for Debate” discussion they could only find one (out of six) contributor who thought it was a good idea.  The main complaints seem to be that (a) there are so many more American novels published than all other English novels (and in the US, writing is so professionalized, with specialist MFA programs [such as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop]) that the Americans will simply overwhelm the competition; (b) that America already has too much worldwide cultural influence; and (c) one of the key functions of the Man Booker shortlist and longlist is to highlight books that would otherwise be missed – especially in the US, which tends to be more myopic in its choice of books.

While there are certainly merits to those trio of complaints, I have a different theory. 

As the New York Times states, the award has certainly moved middlebrow ever since the Man Group (a multifinancial investment group) took it over in 2002.  I think that the Booker Prize Foundation is desperately trying to shore up its reputation – by giving Americans a big snub:  because nothing can help shake the middlebrow label faster than associating America with a vast hayseed mentality.  Otherwise, why would London black cab drivers seemingly be universally be trained to condescendingly ask, when hearing a distinctly American English accent, “oh, come over for some culture, eh?” 

Up until now, the Booker Prize Foundation has been thwarted in its efforts to snub Americans, because its rules clearly (mostly) excluded Americans from competing.  But now, with this brilliant Trojan Horse maneuver, the Booker Prize Foundation will be free at last to try to shed its middlebrow image by clearly demonstrating that the land of Melville, Faulkner, Dickinson, Whitman, Hemingway, Henry James, William James, Lincoln, Langston Hughes, Thoreau, T. S. Eliot (although I think the Brits claim him as one of their own), Twain, Angelou, Douglass, Cather, Jonathan Edwards, Kerouac, Hammett, Ozick, Jefferson, O’Neill, Martin King, Toni Morrison, Poe, Raymond Chandler, Chang-Rae Lee, Mencken, et cetera just is incapable of producing a writer of the caliber of, say, Hilary Mantel.

Lattimore’s Sappho, Homer, & St. Paul

September 22, 2013

Joel Hoffman and our BLT co-blogger Suzanne McCarthy have been discussing whether the Greek phrase ἄνθρωπος (transliterated anthropos) should imply male gender inherently (that is, without the context informing the reader / listener of the sex of the referent).

Joel asserts, “Sometimes its meaning most closely overlaps with ‘man,’ sometimes with ‘person,’ sometimes with ‘human.’” Suzanne protests, “If i say ‘this creature is an anthropos,’ it can only have one meaning, that the creature is human. It can never mean that the creature is male.”

I wanted to look at examples of what the Greek scholar Richmond Lattimore does with this phrase when translating Sappho, Homer, and St. Paul. Until Lattimore translated the New Testament, he consistently “read” ἄνθρωπος the way Suzanne does. I believe the long history of New Testament Greek translation pushed him to ignore his own clear understanding of Greek meanings of words. Lattimore’s Paul ends up sounding a lot less like other Greek writers before him and around him, and a lot more like many Christians today. It’s unfortunate the pressure of translation paradigms, and yet that’s what I think we see.

So let’s look at the Greek, and then let’s see how Lattimore handles it. In all three examples, we have ἄνθρωπος (transliterated anthropos) and also ἄνδρα (transliterated andra) in close proximity.

Ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον οἰ δὲ πέσδων
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ᾽ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιστον ἔγω δὲ κῆν᾽
ὄττω τὶς ἔπαται.

πά]γχυ δ᾽ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πά]ντι τ[οῦ]τ᾽. ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περσκόπεισα
κά]λλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
[κρίννεν ἄρ]ιστον,

(Sappho, Hymn to Aphrodite III, 1 and 2)

Some there are who say that the fairest thing seen
on the black earth is an array of horsemen;
some, men marching; some would say ships; but I say
_____she whom one loves best

is the loveliest. Light were the work to make this
plain to all, since she, who surpassed in beauty
all mortality, Helen, once forsaking
_____her lordly husband,

(Richmond Lattimore)


_____ ἐπὶ δὲ μέγαν ὅρκον ὀμοῦμαι
μή ποτε τῆς εὐνῆς ἐπιβήμεναι ἠδὲ μιγῆναι,
ἣ θέμις ἀνθρώπων πέλει ἀνδρῶν ἠδὲ γυναικῶν.

(Homer, Iliad, Book IX, 132b-134)

And to all this I will swear a great oath
that I never entered into her bed and never lay with her
as is natural for human people, between men and women.

(Richmond Lattimore)


Περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατε,
καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικὸς μὴ ἅπτεσθαι·
διὰ δὲ τὰς πορνείας
ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω,
καὶ ἑκάστη τὸν ἴδιον ἄνδρα ἐχέτω.
τῇ γυναικὶἀνὴρ τὴν ὀφειλὴν ἀποδιδότω,
ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἡ γυνὴ τῷ ἀνδρί.

(St. Paul, I Corinthians 7:1-3)

Concerning the matters you wrote me of,
it is a good thing for a man not to touch any woman;
but to save you from loose living,
let each man have his own wife,
and each woman have her own husband.
Let the husband give his wife her due,
and so likewise the wife to her husband.

(Richmond Lattimore)

Sappho’s Fragment 16(a)

September 20, 2013

Ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον οἰ δὲ πέσδων
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ᾽ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιστον ἔγω δὲ κῆν᾽
ὄττω τὶς ἔπαται.

πά]γχυ δ᾽ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πά]ντι τ[οῦ]τ᾽. ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περσκόπεισα
κά]λλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
[κρίννεν ἄρ]ιστον,

(Sappho, Hymn to Aphrodite III, 1 and 2)


Some say cavalry and others claim
infantry or a fleet of long oars
is the supreme sight on the black earth
I say it is

the one you love. And easily proved.
Did not Helen who far surpassed all
Mortals in beauty desert the best
of men, her kin,

(Willis Barnstone)


Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot
and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing
on the black earth. But I say it is
_____What you love.

Easy to make this understood by all.
For she who overcame everyone
in beauty (Helen)
_____Left her fine husband

(Anne Carson)


Some there are who say that the fairest thing seen
on the black earth is an array of horsemen;
some, men marching; some would say ships; but I say
_____she whom one loves best

is the loveliest. Light were the work to make this
plain to all, since she, who surpassed in beauty
all mortality, Helen, once forsaking
_____her lordly husband,

(Richmond Lattimore)


Some say that the most beautiful thing
upon the black earth is an army of horsemen;
others, of infantry, still others, of ships;
But I say it is what one loves.

It is completely easy to make this
intelligible to everyone; for the woman
who far surpassed all mortals in beauty,
Helen, left her most brave husband

(Jane McIntosh Snyder)


A troop of horse, the serried ranks of marchers,
A noble fleet, some think these of all on earth
Most beautiful. For me naught else regarding
___Is my beloved.

To understand this is for all most simple,
For thus gazing much on mortal perfectino
And knowing already what life could give her,
___Him chose fair Helen,

(Edwin Marion Cox)


Some say an army of horsemen, others
say foot-soldiers, still others, a fleet,
is the fairest thing on the dark earth:
I say it is whatever one loves.

Everyone can understand this –
consider that Helen, far surpassing
the beauty of mortals, leaving behind
the best man of all,

(Diane Rayor)


Some say that the fairest thing upon the dark earth is a host of horsemen, and some say a host of foot soldiers, and others again a fleet of ships, but for me it is my beloved. And it is easy to make anyone understand this. When Helen saw the most beautiful of mortals, she chose for best that one,

(J. M. Edmonds)


Some an army of horsemen some an army on foot
and some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest sight
on this dark earth; but I say it is what-
ever you desire:

and it it possible to make this perfectly clear
to all; for the woman who far surpassed all others
in her beauty Helen left her husband
the best of all men

(Josephine Balmer)


Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers,
others call a fleet the most beautiful of
sights the dark earth offers, but I say it’s what-
ever you love best.

And it’s easy to make this understood by
everyone, for she who surpassed all human
kind in beauty, Helen, abandoning
her husband—that best of / men

(Jim Powell)


Some say nothing on earth excels in beauty
Fighting men, and call incomparable the lines
Of horse or foot or ships. Let us say rather
Best is what one loves.

This among any who have ever loved
Never wanted proof. Consider Helen: she
Whom in beauty no other woman came near
Left the finest man

(Margaret Reynolds)


Some say horsemen, some say warriors,
Some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
Vision in this dark world, but I say it’s
What you love.

It’s easy to make this clear to everyone,
Since Helen, she who outshone
All others in beauty, left
A fine husband,

(A. S. Kline)


Some say a cavalry corps,
some infantry, some again,
will maintain that the swift oars

of our fleet are the finest
sight on dark earth; but I say
that whatever one loves, is.

This is easily proved: did
not Helen — she who had scanned
the flower of the world’s manhood

choose as first among men one….

(Mary Barnard)


___Some think a fleet, a troop of horse
___or soldierly the finest sight
in all the world; but I say, what one loves.

___Easy it is to make this plain
___to anyone. She the most fair
of mortals, Helen, having a man of the best, deserted him,

(M. L. West)


Some say an army of horsemen,
some of footsoldiers, some of ships,
is the fairest thing on the black earth,
but I say it is what one loves.

It’s very easy to make this clear
to everyone, for Helen,
by far surpassing mortals in beauty,
left the best of all husbands

(Julia Dubnoff)


Soldiers on horses, some on foot,
Some upon vessels, on Earth’s soot,
These are our beauty.
” I dispute;
It’s who we love.

Easy to get, to take hold of:
Helen’s real beauty is part of
Her true humanness, here, above.
She left that brute.

(J. K. Gayle)


Ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον οἰ δὲ πέσδων
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ᾽ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιστον ἔγω δὲ κῆν᾽
ὄττω τὶς ἔπαται.

πά]γχυ δ᾽ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πά]ντι τ[οῦ]τ᾽. ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περσκόπεισα
κά]λλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
[κρίννεν ἄρ]ιστον,

(Sappho, Hymn to Aphrodite III, 1 and 2)

A human creature or a goddess?

September 19, 2013

Here is an good story about how Pisistratus got back into power one more time. He was by all accounts a good tyrant, the kind of tyrant that reduced the taxes of the poor, and did good for the citizens. But he was the last tyrant of Athens, and perhaps lived in the last generation of Athenians naive enough to view a human creature and believe she was a goddess.

ἐν τῷ δήμῳ τῷ Παιανιέι ἦν γυνὴ τῇ οὔνομα ἦν Φύη, μέγαθος ἀπὸ τεσσέρων πηχέων ἀπολείπουσα τρεῖς δακτύλους καὶ ἄλλως εὐειδής: ταύτην τὴν γυναῖκα σκευάσαντες πανοπλίῃ, ἐς ἅρμα ἐσβιβάσαντες καὶ προδέξαντες σχῆμα οἷόν τι ἔμελλε εὐπρεπέστατον φανέεσθαι ἔχουσα, ἤλαυνον ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, προδρόμους κήρυκας προπέμψαντες: οἳ τὰ ἐντεταλμένα ἠγόρευον ἀπικόμενοι ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, λέγοντες τοιάδε: [5] ‘ὦ Ἀθηναῖοι, δέκεσθε ἀγαθῷ νόῳ Πεισίστρατον, τὸν αὐτὴ ἡ Ἀηθναίη τιμήσασα ἀνθρώπων μάλιστα κατάγει ἐς τὴν ἑωυτῆς ἀκρόπολιν.’ οἳ μὲν δὴ ταῦτα διαφοιτέοντες ἔλεγον: αὐτίκα δὲ ἔς τε τοὺς δήμους φάτις ἀπίκετο ὡς Ἀθηναίη Πεισίστρατον κατάγει, καὶ οἱ ἐν τῷ ἄστεϊ πειθόμενοι τὴν γυναῖκα εἶναι αὐτὴν τὴν θεὸν προσεύχοντό τε τὴν ἄνθρωπον καὶ ἐδέκοντο Πεισίστρατον. Herodotus Histories, 1.60

There was in the Paeanian deme a woman called Phya, three fingers short of six feet, four inches in height, and otherwise, too, well-formed. This woman they equipped in full armor and put in a chariot, giving her all the paraphernalia to make the most impressive spectacle, and so drove into the city; heralds ran before them, and when they came into town proclaimed as they were instructed: [5] “Athenians, give a hearty welcome to Pisistratus, whom Athena herself honors above all men and is bringing back to her own acropolis.” So the heralds went about proclaiming this; and immediately the report spread in the demes that Athena was bringing Pisistratus back, and the townsfolk, believing that the woman was the goddess herself, worshipped this human creature and welcomed Pisistratus.

Now, it is pretty clear from this that anthropos means that the woman is a human creature, and NOT that the woman is a man. Nobody thought the woman was a man, nor was she. The question is whether she was human or divine. They thought she was divine and Pisistratus was welcomed back into power.
In a follow up of this event, Pisistratus had agreed to marry the daughter of a powerful ally, which he did. However, he had his own young sons with him, and refused to impregnate his new wife. So after a few years he was out of power again, but returned once more. A woman impersonating a goddess got him into power, along with his promise to marry a certain other woman.
I realize from some of the recent comments that there might be some people still thinking that anthropos means the person is male. Not sure why. It doesn’t function that way in Greek, as far as I can see.
In the days when people believed in gods and goddesses who roamed the earth looking like humans, but being not humans but not quite divine either, it was important to have a way to designate humans as humans, and the way to do that was to say that the creature was an anthropos, and put a feminine or masculine article in front. I blogged about this in the past, but I don’t think I ever posted the full text for this story before.
Here is the opposite argument from Jack Cottrell of CBMW,

The really important point here relates to the second meaning of anthropos, namely, its reference to male individuals. The fact is this: in the New Testament, when this term is used for specific individuals, it always refers to males. There are no exceptions. Thus when it refers to specific individuals, it is a practical synonym for aner [man, citizen] or arsen [male]. It is never used of a woman when a specific woman or group of women is in view. The term used in such a case is almost always gune (gune, “woman” or “wife.” (At times such words as “daughter” and “damsel” and “maiden” are used.)

The list of specific men of which anthropos is used is quite long and need not be recited here. It includes some with names and some who are unnamed. It includes many specific fictional men in parables or illustrations, as distinct from the three times Christ refers to a woman (gune) in a parable (Matt 13:33; Luke 13:21; 15:8).

That the term anthropos may have this distinct connotation of maleness is seen from other data about its use in the NT. First, on several occasions it is used interchangeably with aner.  Second, it is sometimes used for males as contrasted with females, as in these cases: Matt 10:35; 19:5, 10; Luke 22:57-60; 1 Cor 7:1; and Eph 5:31.

The point is that anthropos can mean “male”; and when used of specific individuals, it is always intended to identify them as males. There is absolutely no reason to think that its use for the specific individual Jesus should deviate from this pattern. That Jesus is an anthropos means first of all that he is a human being; but it also means that he is a male human being.

I guess I am wondering if the New Testament is simply far too small a sample size for linguistic data. There are actually many examples of women referred to as anthropos in Greek literature, so it is hardly likely to be identifying them as male.

Update: I got to thinking that a story about any situation closed to women, or where women were restricted, might have a similar use of a term. For example, a history of the Hudson Bay territory, Rupert’s Land, which covered much of Canada for 200 hundred years, would show that no non-native women were allowed to enter that territory for that period. Does that make the word “Scottish” mean male? No. And when women did come as missionary wives, as the wife in the pair, “the missionary and his wife,” does that make the word “missionary” mean male? No, it doesn’t. These situations do not change the meaning of the word.

Anthropos refers to human beings, not gods, not animals, and the “human and his wife” are still “one human and one human,” they are not anything else. When Christ is referred to as anthropos in the New Testament, this affirms his humanity. It does not deny his maleness, nor does it identify his maleness. Anthropos, when referring to a woman, says nothing about her gender either, but it affirms her equal humanity.

I was very disappointed today to reread 1 Tim. 2:5 in the NIV 2011. Here is the verse in  three translations,

 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man[a] Christ Jesus, ESV

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, NIV 2011

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, NRSV

Churches should be switching over the the NRSV for accuracy on gender in translation.


Dr. Crabb’s Jesus’s “female” literally means “the breast” – say what?

September 17, 2013

As if Crabb’s Jesus’s “female” literally means “the breast” isn’t confusing enough, let’s just look at where that comes from. It’s from Moving beyond gender stereotypes: An interview [of Jonathan Merritt] with Larry Crabb, from the following snippet of the Q&A (with my added red font sometimes bold for emphasis here):

JM: You say that a woman is most feminine to the degree that she relates to others in a way that reveals something wonderful about God that no man can as fully reveal. Can you give some examples of these unique opportunities for women?

LC: My view based mostly on a word study. The word for “female” in Hebrew is nekebah. It literally means, “one who is open to receive.” And then when our Lord refers to that passage in Mark chapter 10, the Greek word for “female” Jesus uses is “θῆλυ“ (Mark 10:6), which literally means “the breast.”  It means “one who is supplying to nourish.” I this suggests that a woman is feminine, and she reveals the beauty of a relational God when she reveals that God is open to receive people like me! God is open to invite us into relationship, even though we don’t deserve it. And when a woman is willing to be open—in a relationship, with her husband, with her kids or with her friends—to receive, honor, respect, and nourish anything that comes, that is the beauty of femininity.

My wife and I had our 47th anniversary recently, and I believe that my wife reveals something of the invitational nature of God. In our relationship, whenever I move in poor ways, when I feel inadequate and weak and back away from things, my wife doesn’t lose a vision for me. Instead, she communicates to me how differently she knows I could behave and how I could handle things. That calls forth my masculinity and I know that when I do move in appropriate ways, she’s going to be very supportive, very receptive, very encouraging about it and that means the world to me.

In the interview, Larry Crabb is moving beyond his knowledge of Hebrew to his understanding of Greek. (See Suzanne’s post here and Dr. Joel M. Hoffman’s post here.)

Strangely, Dr. Crabb constructs his singular view of femininity from his etymology of a Hebrew word which he reinforces by his etymology of a Greek word, now with Jesus speaking it.

And this Greek word he has Jesus using to mean “literally” and largely, solely actually, the breast.

And Mr. Merritt, who holds a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, gives us all a link from “θῆλυ“ in his transcribed interview to, where we find among other things the following:  “thēlus; from prim. root θη- thē- (to suckle); female:—”

And, therefore, we follow the rhetorical enthymeme, as if it’s some non-fallacious Barbara syllogism of very tight logic (which I put again in red font sometimes bold):

And then when our Lord refers to that [Hebrew Bible] passage in Mark chapter 10, the Greek word for “female” Jesus uses is “θῆλυ“ (Mark 10:6), which literally means “the breast.”  It means “one who is supplying to nourish.”

I guess the best thing to do is to look first at the Hebrew (which Suzanne does do, starting in with “This stuff really freaks me out,” and which Joel does do too, getting to how “Dr. Crabb makes fundamental factual and methodological errors”).

Now, what about the Greek? Well, it’s just as freaky how Dr. Crabb reads the Hellene.

Here are just a few quick questions to get our conversation started:

  1. Does Dr. Crabb implicate the Greek words in his book as he constructs his view of the species of sex?
  2. Why doesn’t Dr. Crabb discuss “the Greek word for ‘male’ Jesus uses, or ‘ἄρσεν‘ (Mark 10:6),” which Mr. Merritt could then hyperlink to What does Dr. Crabb’s Jesus’s “male” word literally mean then?
  3. Does it make a difference that the gospel writer is putting the Greek words in Jesus’s mouth? Does it make any difference at all that somebody else at least two and a half centuries before Jesus rendered “that [Hebrew Bible] passage” of Genesis 1:27 and of Genesis 5:2 into Hellene? Isn’t the connection from Jesus’s mouth to the pen of Moses or, as Joel puts it, to “the mouth of God” just a bit of a stretch?
  4. Could it be that the Septuagint translators were aware of Homeric uses of (a) θάομαι and (b) θάω and (c) θέω and even (d) θεός? And wouldn’t they have understood how these words “literally mean” (a) not only “to suck” but also “to wonder at, admire” and (b) not only “to milk [as in 'to milk the sheep']” but also “to run” and (c) not only “shine, gleam” but also (d) “god” which in the Septuagint is also often “God, the Deity“? Isn’t each and every one of these, etymologically, related to θῆσθαι, which stems from “prim. root θη- thē“?
  5. So where does that leave “biblical” Hebrew, Jesus-Greek, “females”?

Friedrich Nietzsche’s Prayer and Flannery O’Connor’s

September 17, 2013

For some time, readers have been able to follow a prayer of Friedrich Nietzsche, that he wrote when only 13 years old. Here it is from a 1982 volume, Nietzche Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe:

Ich habe nun schon so manches erfahren, freudiges und trauriges, erheiterndes und betrübendes, aber in allen hat mich Gott sicher geleitet wie ein Vater sein schwaches Kindlein. Viel schmerzliches hat er mir schon auferlegt, aber in allen erkenne ich mit Ehrfurcht seine hehre Macht, die alles herrlich hinausführt. Ich habe es fest in mir beschlossen, mich seinem Dienste auf immer zu widmen. Gebe der liebe Herr mir Kraft und Stärke zu meinen Vorhaben und behüte mich auf meinem Lebenswege. Kindlich vertraue ich auf seine Gnade: Er wird uns insgesammt bewahren, auf daß kein Unfall uns betrübe. Aber sein heiliger Wille geschehe! Alles was er giebt, will ich freudig hinnehmen, Glück und Unglück, Armuht und Reichthum und kühn selbst dem Tod ins Auge schauen der uns alle einstmals vereinen wird zu ewiger Freude und Seligkeit. Ja, lieber Herr, laß dein Antlitz über uns leuchten ewiglich! Amen!!

So habe ich denn mein erstes Heft beschlossen und ich blicke mit Freude auf es zurück. Ich habe es mit großer Freudigkeit geschrieben und bin dabei nicht müde geworden. Es ist etwas gar zu Schönes, sich späterhin seine ersten Lebensjahre vor die Seele zu führen und die Ausbildung der Seele daran zu erkennen. Ich habe hier ganz der Wahrheit getreu erzählt ohne Dichtung und poëtische Ausschmückung. Daß ich mitunter etwas nachgetragen habe, ja noch nachtragen werde, wird man mir bei der Größe des Werks verzeihen. Könnte ich doch noch recht viel solche Bändchen schreiben!

Ein Spiegel ist das Leben.
In ihm sich zu erkennen,
Möcht’ ich das erste nennen,
Wonach wir nur auch streben.!!

geschrieben vom 18 Aug bis 1 September 1858.

Soon, readers will be able to read several prayers of Flannery O’Connor, that she wrote when a 21-year-old. Excerpts already are available via First Things, the blog of Betsy Childs, who links to the September 16, 2013 issue of The New Yorker, previewing O’Connor’s newly discovered Prayer Journal (edited by W. A. Sessions and due out this November.)

Both the philosopher and the novelist wrote their prayers, as young people, in private, so it would seem. I thought it might be interesting just to compare them.

Below is an English translation of the Nietzsche prayer (from R. J. Hollingdale’s biography, with a couple of my highlights). Following that is one of the O’Connor prayers. Note the expressed pathos, the allusions to joy and sorrow [freudiges und trauriges] and to bliss and suffering. Both writers seem self conscious about their writing, their art, in their prayers, if in different ways.



The Reformation in LEGO

September 15, 2013

Martin Luther

More here.

Liddell-Scott-Jones on sale

September 13, 2013

Just a brief note to let our readers know that the standard one-volume dictionary for classical Greek, Liddell-Scott-Jones (ninth edition), is currently on sale at Oxford University Press for $92.50. 

Here is the description of the book at OUP’s web site:

Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon is the most comprehensive and up-to-date ancient Greek dictionary in the world. Used by every student of ancient Greek in the English-speaking world, the dictionary covers every surviving ancient Greek author and text discovered up to 1940, from the Pre-Classical Greek of Homer and Hesiod to Classical Greek to the Hellenistic Period, including the Greek Old and New Testaments. This monumental work is now available with a brand new Revised Supplement. Representing the culmination of thirteen years’ work, the new Supplement is a complete replacement of the 1968 Supplement. Nearly twice the size of the 1968 edition, with over 20,000 entries, it adds to the dictionary words and forms from papyri and inscriptions discovered between 1940 and the 1990s as well as a host of other revisions, updatings, and corrections to the main dictionary. Linear B forms are shown within entries for the first time, and the Revised Supplement gives the dictionary a date-range from 1200 BC to 600 AD. It is fully cross-referenced to the main text, but additions have been designed to be easily used without constant reference to the main text.

All of the books in Oxford University Press’s current sale can be found here.

Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin

September 13, 2013

In honor of the holiday, I’m posting my friend Adam Byrn Tritt’s essay, “Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin.” It’s from his book of the same name, a collection that explores—in essays, poems, and creative nonfiction—the tension between cultural heritage and contemporary society, between religion and spirituality, between the family you inherit and the family you create. As it says on the back of the book, “From early-morning wrestlings with God to portraits of three remarkably different family funerals, from Kabbalist chants at a pagan bookstore to the humorous ‘What Do Jews Do on Christmas?,’ Tritt’s writing taps into themes nearly universal in today’s world in ways that will resonate with readers of all backgrounds and faiths—or no faith at all.” Obligatory disclaimer: I’m the guy who published the book. But I was a fan of his for many years before I became his publisher.

Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin front cover thumbnailIt is Yom Kippur. A Monday. I have taken the day off work to walk, meditate, think. I have taken the day off work so I could go to temple the night before and not worry about the time, the hour, how late it was getting, when I would need to get up.

We asked our friends to go with us. In our back yard, playing with clay, our conversation set on cognates and religion. I mentioned the Buddha of compassion, Amitabha, and the other name for him, Amida. How the Amidah is the name of a prayer of compassion during Yom Kippur. How it relates to the fruit, almonds, as the ancient Hebrews saw the almond as a symbol for watchfulness, promises, and redemption. How the part of the brain which we know to be the seat of our ability to see things in a global, compassionate way is called the amygdala, from the Greek amugdalē, meaning almond. Craig started talking about the Kol Nidre prayer and, being Craig, translated it for us and we sat, transfixed, as often we do listening to Craig. Lee, Evanne, Beth, and I, listening to Craig.

Of course we listen to Craig. He, translator of dead languages. He, who juggles biblical text back and forth from language to language, from meaning to meaning as if the passages are but palm-sized bean bags. He, of three books of translations. Yes, we listen when he speaks.

As we talked, we discovered he had never been to temple, had never actually listened to the Kol Nidre. Neither had Beth, nor Evanne—and that, of course, was not a surprise, growing up in the Midwest: Ohio and Nebraska, Methodist. Right then, we asked if they’d like to go with us this Yom Kippur, to the Kol Nidre service: the only one we go to.

They were surprised. Craig said he was honored. Evanne agreed with a clear look of shock on her face. Beth asked if we’re sure it was OK and told us how special it was to be asked, how appreciated it was.

That was months ago. We asked the small, local temple if we could come and bring three guests. No problem. May we have their names, and do they have any departed they would like Yizkor candles for? Yes. We were set to go.

Erev Yom Kippur arrives. Lee is under the weather and cannot go. She asks that I go anyway and I resist but she does not want to disappoint our friends.

Evanne worries whether she should have her hair covered. Beth is concerned she looks like “a goy.” Lee tells her, jokingly, that she should proudly announce she is a shiksa. I suggest against it and let them know it is an honor that they are going and the congregation would be overjoyed they are there.

They are worried. No need to dress well, not for this congregation. But they do, and Beth’s high heels put her so high above me she has to bend over and I must tip myself up on my toes to kiss her on the cheek.

Both wear black, notice their shoes are made of leather, and point out they have worn black once they discover the color of the holy day is white. No one will be following all these rules. No one will notice.

Evanne, married, wears a scarf on her head, long and flowing, tied into her hair, nearly as long, nearly to her thighs. She could be Golda and Tevye’s shorter, forgotten daughter. She could be from the shtetle. No one will guess she isn’t Jewish. Beth actually looks Jewish and no one tells her this. How to explain what that looks like?

Craig fits in perfectly but is wearing shoes for the first time in, perhaps, more than a year. I offer him one of my tallit (prayer shawls) and a kipa I think will fit him well, gold and silver. He tells me again he is honored to be invited and I am privileged to give him my tallis to wear.

We arrive, are greeted, take prayer books, and I search for a large print version, find one, enter, find a place in the pews close to the front. Myself, Evanne, Beth, and Craig. I leave space to my right, where Lee would sit, where I would be able to see her.

We talk, discuss translation, Craig notices the Kol Nidre in the prayer book is not translated literally and, a game of telephone, shows me the text clues by showing Beth who shows Evanne who shows me, differences in font, serif versus sans serif, that tell a careful reader what is a translation and what is a paraphrase.

This congregation, Mateh Chaim, has as yet no home. And yet we have been welcomed even though we swell their ranks and the available room. Even though there are non-Jews among us who need not be here. The congregation is growing and hopes to have a home, but there is, in thoughtful congregations, a balance between the need for a building and the needs of community: the understanding that an edifice takes money which many of the people here tonight don’t have. It is the only congregation in Palm Bay. It meets tonight in a Methodist church. Behind the portable ark, containing the Torah, is a twenty-foot cross. It is not the building that makes a congregation.

I do not mind this so much. We talk, quietly, as we would before any service. Evanne tells us she is glad to see me misbehaving as usual as it puts her at ease.

“Misbehaving?” I ask. She answers I have said “ass” twice since sitting down in the pews. She says it like this: “You said a-$-$ twice since sitting your a-$-$ down.” Silly. Anglo Saxon not allowed for a Methodist?

I think, momentarily, of our Yom Kippur in North Carolina. We were alone. No one around us had an understanding. I listened to Kol Nidre on Internet radio.

Joel Fleishman had a similar experience on the television program Northern Exposure in an episode called “Shofar, So Good” (1994) when, on Yom Kippur, he was visited by Rabbi Schulman. Our program opens with Joel, physician to Cicely, Alaska, carbo-loading in preparation for his day of fasting. He is attempting to explain Yom Kippur to the ever-interested residents as they eat at the Brick, the inn and tavern, and has little success. This is mostly because he has only a tenuous, superficial understanding himself. He knows the words, he knows the rules and proscriptions, takes care to keep the fast, not wash, not to care for personal convenience, to give the day up to feeling keenly, sharply one’s place in the world and relationship to God and our fellows. He sees the holiday as a noun with a set of rules, not a verb with a set of tools. To Joel, it is no longer a living tradition, and he does not know what to do with it. On top of this, he is lonely for those who know his tradition.

Our Good Doctor Joel, while in the midst of his fast, was visited by the Good Rabbi Schulman who, as surprised as Joel, was lifted by a shaft of light and deposited in Cicely to help Joel understand what Yom Kippur is really about, and Dr. Fleishman begins the process of making amends. It is a journey, a Hebrew Dickensian vision quest, which starts with the Good Rabbi occupying the space of the top head of a totem pole. Jews, after all, are tribal too.

Not too surprisingly, the characters on the show who understand Yom Kippur best are the shamans.

But I am not alone and I revel in this. Craig tells us the history of the Kol Nidre. The actual translation, the “Kol Nidre controversy” surrounding just what the proper place and ramification of the prayer is.

Kol nidre means “all vows,” and it absolves us of vows and promises made that we needed to make to survive but knew were wrong. It apologizes and gives release from the many times we said Yes when we wanted to say No, but did not because our jobs, food on the table, roofs over our heads, our safety, our security meant we had to say one thing, do one thing, when another was what we knew was proper.

He explains, my teaching middle school is my Kol Nidre. My giving grades, requiring students to do what they have no desire to, that is my Kol Nidre. When I teach them to pass a test when they want to learn creativity, that is my Kol Nidre. When I do that which I must to put bring food and security, when I do not call those around me on their actions because I must protect my job, that is my Kol Nidre. When I do not, can not, must not act in accordance with my true self: my Kol Nidre. When I do something I must instead of write and create. Kol Nidre.

Evanne points out that is exactly what the abbot at the Thai Buddhist temple told me, that I was doing what I needed to and need only recognize that and the needs of fitting into our community and of survival and taken into account in the realm of Karma.

Yet even those vows I take seriously. I uttered them. And so the Kol Nidre also protects us from ourselves; we make this prayer because we take vows so seriously that we consider ourselves bound even if we make them under duress or in times of stress when we are not thinking straight.

The Rabbi, Fred Natkin, walks up to the bima (stage) and we look around. No fashion show here. Women in pants, men in dungarees, vests. Hats instead of kipas. I have done this as well as it is more comfortable, does not fall off, shades my eyes when reading. Many women have Tallit and that is a sure sign of a rather liberal welcoming congregation.

The service starts and it is with great participation of the congregation, coming up to the bima, sitting down again after hugs and kisses. Always each moment, each prayer ends with hugs and kisses among all those on the bima. Evanne asks me if this is important. Among many liberal congregations, this is common, important, this contact and affection. I say it is a fitting way to end a prayer to love each other and who are we to argue, and I lean over and kiss Evanne on the cheek.

The congregation prays, meditates, responds; the rabbi sings, chants.

The time has come for the sermon. The rabbi speaks of science fiction. Reads a letter written by him to the neighboring Moslem congregation offering aid and friendship after a shooting into the mosque this week. He is offering for the descendants of the two sons of Abraham, the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael, to make peace and fight together for justice. The Jewish high holy days and Ramadan started the same day. We have the same goals. The president of the congregation writes his thanks, appreciation, and friendship in a letter to the newspaper, thanking the rabbi and congregation. He reminds us we must make the world the heaven we wish it to be. It is our job and what we are chosen to do. That we do not pray for peace, but pray to be peace. That Judaism is a religion of verbs. The prayers re-commence.

The Kol Nidre is sung. There are two tunes for this prayer. I was taught by a rabbi there is magic in the tunes themselves, in the music, so, if one does not know the words, hum, dai de dai, la la la, and that is good and will do the trick. But I want to sing and this is the other tune, the one Lee knows. It is the Sephardic tune, I believe, the one from the Middle East and not the Ashkenazic tune of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. I do my best. Craig knows the words but does not sing, unfamiliar with the tune even more than I. Evanne, somehow, reads more loudly than others, seems to fit, sounds clear, and I am frequently amazed by this.

More prayers, meditations, the Amidah and call for compassion. I feel this prayer as I did the Kol Nidre and look for my wife, see the empty space. I think of my own Yom Kippur prayer. And when I have trouble following along, I recite it to myself:

We open our mouths to proclaim how beautiful the world is, how sweet life is and how dear to us you are, Lady, Mother of All Living.

We stand here today to remind ourselves that we are all part of this web of creation. We are all linked, so that what any of us do affects all of us, and that we are all responsible for the Earth, and each other. We have chosen to be here today as a symbol of our commitment, our awareness of this connection.

Even so, we forget our promises and our duties.

We gossip, we mock, we jeer.

We quarrel, we are unkind, we lie.

We neglect, we abuse, we betray.

We are cruel, we hate, we destroy.

We are careless, we are violent, we steal.

We are jealous, we oppress, we are xenophobic.

We are racist, we are sexist, we are homophobic.

We waste, we pollute, we are selfish.

We disregard the sufferings of others, we allow others to suffer for our ignorance and our pride.

We hurt each other willingly and unwillingly.

We betray each other with violence and with stealth.

And most of all, we resist the impulse to do what we know is good, and we do not resist the impulse to do what we know is bad.

All this we acknowledge to be true, and we do not blame the mirror if the reflection displeases.

Lady, help us to forgive each other for all we have done and help us to do better in the coming year. Bring us into harmony with the Earth and all Her ways.

So mote it be!

In this prayer, we admit we are not perfect and proclaim we will make good on our mistakes even if we are not aware we have made them. We all make such mistakes. Such is the friction, the dukkuh as the Tibetans call it, of life. And we must have the compassion for others to apologize, to make amends, person to person. If we do not, we cannot go into the new year. If they do not accept, the guilt is on their heads if, and only truly if, we have honestly done our best to make amends.

We must also have compassion for ourselves and the ways we have transgressed against ourselves. Such is the message of the Amidah and Kol Nidre; we can start over and do better. Such is the message from Amida, Amitabha.

And we are cognizant we have made mistakes we are unaware of individually. For these, we say a prayer and ask forgiveness not of God, but of each other and offer our forgiveness as well.

More meditations, kisses, hugs. Then the Mourner’s Kaddish, and I quietly remind those with me this is what they gave those the names of the departed for. I think of those I have lost and feel keenly the empty space next to me, where my wife should be, and move slightly over more, closer to Evanne, leaving more room for my absent wife as though I was looking to be able to see her as I sang, but could not find her. I am missing her and think, sadly, at some point this space will be open, open and empty and not fillable. Thus says this prayer.

And with this, service ends. Craig mentions how so many of these prayers have been taken, nearly without change, for Christian services. Beth feels the continuity with the Methodist services with which she is familiar. We exit, putting our books back as we do, and head back to the house.

Lee greets us outside, still not feeling well but wanting to be social to a degree. I am grateful, and tell my friends so, that I was able to go to temple with those I love even when my own dear was at home. I was able to share this evening with them, this prayer, this holy day. I am grateful to them and happy.

They had said it was an honor to be asked. That night they repeated their gratitude and surprise. It is I who am grateful. It is I who am honored. It is I who am, again, surprised, amazed, and smiling. I hold them both and say thank you, then smile as they drive away.

* * * * *

Today I stay home for Yom Kippur. I do not go to temple, however. I plan to write, run, walk, meditate, remain quiet.

I get ready to go to the beach. On days like this I am reminded of some of the perks to living in Florida. It is October and I am going for a run on the beach. My ancestors would already be cold, wearing thick coats and having long collected the winter wood. I will be running by the waves wearing as little as I can get away with. I say to Lee, listening, that it is too hot to wear dungaree shorts, the only kind I have. I have two swimsuits, both old, hardly worn but seeming worn, nonetheless, elastics given up their ability to stretch, become brittle.

I have not purchased any in years and told myself I would not until my weight was down to where I wanted it. I might have to go back and revisit that idea. They were too small for years and I would not go to the beach. Now they are too big and are unfit, do not fit, I put on the one with the best elastic. My wife shakes her head. No? Why not? Does it have a lining? No. She tells me I have lost weight and that will lead to needing a lining if I am planning on going running. She does not want me to be uncomfortable or, worse, injure myself, telling me the fat I used to have kept some things in place and, without that weight, I’ll want that lining as I go jangling up and down. I put on the other suit and it falls off. It has a cord, I pull it tight. It still hangs a bit and I’ll need a new suit soon.

I go off to Melbourne Beach and leave everything, including my sandals, in the car. Keys, wallet, glasses. I put about fifty cents in the meter and get one hour and fifteen minutes for my coins. I did not take sunscreen so I leave my shirt on, planning to take it off if I get too hot.

It is bright, clear, brilliant and the beach is quiet and nearly empty. I head to the shoreline and walk, briskly, south.

I practice an exercise as I go called the Walk for Atonement. At-one-ment, removing separation. Becoming one with what is around me, with the world and all that is in it. With time and space. If we felt at one with all things, who would we, who could we, hurt?

What is our place in this world? What is our place, in context to all that is? I walk. With my steps, I contemplate spans of time. A day. What does a day feel like? What does it feel like to exist a day? A year. How does a year feel? Ten years. Can I feel ten years? How plastic I am. How much one can change in ten years.

I do this every year. From then to one hundred. This year, I add fifty years. Fifty years. I am approaching that and can feel it. It is not far beyond my span now and I can understand that in a personal context. One hundred years. What does that feel like? I have and had relatives nearly that old. One thousand years. I can understand this historically but what does it feel like? I am uncertain. My place in it is, or can be, nearly a tenth. But how much a part do I actually play? My grasp on it is tenuous. Ten thousand years. Again, historically, I have an idea. Personally, it is too vast, too long. I have no context. What is my place in that span of time? Nearly none. One hundred thousand? None. None at all. A million?

As I reach a million, I see something I have never seen but which is astonishingly familiar in the water a scant twenty feet from me: a triangular dorsal fin, a triangular tail fin, both moving gracefully in the water so close if I wanted to, if I were fool enough, I could walk out to it and barely have my calves half-covered by ocean. This is amazingly close for a shark.

I stand and watch. This is an interruption in the flow of the meditation. Or is it? A shark comes so close as I contemplate a million years and this seems like a message. It feels like a hello from distance of time and I can see, now, what that million years looks like. I cannot go to it so it, instead, has come to me. Today.

I am aware of a person next to me, fewer than a few feet away. “Is that what I think it is?”

What else could he be asking? It is safe, I imagine, to answer in the affirmative. “Yes.”

“I was going to go swimming.”

“Still going to?”

“I just moved here. This is my first time at the beach. Are they out there all the time?”

“Are you asking me if there are always sharks out there, or if death is always fewer than twenty feet away and swimming around us?”

He stares at me.

“The answer is yes to both,” I tell him. “You’re just getting to see it today. Welcome to Florida. If you plan on hiking instead, remember, we’re the only state with all four kinds of venomous snakes.”

He walks off.

I continue my walk. With each step I think of a person I have wronged. I apologize. With the next step, I forgive myself as well. I do this until I can think of no more people, but I am human and I must have hurt more people than I think simply by the act of living. I apologize, with each step, contemplating the many ways we hurt each other and never know it, cannot help it. And, when this is done, forgive myself.

As I continue to walk, I think of each person I know has hurt me. I forgive them. It no longer matters. In the span of time, what could it matter? If they have not admitted guilt, what does it matter? I forgive them. I forgive them all. If I have thought badly of them for the wrong they have done, for this, even, I apologize and forgive myself.

Why carry guilt? Why carry anger? Why carry a careless word? Of what use is it in the span of years? A million years, and how long am I here? There is a shark in the water.

Ga-te, ga-te, Pāra-ga-te, Pāra-sam-ga-te, Bodhi svā-hā. Gone, gone. Beyond gone. Past beyond gone. There is enlightenment.

I start to run. Barefoot I pad the sand beneath me. Step by step following the mean line of the surf. If the waves come in further, I lift my legs higher, pull up my knees, splash as each sole descends. This varies my running, changes the muscles used, increases my activity.

With each footfall, I think of a year of my life. A year. Each time I pad the sand beneath me; grains millions of years in creation, millions in erosion. Each step, a year. I run out of years quickly, in a matter of half a minute. I think of my potential lifespan and run them out in another half minute.

I think then of the people I love and run them out, each step a year of life. My family, less than a minute each, like the blink in time they are, we are. My friends, a minute. I think of those I know, enjoy the company of, gone in minutes, and I do this consecutively but I know it is all concurrent, all gone, more or less, in the steps it takes me to run out mine. I think of those I don’t like. All gone too. No different. All the same. We are a set of footprints. We wash away.

I wish all people happiness and the root of happiness. I wish all people freedom from suffering and the root of suffering. Even those I don’t like. Especially. Now, before I become invisible among the sands. Now, before I wash away.

I have run out of people. I have not run out of beach. I continue, watching the sandpipers skitter the foamline as I splash and make impressions which are instantly gone behind me as the tide washes out. I run and am not tired. How much further?

I expected to run for a few minutes. I thought, how long can I run before I need to turn back? How far can I go before I know I am half-spent and turn around to run back or all spent and must walk my way back? But neither point comes. I run.

I run easily, no pain, barely sweating, my heart slow, my breathing calm. It was not long ago I would run five minutes and be exhausted. I would run and walk and run and walk in alternate minutes. Now I am easy and feel free and comfortable, open. How long have I been running?

I choose a point in the distance, a home among the many but different in color than most, and decide to run to that, then turn around. On the return I can sense no reason to be heading back but my desire to return to my writing. Still, I am not tired, not worn, my breathing slow and full.

I see the salmon-hued building that signals where I started. There is the boardwalk, invisible behind the sea oats and dunes. I run up to the ramp and there I stop.

Once to my car, I look at the meter. I have been gone more than an hour and a quarter and it flashes at me. I have run for much of that time. I have run for nearly an hour. It is not a marathon, but it is an amazement, an accomplishment, and I have a sudden keen sense I have not eaten anything today but half a cup of milk. I am not fasting. I cannot fast. It is bad for my health and is, therefore, forbidden by Talmudic law. Certain people and people under certain conditions, according to the Talmud, may not fast. I have brought nothing by way of food with me and across the empty street is a Coldstone.

I get my things from the car, brush off my feet, put my sandals on, put another quarter into the meter and walk over. What could make this day more perfect than adding an ice cream?

There is a Starbucks, on one side of it and, on the other, a Bizarro’s Pizza. There used to be café here Lee and I ate at once; had lunch with Jeannie, Joseph, and Connor on our first visit to Melbourne. It left with Frances, or Wilma, or one of the September storms to visit in 2004. The building is still empty, partial.

I walk into Coldstone. It is slightly after twelve and it feels as though there have been few customers today. I ask the young lady behind the counter for plain ice cream with no fat and no sugar. They have ice cream with no flavoring; simply the taste of milk, crystalized, thick and solid. No sweetener. Why would milk need sugar? She is happy to oblige and what size? One cup. A small.

Would you like anything in that? No. Wait, yes.

Please, if you would, some almonds.

Ezekiel’s Wheels

September 13, 2013

I wrote the following essay well over six years ago. I’m sharing it with this community now because I think this audience will enjoy it. The only change is where I refer to my friend Adam Byrn Tritt’s short story; I have updated that section to reflect the most current information.

“When I was thirty years old and living among the exiles by the Kebar River, on the fifth day of the fourth month, the heavens opened and I had visions of God.”

Thus opens the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel in the Bible.

"Ezekiel's Wheel" by Adam Byrn Tritt

“Ezekiel’s Wheel” by Adam Byrn Tritt

Ezekiel has always fascinated me. Clearly, he’s fascinated others as well. A gifted writer and poet and dear friend, Adam Tritt, has written an excellent short story, “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” originally published in 2002 in the CrossTIME Science Fiction Anthology. It has just been published as a 99¢ eBook from Smithcraft Press (disclaimer: I own said publishing company!), and it’s garnering some terrific early reviews. His story, winner of the Paul B. Duquette Memorial Short Science Fiction Contest, is about a Jewish eighth grade teacher . . . and Adam is Jewish and was an eighth grade teacher . . . hmmm . . . who actually builds the wheels as Ezekiel describes them in his vision, with unexpected results.

The Talmud says, in one famous passage, “The story of creation should not be expounded before two persons, nor the chapter on the ezekial2.JPGChariot before even one, unless that person is a sage and already has an independent understanding of the matter.” This vision has stood as the central image of Jewish mysticism for a good twenty-one centuries; “merkabah mysticism” (which relates to the throne of God and the Chariot, or merkabah, that bears it) found its greatest voice during the Middle Ages and strongly influenced the development of the Kabbalah. Biblical scholars have long felt that this chapter is among the most difficult to translate in the entire Bible; the text abounds in obscurities and apparent confusion.

In re-reading my translation and its footnotes, I thought it might provoke some interesting discussion here, so here’s your Bible lesson for the day. Or month, or year.

The opening verses continue: “On the fifth day of the month—it was the fifth year of exile for Jehoiachin the ruler—the word of YHWH came to the priest Ezekiel ben-Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Kebar River. It was there that YHWH’s hand rested on me.” (The Kebar “River” was the Nari Kabari, or Great Canal, an irrigation canal that left the Euphrates above Babylon and flowed southeast before rejoining the Euphrates.)

“In my vision I saw a vast desert storm, a whirlwind coming down from the north—a huge cloud surrounded by a brilliant light, with fire flashing out of it. The center of the cloud—the center of the fire—looked like electricity.”

The Hebrew word here is hashmal, which is the modern Hebrew word for electricity. The ancient Hebrew word, however, may refer to an amber-colored, naturally occurring alloy of silver, gold, and copper called electrum, known for its high reflectability and electrical conductivity; or it could refer to amber, the resin gum of prehistoric pine trees, known from antiquity to have electrical properties when rubbed—indeed, the word “electricity” is derived from the elektron, the Greek word for amber.

The Jewish mystical tradition found hashmal a powerful concept. A passage in the Talmud says that hashmal may be interpreted as “speech without sound” or “speaking silence,” or may be viewed as a sort of acronym for the phrase “living creatures speaking fire” in Hebrew. Another passage cites the story of a child “who was reading at the home of a teacher, and suddenly apprehended what hashmal was, whereupon a fire went forth from hashmal and consumed the child” as the reason some rabbis sought to conceal or suppress the book of Ezekiel.

Now things get really interesting. “Within the fire I saw what looked like four living creatures in human form. Each had four faces and four wings. Their legs stood together rigidly as if they had a single straight leg, the bottom of which was rounded like a single calf’s foot, and the legs gleamed like glowing bronze. They had human hands under their wings on all four sides. And all four figures had faces and wings, and the wings touched one another. They did not turn when they moved—each went straight ahead, any direction that it faced. Each of the four had a human face, a lion’s face to the right, a bull’s face to the left, and an eagle’s face—thus were their faces.”

If Ezekiel’s description of the living creatures seems confusing to us, it may be that the vision was confusing to him as well. Though the term “living creatures” is feminine in the Hebrew, Ezekiel frequently employs masculine suffixes and verb agreements; this may indicate the difficulty Ezekiel had in describing the creatures’ androgyny—or even what they looked like. They clearly resemble the terrifying and gigantic Assyrian or Akkadian kabiru or winged sphynxes (in Hebrew, cherubim) in many details: they usually had a human head or torso, the wings of an eagle, the forelegs of a lion, and the hindquarters of a bull.

The number four—four faces, four wings, four creatures—symbolizes the four directions, that is, the omnipresence of divinity in the world and nature. These four may represent the four main “tribes” of land creatures: humankind, birds, wild animals, and domestic animals.

“Their wings spread upward; two of their wings touched the wings on the figures on either side of it, and two of their wings covered their bodies. They moved straight ahead, any direction they faced; whichever way the wind blew, they went, without turning as they moved. In the midst of these living creatures was a fiery glow like burning coals, or like torches moving back and forth between them—it was a bright fire, and lightning flashed forth from it. The creatures sped to and fro like thunderbolts.” (This last phrase could be translated,“kept disappearing and reappearing like lightning flashes.”)

“As I looked at the living creatures, I saw four wheels on the ground, one beside each creature. The wheels glistened as if made of chrysolite. Each of the four identical wheels held a second wheel intersecting it at right angles, giving the wheel the ability to move in any of the four directions that the creatures faced without turning as it moved. The wheels were enormous, and they were terrifying because the rims were covered all over with eyes.

“When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures lifted from the ground, the wheels lifted. Wherever the wind moved, they would move, and the wheels moved as well, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the beings moved, the wheels moved; when they stopped, the wheels stopped. And when they rose from the ground, the wheels rose up as well, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”

In Hebrew, ruach means wind, spirit, or even breath; it is the animating and life-giving principle, the creative and healing activity of God that bridges the gap between the divine and the human; it is both kinetic energy and the spark of life.

“Over the heads of the living creatures was something like an expanse that glistened like a sheet of ice. Under this vault-like structure, their wings spread out toward one another, and each had a pair of wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, their wings made a noise like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Breasted God, like the din of a moving army, and a Voice came from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.”

What? “Breasted God”?? Yes, very possibly. The name El Shaddai is usually translated “the Almighty,” under the assumption that it derives either from the word shadad, which means “burly” or “powerful,” or from shadah, which means “mountain,” making the name mean “God of the mountains.” There is growing opinion from serious biblical scholars, however, that Shaddai may derive from the word shad, which means “breast”—thus El Shaddai may be a feminine image of God meaning “the Breasted God.” Then again, since mountains are frequently shaped like breasts, these two interpretations are not mutually exclusive.

“Above the vault over their heads there appeared what looked a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne sat a figure in the likeness of a human being. From the waist up, the figure looked like electricity, like metal glowing in a furnace; and from the waist down, it looked like fire surrounded by a brilliant light. The radiance was like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day. It looked like the appearance of the Glory of YHWH. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and heard a Voice speaking to me.”

An appropriate response indeed.

Most of the depictions of Ezekiel’s vision, at least in the contemporary era, are strongly UFO-centric, or else completely abstract. Before the twentieth century, artists like Raphael and William Blake emphasized clouds and a feeling of rapture. In 1973 the late Josef Blumrich, a NASA engineer who worked on the Saturn 5 rocket, the lunar lander, and Skylab, wrote a book called The Spaceships of Ezekiel. He felt that Ezekiel’s description of the Chariot of God as a spacecraft would fail under a rocket engineer’s rigorous examination, but said that it could be adapted into a practical design for a landing module launched from a mothership.

This explanation doesn’t thrill me. What I hear is in Ezekiel’s words is the experience of power and awe. The intersecting wheels don’t impress me as much as the terrifying eyes that covered their rims.

Reinterpret the vision as a dream. What do you see? What does it mean to you?

“Farewell NIV”?

September 12, 2013

Not long ago a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article at The Cripplegate called “Farewell NIV.  My friend expressed her regret that the NIV (New International Version) of the Bible was gone and said she would miss it. I was surprised.  The NIV was out in an updated version, I knew, but it hadn’t gone anywhere.

Jesse Johnson, author of the Cripplegate article, puts it this way:

A brief history of the NIV: Translated in 1984, it quickly became one of the most popular versions, especially in schools. Then in 2002 Zondervan released an update (TNIV), which went over as well as New Coke, and the beloved NIV was resurrected. This time Zondervan learned from their errors, and released an update that they called the NIV2011, and for one year they sold both it and the NIV. But with a name like NIV2011, shelf-life was obviously not in view, and last year they simply dropped the old and beloved NIV, and then shrewdly dropped the “2011” from the updated one. In short, they pulled a switcheroo. What you see on shelves today is the new version which is sold and marketed as the NIV.

Although I know there was some discussion in the past here at BLT on the way Zondervan was handling the different versions of the NIV,  it seems to me that there’s something disingenuous about claiming Zondervan has pulled some kind of a switch. Isn’t it a normal Bible-publishing thing to do, to release a new version which is then called by the same name as the earlier version, and to then discontinue the older one?  After all, unlike the TNIV, the NIV 2011 was never given a different name than the 1984 NIV; the publishing dates were only used to distinguish the two.  As far as I can see, it was reasonable of Zondervan to replace the 1984 NIV with an updated version.  There are folks who claim the only true Bible is the 1611 King James Version, but that doesn’t mean the publishers of the KJV were pulling a switch when they released versions after 1611 and still called them the King James Version.

Why would someone (instead of simply saying they have decided to switch from the NIV to another version) say, as Johnson says in his opening sentence, “The NIV Bible is no more”?

Johnson gives two main reasons why he will not use the new version of the NIV.  The first is “the gender issues.”  He says it’s fine with him if the NIV uses plural pronouns and other ways of rendering some of the language gender-neutral, but

many passages have masculine pronouns that possibly have messianic implications. For example Psalm 1:1 in the classic NIV vs. the New NIV: “blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” vs. “blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.” Is there possibly an allusion to the Messiah that has been obscured with the gender neutral pronoun?

The other reason Johnson gives is theological:

that they allow their understanding of “overall theology” to affect how they render verses. When I got my first copy of the new NIV, I sat down and spent almost the whole day reading it (one of the reasons I love being a pastor). I saw things I liked and didn’t like, but then I got to 2 Cor 5:17. The new NIV says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” I am not as troubled by the way they rendered that verse as I am by the reasoning they gave for how they did it. . .  It sounds like they are saying that their understanding of Paul’s “overall theology” (which in their view reads like some sort of post-millenialism) justifies moving away from a verse that is often memorized and turned to as a clear declaration of the radical nature of an individual’s salvation.  In other words, they take a verse about how cool it is to get saved, and change it to what reads like post-mil who-ha.

If Johnson wants to see a possible reference to the Messiah in Psalm 1:1, that’s his preference, but I don’t think it’s actually there in that particular text, and I’m not sure why he should expect the translators to support his interpretive preference.  In any event, there really isn’t any reason why “the one” cannot be a Messianic reference simply because it isn’t specifically masculine.  What was most important about Jesus, His humanity or His maleness?  If it was His maleness, then all of us who are female are partially disenfranchised from Christ.  We may be saved by our male Savior, but we can’t identify with Him or be His representatives to the world.  This is essentially a Roman Catholic viewpoint, and I’m not sure why as a Protestant, Johnson wants to adopt it.

As for “he is a new creation” being turned into “the new creation has come” in 2 Cor. 5:17, the fact is that in the original Greek there is no “he is”– as this online interlinear  of 2 Corinthians 5 shows.  The passage does appear to read, when looked at in the interlinear, as though the person who is “in Christ” is an example of the new creation– not that the person, individually, is a new creation.  In other words, I don’t think this passage is about individual salvation alone; it’s about all the “old things” passing away and the new coming.  Why that concept should be interpreted specifically as post-millennialism, I am really unsure.  Surely the new creation can be both coming and have begun to come– “already but not yet,” I’ve heard it said– without  necessarily meaning we are in the millennial age spoken of in the book of Revelation?

I just don’t think this 2011 NIV is doing the things Johnson says it’s doing to cancel out his favorite doctrines.  So I disagree with his beefs as he presents them.  Further, I simply cannot see that any of these are justifications to tell everyone that the NIV as a translation has ceased to exist.

I actually like the NIV in its current update, and since there are two old versions and two new versions in my house, I’m certain the NIV is still here.  I am also quite aware that the real reason many evangelicals are against the new NIV is not because of missed Messianic references or new-creation language choices.  The real reason is set forth in the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 2011 Resolution:

 Southern Baptists repeatedly have .  . . urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture.

My understanding of “gender-neutral ” is that wherever the translators believed a word in the original text could refer to either or both sexes, the new NIV uses English that can refer to either or both sexes.  The reason for this is that though in the English of past generations, masculine words and pronouns were often read as including both genders, this is no longer the case with today’s English.  As our own Suzanne said her blog Suzanne’s Bookshelf  back in June of 2011:

However, today, readers are no longer able to understand that the English pronoun “he” is generic and often occurs in English where there is no pronoun at all in Greek.

She cited how 1 Timothy 5:8 is often read nowadays as an admonishment to men to provide for their families, even though the context of this verse includes women taking care of their widowed mothers– but because the word “man” is used in the translation, even Bible scholars apparently tend to read it as referring to men only.

The really interesting thing is that, based on a detailed study I was invited to do by J.K. Gayle of this blog, back when he was blogging at Aristotle’s Feminist Subject, the SBC’s own favored Bible versions actually use gender-neutral language in multiple places where the NIV 1984 used male-gendered language.  As we looked at the translation changes together, it became clear to both of us that the SBC doesn’t truly object in general to changes from male-gendered language to gender-neutral language– because its official version, the HCSB, and its highly recommended version, the ESV, both frequently use gender-neutral language where the 1984 NIV did not.  The only place where the SBC consistently objects to the NIV 2011′s use of gender-neutral terms is when the translation might have a bearing on women in leadership.

Here’s what I think is really going on:

As I said, English usage has changed in recent years such that masculine constructions are no longer considered gender-inclusive. This change largely came about to address women’s concerns about the way English held up maleness as the norm or default, while the language treated femaleness as an exception or deviation from that norm.  But the result of changing the way we speak to include women specifically, is (as Suzanne pointed out) that the masculine forms are now largely understood as referring only to men.  

Thus, holding onto masculine construction in the Bible wherever a passage might impact male-female relations, is a way to control the way people read the Bible. Who gets to decide when a particular usage of “man,” “he” or “brothers” is gender-inclusive and when it means men only? The church leaders do.  

Thus, these leaders can take advantage of the modern usage change whenever it suits them. Most people– especially younger people– don’t automatically understand “humans” where a passage says “men” anymore, or “Christians” when a passage says “brothers”– so when the Bible says “men” or “brothers,” readers are going to read it as male-only, unless the leaders tell them it’s gender-inclusive in a particular instance.  And passages that say “brothers” are often only read as gender-inclusive when the passage is talking about salvation. Everything else is to be read as meaning “only male Christians.”  I came up against this a while back in a discussion where I was told that in 1 Corinthians 14:26, it was only male “brothers” who could come to a church assembly with “a psalm, a teaching, a revelation,” etc.– while a few verses later in 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul was now speaking to both men and women when he said, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel.”

It is interesting in light of this to note that in my observation, it’s often older church members– people over 55 or so– who are more tolerant of women having more freedom and equality in the church. I think they’re used to reading the masculine forms gender-inclusively– they’ve been doing it all their lives– and therefore are more resistant to insistence that “‘brothers’ means ‘men only’ unless we leaders tell you otherwise.”

Anyway, this may have something to do with why Jesse Johnson over at The Cripplegate has not just personally decided to switch Bible versions, but is writing to persuade the blog’s readership not to move from the 1984 NIV to the NIV 2011, by publicly bidding “farewell” to the NIV and claiming that it “is no more.”  This is especially likely because at least one article over at The Cripplegate establishes it as firmly in the male-only leadership camp.

I may be wrong, and this may just be about Messianic references and eschatology– but it’s really hard for me to imagine that those alone, as presented, would be reasons to not just stop reading the NIV, but to sign its death certificate and attempt to bury it.

Three problematic composer birthdays: overview

September 9, 2013

In this brief series of posts, I want to discuss three important European composers who have their centennial or bicentennial birthdays in 2013 , each of whom has vitally changed musical theater, each of whom is widely celebrated today, and each of whom has been controversial. 

In turn, these posts will discuss

  1. Benjamin Britten (100th birthday), who attracted notoriety for his relationships with teenage boys.
  2. Giuseppe Verdi (200th birthday), who struggled throughout his life with oppressive state censorship.
  3. Richard Wagner (200th birthday), who advocated noxious nationalism (along with ethnic supremacy) and was one of the great anti-Semites of the 19th century.

I want to deal in turn with the relationship between an artist’s character and his art, and the relationship of the artist to the state.

Posts on each of these composers will follow followed by a concluding post.

Untranslatable Words which have no precise English equivalents

September 4, 2013

I was amused by this list of 11 Untranslatable [sic] Words From Other Cultures, although more so by the illustrated version that someone posted at GraphJam, where I originally encountered it.

My favorite was the Inuit word iktsuarpok:

The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming, and probably also indicates an element of impatience.

because I surely recognize a cyberspace variant,

a feeling of anticipation that leads you to press reload or get messages to check if anyone has posted/tweeted/emailed to you

And I’m intrigued by the Urdu word goya,

a contemplative ‘as-if’ that nonetheless feels like reality, and describes the suspension of disbelief that can occur, often through good storytelling.

Narrative reality?

Dante’s manly Latin for his womanly Italian

September 3, 2013

Dante, the man, allegedly penned the following in a letter to his patron Cangrande, another man. It’s that famous explanation of his (if he actually wrote it) of his Divine Commedy. Of course, he wrote the letter in prose, in Latin, to explain his epic poetry, in Italian.

And at one point, here’s what he writes to explain the language:

ad modum loquendi, remissus est modus et humilis, quia locutio vulgaris in qua et muliercule comunicant.

Some many years later, writing in Italian, in her own language, the woman Maria Adele Garavaglia translates his manly prosaic Latin for his womanly poetic Italian, as follows:

quanto all’espressione, viene impiegato un linguaggio misurato e umile, in quanto usa la lingua volgare in cui si esprimono le donnette.

And, likewise, perhaps as vulgaris and just as volgare and definitely vulgar, is the translation, ever womanly enough, in the English by Katharine Hilliard, which is humble and weak, as so:

If we consider its language, it is humble and weak, because it is the vulgar tongue, which women ever use.

Amos 6:1 in the LXX

September 2, 2013

There are several curious matters in the vocabulary of Amos 6:1  in Hebrew, in Greek and in English. I don’t know what to make of it, but will wade through some of them and see where they lead, back to neqabah and ἀρχή - arché – eventually.

הוֹי הַשַּׁאֲנַנִּים בְּצִיּוֹן

וְהַבֹּטְחִים בְּהַר שֹׁמְרוֹן;

נְקֻבֵי רֵאשִׁית הַגּוֹיִם,

וּבָאוּ לָהֶם בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Woe to them that are at ease in Zion,
and to them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel come!
First, at the beginning of line 3 there is the word  נְקֻבֵי - neqabi  – derived from neqab, the same root as neqabah, which means female. We can note that Larry Crabb chose to say that women are “bored or punctured,” and men have important things to do. But why did he not refer to the figurative use of neqab and bring attention to the fact that the neqabi, are, in this verse, “notable men.” Some translation say that they are “elite men.” I would recommend this to Larry Crabb if he were to do a second edition of his book. He could drop the illustration of a box bored with a hole by some wood working tool, and compare women to “notable men.” We would all be so much more comfortable. Thanks to Bob MacDonald for bringing this to my attention in a comment. He helps to render Hebrew safe for women after all. 
The next issue of note in this verse occurs in the second word in line 3. The notable men are of the “first” of the nations. They are from the רֵאשִׁית resheit (from rosh – head or first) of the nations, but this is not usually translated as the government of the nations. The nations are those other nations, the gentile nations. At least, that is what I read. Resheit is the same word as in Gen. 1:1, בְּרֵאשִׁית beresheit. The men are from the “best” or “first” of the nations, the model of the nations, the upright among nations, but not the ruler of other nations.
Now let’s see what strange things happen in the Septuagint translation for Amos 6:1,
ουαι τοις εξουθενουσιν σιων
και τοις πεποιθοσιν επι το ορος σαμαρειας
απετρυγησαν αρχας εθνων
και εισηλθον αυτοι οικος του ισραηλ

Neqabi, at the beginning of the third line, is translated with απετρυγησαν apetrugésan, an obscure Greek word which seems to have something to do with the harvest, in Greek τρύγησις – trugésis. Was neqabi understood as “plucking” or “gathering” the harvest?

And רֵאשִׁית is translated into αρχας, the plural accusative of ἀρχή, so that makes it “beginnings” or perhaps the “powers” or “governments” of the nations. Although ἀρχή in the singular is not usually associated with government or authority, in the plural it is. It does not refer to any singular person who is a ruler, but to the seat of power, the abstract government.

This is interesting to some people, because rosh “head” is kephale in Greek. Άρχή arché is usually considered to be a synonym for kephale, here is translates the Hebrew rosh “head” and means beginning, or origin, whereas ἀρχῶν archon, meaning a person who is a commander or ruler, is not a synonym for kephale. Nonetheless, in the plural ἀρχή suggests “powers” or “governments” in an impersonal way. I am looking in particular at the translation of the third line, 

נְקֻבֵי רֵאשִׁית הַגּוֹיִם

neqabi resheit hagoyim

notables of the first of nations

απετρυγησαν αρχας εθνων

apetrugésan archas ethnon

plucked the powers of nations

And here is this verse in three different English translations of the Septuagint. The first is from Charles Thomson, the first translator of the Septuagint into English, and retired secretary of the American continental congress, printed in 1808 by Jane Aitken.

Alas for them who despise Sion
and have put their trust in the mount of Samaria.
They have gathered as a vintage the governments of nations
and gone in.

The second is Lancelot Brenton’s, published in 1851,

Woe to them that set at nought Sion,
and that trust in the mountain of Samaria:
they have gathered the harvest of the heads of the nations,
and they have gone in themselves.

The third is from the NETS,

Alas for those who count Sion as nothing

and for those who trust in the mountain of Samaria.
They have harvested the rule of the nations
and entered for themselves.

I am wondering how easy it would be to see the singular resheit as a plural. Did resheit get mistaken for roshim? I don’t even know if that is likely.

the Carnival and a Soirée

September 1, 2013

Brian LePort at his blog Near Emmaus has up the latest “Biblical Studies Carnival” and links to a number of interesting articles. He’s kindly included some links to a few BLT articles; thanks!


Abram K-J at Words on the Word has started a regular party with his Septuagint Studies Soirée #1. Per his announced intentions, it is “best of the Web when it comes to Septuagint studies.” We also thank him for including some of our posts, and you may want to read all of the great articles in this first LXX LoLLapoLuza!

Taking an ancient heresy of the church and transforming it into the ultimate theological trump card for the subordination of women? – genius.

August 31, 2013

read the whole thing by Zack Hunt

at Rachel Held Evans’s blog.

Larry Crabb: Fully Alive

August 31, 2013

This stuff really freaks me out, so I would like to hear what others think of it. First, Crabb defines women from the etymological root of neqebah, as “bored with a hole,” and then he defines man in this way,

Zakar means “to leave a mark, to make an impact.” In ancient Near East culture, the word referred to a king’s assistant, to a man charged with the important privilege of reminding the king of matters that required his royal attention. Zakar came to mean someone who remembers something important…

Now here is what he writes about women.

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 9.24.45 PM

Neqebah box





























On Christianity Today, Crabb summarizes it like this,

 Neqebah (female) means one who is open to receive, has an invitational style of relating. And zakar (male) means one who remembers something important and then does it.

Men do important things and women are open to receive? Men are assistants to the king, and women are a box with a hole bored in it? Is there something wrong with my eyesight?

The chapter on men has been removed from the Google books preview, but there was nothing about how the soul of a man is shaped like an object which does a menial task of creating a hole in something. So women get to go out in public with souls shaped like vaginas, and men are important people.

Eric Metaxas and Seven Men

August 29, 2013

This is not a review of the book but an excerpt from the introduction which can be read in google books. Here is a piece of it,

In a world where all authority is questioned and in which our appreciation of real leadership – and especially fatherhood – has been badly damaged, we end up with very little in the way of the heroic in general. As we’ve said, the idea of manhood itself has become profoundly confused. And as a result of this, instead of God’s idea of authentic manhood, we’ve ended up with two very distorted ideas about manhood.

The first false idea about manhood is the idea of being macho – of being a big shot and using strength to be domineering and to bully those who are weaker. Obviously this is not God’s idea of what a real man is. It’s someone who has not grown up emotionally, who might be a man on the outside, but who on the inside is simply an insecure and selfish boy.

The second false choice is to be emasculated – to essentially turn away from your masculinity and to pretend that there is no real difference between men and women. Your strength as a man has no purpose, so being strong isn’t even a good thing.

God’s idea of manhood is something else entirely. It has nothing to do with the two false ideas of either being macho or being emasculated. The Bible says that God made us in his image, male and female, and it celebrates masculinity and femininity. And it celebrates the differences between them. Those differences were God’s idea. For one thing, the Bible says that men are generally stronger than women, and of course Saint Peter famously – or infamously – describes women as the “weaker sex.” But God’s idea of making men strong was so that they would use that strength to protect women and children and anyone else. There’s something heroic in that. Male strength is that Gift from God, and like all gifts from God, it’s always and everywhere meant to be used to bless others. … That can mean other men who need help or it can mean women and children.

So I thought that among the seven men there would be at least one man who are particularly known for protecting women and children as a class. Here is the list, George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Karol Wojtyla and Chuck Colson. There may very well be great men. I have no argument with that. But do they illustrate the God created difference between men and women? Were women allowed to run in the Olympics, to sit in Parliament, to participate in the military, to be ministers of the gospel and so on? Where is the control group for women? These men are not famous because of their physical strength but because of the risks they ran, their courage and participation. What about women?

Was it a factor for any of these men that they were physically stronger than women? Or perhaps they were in positions of power denied to women, nothing to do with physical strength. So did any of these men use their power to promote the equality of women? Is there any point at all to what Eric Metaxas wrote in his introduction? Does it relate to his book, or does it simply place him firmly in a certain camp.? Someone has dipped this man in the biblical manhood movement and there he is. Naked masculinity once again. Someone give the man a bathrobe.

If I wrote a book about how wonderful women were, I might say that they have a nurturing nature, and that this is how God made women. But, knowing the love that Wilfred Grenfell, a man’s man in every way, had for orphan babies, I would never say that women’s nurturing ability depended on the “difference between men and women.” Not at all. Women, some women, were raised to nurture physically, and made great missionary doctors, alongside male missionary doctors, not better than, not shining examples of how much better it is to be a woman than a man, no never. Just partners, that’s all.

The truth is that the Bible has a lot to say about those who are strong and those who are weak. But gender is only one factor. Perhaps the rich are strong and the poor are weak. Isn’t that the primary dichotomy in the scripture text? Can’t we read that? Can’t we see that just because men are stronger than women in some ways, that is only one axis, not the primary axis on which humanity turns? Wasn’t Paul constantly interacting with women who were stronger than him? Phoebe his patroness, Lydia his rescuer, Prisca who gave him work and Chloe the church leader? How many women are named that Paul protected and provided for? How many poor women did Paul interact with? Was Paul out there for poor women and children, or was he the darling rabbi of wealthy women?

As an afterthought, I shall list seven strong women from the Bible. Jael, who killed a man with a tent peg; the woman of Thebez, who killed a man with a millstone; the wise woman of Abel, who made sure the head of Sheba was tossed over the wall; Rahab who protected the spies and her entire household; Sheerah, who built three cities; the woman of Proverbs 31, who had strong arms; and Deborah, who rode to war.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 322 other followers