John has Jesus expressing his own divinity

John presents Jesus from a much different perspective.

Instead of Nativity, he starts with a parallel to the very opening of the Bible, where God creates light and sees that it’s good.

John also invokes the ancient Greek philosophical concept of Logos, merges it with the light, and proclaims that they become flesh among us in the person of Jesus.

 

Logos, of course, presents a major difficulty for David Bauscher’s argument that observant Jews would have avoided anything Greek. My earlier encounters with the Wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha suggest otherwise, and I do want to know how much the concept of Sophia (Wisdom) overlaps Logos and at what points she differs.

Bauscher sticks with The Word in his translation, and instead of Christ, uses The Messiah.

Even so, unlike the other gospels, John casts Jesus at the center of the cosmos. Jesus repeatedly speaks of himself, I AM THE LIVING GOD — all capital letters in Bauscher’s translation. The teachings of social action and justice that were previously at the center of his biography now shift toward the identity of Jesus and his followers’ relationship to him and the Holy One.

~*~

Because of its emphasis on the Holy Spirit — what Bauscher translates as The Spirit of Truth or The Spirit of Holiness — and its proclamations of an indwelling presence of Jesus (17:21-26, for example), John is sometimes called the Quaker Gospel. The very name of the Quaker denomination, Society of Friends, comes from 15:15: “No longer do I call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master does, but I have called you my friends, because all that I have heard from my Father, I have taught you.”

~*~

While the three synoptic gospels nod toward the heart of the Hebrew Bible by blending history and law-giving, John departs from all the other books. Nowhere else does a figure assert himself to be one with God. Hearing the voice of the Holy One is one thing, but to proclaim oneself to be one with God and the son of God is unique and startling.

~*~

Some give the date of composition as 85 CE. Others place it as 90-110 CE. Either way, it cam be up to a generation later than the other three gospels.

Luke as a visceral telling

Like most of the other translations I consulted, David Bauscher has the second verse of Luke referring to “eyewitnesses and servants of The Word,” which he alone capitalizes. In his notes, Bauscher explains that the spoken or written word does not have eyewitnesses or servants. Translations of the opening of the gospel of John, however, almost universally use the Word (capitalized) or the Greek original, Logos.

One thing clearly stated at the outset is that this book is not by a direct eyewitness. He appears to be a Hellenized Jew or a gentile converted by Paul. He’s also the author of Acts, and since Luke and Acts were originally a set, I read them together. I am, however, considering them in canonical order in this overview.

 

Luke feels more visceral, more emotionally invested, than the other gospels. It alone gives us the experience of Zachariah and Elizabeth as they learn they will finally become parents, and later events in circumcising their son, the one we know as John the Baptist. We have, too, Mary’s amazement and hymn of devotion (the Magnificat) when the angel Gabriel informs her of her pregnancy.

Ancient Greeks would have no trouble with a deity frolicking with a human — their myths are replete with such encounters. They’re difficulty would be in having the woman in question being such a commoner. Back to that element of scandal!

I’ve already compared the versions of the anointing of Jesus with ointment, and Luke’s account is far and away the most personal and, yes, erotic.

In chapter 16, we have the clearest expression of Sheol (hell) as a place of separation and flame, even before we get to more expressions of resurrection and eternity.

At the crucifixion, Luke alone has two others beside him on crosses and their exchange of emotional words.

Likewise, Luke alone has the two distraught companions on the road to Emmaus who are trying to make sense of the rumors of resurrection when Jesus joins them.

I’ll leave it to others to detail exactly what makes this gospel resonate so much in the muscles and the bones and the taste buds on the tongue, but it does. For starters, just look at the active verbs he uses.

The road to Emmaus. The text doesn’t say outright the two companions are both male. Some of us see them as a husband and wife.

 

Some give the date of composition as 63 CE (before Mark!). Others place it as 80-90 CE.

Mark as the action-oriented approach

Whether Mark is the source of Matthew and Luke (the other two synoptic gospels) or is their summary is beside the point in a straight-through reading. The question of why it’s here at all is puzzling.

It’s the most compact of the four gospels and the most action-oriented. It skips the Nativity entirely and opens with John the Baptist in the wilderness. The tone is reportorial, objective, in contrast to Matthew’s voice of a storyteller opining that the crowds were dumbfounded at the teaching or that the priests knew Jesus had spoken against them. Much of the book flatly quotes Jesus as he moves about the countryside.

 

Placed where it is, Mark seems to serve as a buffer between Matthew and the two later gospels. Yes, there are discrepancies among them in many details, as happens with eyewitnesses themselves or those who relate the events later. Mark holds us to the central plot, which the others then embellish.

But having four gospels, rather than one, also allows some of the more troubling evidence to be hidden in plain sight. I, for one, believe much of the vitality in the gospel story arises in its very scandalous nature. Jesus is conceived out of wedlock and is executed as a criminal. Let’s not sugarcoat those realities.

For now, look at the story of Jesus’ being anointed with costly oil. Spread across the four books, it’s easy to think there were actually two different women, with this action happening twice.

Read carefully, though, and connect the lines. I’m using David Bauscher’s translation here.

In Matthew 26, “A woman came near to him [Jesus] who had with her a vase of oil of sweet spices, very expensive, and she poured it on Yeshua’s head as he reclined.” Other versions use alabaster box, jar, flask, or the like. The disciples begin arguing about the waste of money.

In Mark 14, it’s an “alabaster vase of oil of the best spikenard, very expensive, and she opened it and poured it on Yeshua’s head. The disciples put its price at 3oo denarii.” (That’s thirty pieces of silver, or 300 times a laborer’s daily wage, as I find online. In other words, nearly a year’s wages.) Short, to the point, reporting.

Luke 7 places the event much earlier than the days leading up to Palm Sunday. Here “one of the Pharisees came asking him to eat with him and he entered the Pharisee’s house and he reclined. And a sinner woman who was in the city, when she knew that he was staying in the Pharisee’s house, she took an alabaster vase of ointment. And she stood behind him at his feet, and she was weeping and she began washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with the hair of her head. And she was kissing his feet and anointing them with ointment.”

The man hosting Jesus then says, “If this man were a Prophet, he would have known who she is and what her reputation is, for she is a sinner woman who touched him.” The KJV terms it, “what manner of woman she is,” or as the Eastern Orthodox Holy Tuesday service clearly identifies her, a harlot, who then sings the deeply emotional Hymn of Kassiane.

“Sinner woman,” of course, is purely editorial, in contrast to Mark.

John 12 thickens the plot. In Matthew and Mark, the feast happens at the house of Simon (Shimeon the Potter, in Bauscher’s translation) in Bethany, a rather disreputable town, as you’ll find explained elsewhere. In Luke, it’s at the house of a Pharisee, no town named — and Mary Magdalene is one of the women named in the next chapter, perhaps to throw us off scent. In John, however, we’re also in Bethany, and Lazarus, newly resurrected from the dead, is one of the guests. His sister Martha is serving the dinner.

“But Maryam [Mary] took an alabaster vase of ointment of the best Indian spikenard, very expensive, and she anointed the feet of Yeshua and wiped his feet with her hair and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.”

In John 11:2, the scene is introduced, “This Maryam was the one who had had anointed the feet of Yeshua with ointment and wiped them with her hair, whose brother Lazar was sick.” John then digresses before retelling the event is greater detail.

Yes, that’s Mary, the sister who elsewhere creates a scandal by being present in the room with the men while Martha alone is preparing the meal (Luke 10 and John 11). Connect the dots. Is this the occasion where Martha is rebuked? Martha would certainly have stronger reasons for objecting to her sister’s presence with the men if they’re fallen women. Remember, in this culture a woman shouldn’t even be in the room with men, except to serve.

John adds one more detail linking this account to that in Mark: “And Yehuda Scariota [Judas Iscariot], one of the disciples who was about to betray him, said: ‘Why was not this oil sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?'” The detail links the story back to Mark, and thus to Matthew as well. One event.

So prostitution as their profession is why Mary and Martha are not married and are apparently living instead with their brother? Why Martha is independent enough to rebuke Jesus just pages earlier, as well? Why Mary/Maryam can afford such costly ointment?

The story of the woman anointing Jesus is an example of one of the challenges to reading the New Testament straight-through. A Concordance — essentially an index of words in their phrases in the Bible, much like an index to their locations — helps in putting the fuller story and its implications together.

~*~

Attributing the source of this gospel to Mark, a companion of Peter, places the book in the Jewish council of Christians, rather than Paul’s gentiles. It lends credence, too, to those who give the date of composition as 66 CE or others who place it as 68-70 CE, in the traumatic days leading up to the fall of Jerusalem.

Matthew as a big turning point in the collection

Encountered from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha of the previous centuries, Matthew comes as a stunning break. Even when the text continues earlier themes of corrupt priests and governing officials or of the persecution of prophets, there’s no precedent for the authority of the revolutionary voice that emerges here. While promising to follow the law of the Covenant to the letter, Jesus nevertheless interprets its intent in ways that challenge the very limitations that are conventionally imposed. Apart from a quick overview of the Nativity and flight to Egypt and then the crucifixion and resurrection, I felt surprisingly little history or biography in this book. Instead, it focuses largely on Jesus’ original, often contrarian, teaching itself, with his exhortations to do the seemingly impossible or impractical as an embodiment of faith, along with the instructions he delivered in his itinerant ministry of preaching and healing.

Indeed, is anyone before Jesus in the Bible so focused on teaching? Or of addressing the people, rather than the governing circle and priesthood? Well, we do have Moses in the desert. And then?

Many of the radical standards of personal conduct Jesus teaches will challenge existing political, economic, and social norms. They still do, in our own time.

Here we are introduced to a concept of the Holy One that differs sharply from those of the earlier scriptures — a Heavenly Father. It’s also a much warmer, more intimate father-son relationship than we previously seen. I’m wondering if any previous father-son bond, in Scripture or in ancient literature, is portrayed having such affection. And, yes, it further conceptualizes the infinite deity in male appearance.

This gospel, as is often noted, was directed at a Jewish audience, as evidenced by the long genealogy in the opening chapter, soon followed by the treachery of the Roman tyrant Herod. We’ve already encountered repeated genealogies in the Hebrew Bible, and from Maccabees, especially, we know of the brutality of the Roman overlords.

What’s the point of naming the thirty-nine generations, by the way, if Jesus isn’t the son of Joseph? (Add to that, if you want, the twenty-six ancestors from Adam to Abraham named in Chronicles.) To me, the passage that follows, “Before they would have a conjugal relation she was found pregnant from The Spirit of Holiness” (1:18), now seems to be a later editorial insertion, one that points the text in an alternative direction.

Something that did connect with me in this reading is the fact that the gospel was likely written at least 30 years after the crucifixion, which suggests that the passages attributed to Jesus about the upcoming events of betrayal, execution, and resurrection at Calvary may have been added to cast the history in a meaningful context. Some give the date of composition as early as 67 CE, during the Great Revolt and contemporaneous with Mark. Others place it as 80-90 CE, or later.

From a storytelling point of view, using the future tense for past actions is brilliant, one I now know was used in earlier Biblical books, including Daniel; it’s especially effective when we’ve assumed it’s a contemporaneous account rather than a posthumous reworking aimed at a Jewish audience.

For me, this takes nothing away from the breathtaking visions of the Beatitudes, parables, and his close teaching of disciples.

His instructions raise the demands of the Covenant in new ways, pressing its core intent rather than the letter of its limitations. It’s easy to sense he’s asking his followers to do the impossible. And it’s both intoxicating and intimidating.

Here we are also introduced to the parables as instruments of instruction. They go beyond riddles, which have definable answers, and instead confound easy interpretation. In that way, they’re more like the koans in Zen Buddhism. They’re to take root somewhere deep in the body and daily action.

~*~

One thing I found in online sampling of other translations from Aramaic is the usage of the word “Allah” rather than its synonym “God.” I wish David Bauscher had stuck with this. Too often we are left feeling that Muslims are worshiping a different deity, an impression some authorities may have been deliberately fostered.

Or is Allah itself a variant of Abba, or Daddy?

If Bauscher wants his readers to get closer to the milieu and language of Jesus, this seems a fitting concession.

The long shadow of Jerome’s Vulgate

One awareness I carried into the reading was that during the first centuries of Christianity, Jesus was not universally defined as God incarnate. That point became a requisite point of faith in the creed adopted at the Nicene Council in 325 CE and led to the excommunication of perhaps half of the worldwide church. The conflict and its consequences are detailed in Richard E. Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome.

Even though the books of the New Testament were written long before that council, none have survived in their original language or earliest translations. Whether they were written in Greek, as is almost universally accepted, or in Aramaic, what we have is by way of the Latin translation by Jerome — the Vulgate Bible, completed in 405 CE.

Jerome was tasked with more than merely translating into Latin. He apparently rewrote, “corrected,” and outright censored passages.

As Robert Eisenman explains in James the Brother of Jesus: “To show that it is not simply the modern reader who might have difficulty with these passages, one has only to look at the extant correspondence between Jerome and Augustine … in the early 400s CE. Augustine, who is a younger teacher, queries the older and respected scholar Jerome, who has spent much of his adult life inspecting and collecting biblical manuscripts in Bethlehem in Palestine. …

“At first Augustine could get not satisfactory response from the older scholar. Finally, Jerome, long-suffering, does answer him, asking him ‘not to challenge an old man … who asks only to remain silent,” and basically counseling him not to trouble himself over problems that were divisive and could not be solved in any case.”

 

Quite simply, to be considered the more authoritative versions, our Greek and Aramaic New Testaments would have crucial points of conflict with the Vulgate. Otherwise, they are back translations from the Latin, a language not known for its philosophical nuance.

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Choosing a New Testament … so I took one translated from Aramaic

In my straight-through reading of the Bible, I desired to encounter the narrative with a sense of hearing the story for the first time, again. That led me to select less familiar translations, beginning with Everett Fox’s Five Books of Moses, and moving on largely through the New Jerusalem Bible rather than those more closely aligned with the King James (Revised Standard, New Revised Standard, New International, especially).

With the New Testament, I was leaning toward The Four Gospels and the Revelation: Newly Translated from the Greek by Richmond Lattimore, in part for its possibilities free from doctrinal lenses. As a Greek scholar who claimed no religious faith, he was simply surprised to discover how naturally the Gospels flowed when he began translating them. He simply wanted to see how the texts stood on their own.

But then I chanced upon a more controversial choice, a translation drawn from Aramaic, the tongue of Jesus and his contemporaries and, thus, some insist, must have been the language in which the New Testament was written. Aramaic is, by the way, a close relation to Hebrew, unlike Greek.

 

Few Biblical scholars agree, but the advocates of the Aramaic Peshitta New Testament present their cause passionately and that, in turn, makes for some lively reading.

It’s a fascinating argument, even before getting to their contention that the oldest existing Aramaic New Testament is the original text, the source for the earliest Greek versions. A more pressing problem to my eyes is the fact that the oldest surviving complete New Testament comes from the early eighth century CE, and only manuscript fragments survive from before that. We have no way of knowing how much St. Jerome recomposed or censored in creating the officially approved Vulgate translation in Latin in the fourth century.

In other words, the New Testament would have been translated into Latin, edited or revised, and then translated back into Greek and Aramaic. It’s safe to assume much was lost in even the most faithful translation, and that’s before we get to deliberate changes made to support one side of the theological debates over the others. If we ever discover the books in versions before Jerome’s editing, the impact could rock conventional Christianity to the core.

The most readily available translation from Aramaic I located in print is a small-press offering from Australia by Glenn David Bauscher, a pastor in Glens Falls, New York, trained at Bob Jones University, and father of 12 homeschooled children. His theological convictions come through clearly enough in the extensive notes, and while he and I diverge on doctrine, his rugged independence is refreshing, especially after the smoothness of conventional committee-based versions in wide circulation. The faction of Aramaic advocates, for that matter, appears to be small and widely opinionated in their challenges to or in support of Bauscher.

 

How different is this Aramaic approach? Consider that the word “Christ” never appears in Bauscher’s New Testament, fitting with a common understanding of Christ as a Greek word for Messiah. What Bauscher uses instead is Yeshua The Messiah or simply The Messiah. In contrast, when reading translations from Greek, I often stop at a mention of Christ to ask whether this instance must necessarily be viewed as an aspect of the person of Jesus or as something larger — aka, the Logos or the Holy Spirit. In effect, Bauscher backs away from the ancient Greek philosophical body of Logos teaching and its many potential applications to understanding and doctrine. As he repeatedly argues, Jews wanted nothing to do with Greek thought or culture, a stand that leaves me wondering about all those Hellenized Jews we’ve already encountered.

Others see the root of Christ as “anointed,” the way a king is anointed with oil, which gives an alternative understanding of Jesus as a spiritual king of Judea. Does this in some way diverge from the definitions of Messiah? Does it make for a more political interpretation, then and now?

Robert Eisenman (in James the Brother of Jesus) notes yet another possibility when the historian “Josephus employs the adjective in Greek, ‘chrestos,’ to describe Agrippa I’s character” — a word “which means in Greek gentle-tempered, generous, Righteous, or kindly.” This hardly encompasses either of the Messiah or anointed dimensions, as far as I perceive. Such are the consequences of our choices in translation.

One of the fascinating aspects of Bauscher’s publication is the close comparison of alphabetic strokes in Aramaic and often Greek to illustrate ways a misreading in translation could occur or to support his word choice. As one who is relearning Spanish, I am deeply impressed by the diligence required to explore ancient languages in such nuanced detail.

Geneva Bible, the choice of early Calvinists

 

One of the surprises I encountered in this straight-through reading comes in realizing just how compact the New Testament is in comparison to what comes before it. The New Testament comprises less than a fifth of the Bible. It’s shorter than the Psalms combined with the Five Books of Moses!

It should surprise no one that Christian worship typically emphasizes the New Testament, often with a gospel reading which, in some traditions, is accompanied by a selection from one of the epistles. To that may be added an Old Testament passage. The resulting impression is that the New Testament is as big as the earlier Scriptures, which is far from the actual case.

 

Takeaways from the Jewish scriptures

Here’s what I see as the Big Picture in the Hebrew Bible and the accompanying Apocrypha.

The centrality of the Covenant: In this revolutionary social ordering, the descendants of Jacob are (1) an entire people (2) bound by a code of conduct and ethics (3) in relationship with a supreme deity that evolves from the foremost of many lesser gods into a monotheistic faith, and (4) even the rulers are subject to this authority and its conditions.

Unending hostilities: In establishing and maintaining a society where they may openly uphold this Covenant relationship, they face armed invasion from rival tribes and neighboring sheiks and monarchs. Even in rare periods of external peace, internal opposition arises. Ultimately, they cannot match the military might of empire armies and are defeated.

The cohesive kingdom of the twelve tribes is of much briefer duration/reality than it appears in the Jewish mindset: According to Scripture, the united monarchy spans the reigns of only King David and King Solomon, roughly seven decades or so. The identity as Jews comes after its collapse, into Judah, to the south, and the less observant but larger Israel, to the north. Yet the restoration of the nation in its full glory remains the hope of Zion.

The Babylonian exile looms larger in the Jewish experience than I had suspected: My impression had been that the exile was a blip in the larger Biblical tome. The captivity of Judah occupies roughly the same span as the glory years of the united monarchy, yet gives rise to the captivity. While Daniel and Esther are devoted exclusively to exile, the thrust of the Biblical arch from Kings into Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the Twelve also engage this catastrophe, as do the Maccabees in their later, parallel oppression. The history of their Egyptian slavery and Exodus also no doubt plays out in relation to this. More centrally, the Babylonian captivity lays the foundation for the survival of Judaism in the eventual two millennia of Diaspora.

Historical accuracy fades to mythological truth: Archaeological evidence and factual discrepancies support a reading of these texts based on their underlying drama and psychological realities, rather than historical and geographical precision. Poetic license is expected.

Women are largely excluded from the dialogue: It’s the missing dimension.

The work is left unfinished:  The Holocaust, especially, looms large over the canon.

Sistine Chapel ceiling 1508: The Expulsion of Adam And Eve from the Garden of Eden, painting by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Prostitution and the missing voice of suitable helpmeet

In her essay in Congregation, Francine Prose notes, “God and his Prophet seem to take for granted an audience of men. It is only the men He chastises for marrying outside the tribe, for ‘putting away’ their spouses; the priests He addresses for much of the book were also, it hardly needs pointing out, male.”

She’s discussing the Book of Malachi, but her plaint can run the entire length of the Bible.

Once more I hear Daphne Merkin’s reflection on Ecclesiastes echoing loudly: “As a daughter in an Orthodox household, I had no text to call my own. In contrast to Jewish sons … Jewish daughters have at best an oblique connection to the sacred volumes of their heritage.”

Women seem marginal to this epic, even though they are the ones who instruct the young boys in the faith — why else would there be the condemnation of marrying foreign wives or, especially, queens?

While the Hebrew Bible names 48 male prophets, it has only seven prophetesses, the last one being Esther, a curious choice considering that God is not even mentioned in her story — does the Holy One even speak to her? Does she even pray to her God? Apart from Esther, none of the women have their own book.

At best, women are taken for granted. Do they even have their own communal spiritual teachings, practices, and alliances?

The text is of little help here.

Of course, it doesn’t help to have the Prophets repeatedly referring to God as a male presence. There’s little counterbalance.

 

There is, though, a sense of the new moon worship as a feminine expression, though we’re given no guidelines for its observance, certainly not along the lines of the Tabernacle or later Temple or the elaborate priesthood and their functions. I’m left wondering what happens to the sacred marking of each new month, once mandated, but then what? Did it take on forbidden practices, including human sacrifice? New moon worship would have been more frequent than the annual journey to sacrifice at the Temple, and thus, more ingrained in the regular household routine.

Or did it continue as a sabbath — a day of family, friends, and rest — shorn of elaborate ritual?

Once again, the text is of little help.

~*~

Repeatedly, the foreign woman is presented as more appealing, even more exciting, than the Jewish women presumably constrained under the Law.

Yes, we have Esther and Judith as seductive exceptions, but their sexual allure is to powerful goys rather than potential Jewish spouses.

As femme fatales go, consider the contrast between Delilah and Judith.

Delilah at least toys with Samson, warns him, pushes him away, yet he keeps coming back. There’s a chemistry. He’s a willing victim. And yet, by tradition, we blame her — unfairly, I’d say.

Judith, on the other hand, is a one-night stand, a cold hit man (is there even a gender-neutral word for this kind of executioner?). Holofernes is depicted as a powerless victim — “The heart of Holofernes was ravished at the sight; his very soul was stirred. He was seized with a violent desire to sleep with her” (Judith 12:16 NJB).

Oh, poor males, unable to control our lusts! So we blame the woman, do we?

Well, it apparently comes at a price. For him, it’s more serious than castration.

Oh, and there’s the insistence in the story that only her face seduced him, suggesting he never even saw her naked much less had intercourse — “He committed no sin with me to shame me or disgrace me” (13:16). How pure.

Could it be that in spite of all of the verses of military might running through the Bible, the men are secretly afraid women are the stronger sex?

Just look at all of the warnings given to young men, especially in books like Proverbs.

It puts the battle of the sexes in another light.

Nowhere does the conflict become more apparent than in the repeated injections against prostitution — more commonly using the loaded words “harlot” or “whore” than “prostitute” in the King James verses. These arise in half of the books of the Hebrew Bible.

How much is this an injunction against impurity — physical, societal, or spiritual? To what extent, if any, were sexually transmitted diseases a factor in ancient times?

Men in a patriarchy needed reassurance that their offspring were indeed theirs, which would explain their desire to keep their wives and concubines sequestered. But that wouldn’t, by itself, prevent them from pleasuring themselves with hired women, would it? Or were men in polygamous marriages constrained by vows of exclusivity?

Considering the frequency of the prohibitions, we can assume that prostitution was commonplace. You don’t repeatedly make rules against things that don’t happen.

We can wonder about the economic dimensions here. If husbands were spending for sexual pleasures elsewhere, was it depriving wives of what was (or should have been) rightfully theirs?

On the other hand, did sexual service give a woman uncommon independence and wealth, thus presenting a threat to the home? Or was she herself a victim, perhaps even a slave?

Leviticus 19:29 offers this warning, presumably directed at fathers rather than mothers: “Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore.”

So pimping was one possible objection.

Another was the existence of temple prostitutes, female and male, working in fertility rites associated with pagan deities. They were likely a source of income for the upkeep of the temples and priesthood — presumably forced prostitution.

The practice, as we read in Kings, even extended to the Temple in Jerusalem at times between repeated purging.

Read closely, and passages often cited as prohibiting male homosexuality can be seen as prohibitions of male temple prostitution.

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Feeling like a guest in the epic

Whichever way we conclude reading through what I’ll reluctantly call the Old Testament, whether it be with Malachi or Chronicles, and whether we include the Apocrypha of the Vulgate editions or limit ourselves to those of the standard Hebrew Bible, a pause is needed before plunging ahead into the New Testament.

My straight-through reading took place four years ago now — occupying a bit under three months, as I recall.

My plan to go back through to collect my marginal notes and scattered thoughts, however, got ambushed. A near heart attack, for one thing, intervened, as did a new novel and a host of revisions on the earlier ones.

Since launching this series, it’s already taken us a year to get through my posts on the Old Testament. (I am somewhat relieved that many of the Jewish authors in Congregation refer to that collection as such.)

I started out looking for the Big Picture. As if there were one.

What I’ve encountered is a startling range of encounters that ask, ultimately, how do we experience the Other, the Holy One, the I AM? And then, how do we respond?

As if the Other is a thing, or even a person, rather than existing totally beyond (or outside of) physical matter or energy. Something like that.

 

Collecting my notes and considerations led to another surprise, a book I picked up at a remaindered (that is, sharply discounted) price in a bookstore. A gem, at that, even if it took me more than two decades before delving into its riches: Congregation, Contemporary Writers Read the Jewish Bible, edited by David Rosenberg.

His introduction, by the way, I’d love to quote verbatim. The ambitious volume itself, unfortunately, seems to be long out of print BUT you can find copies online. Grab one, if you wish.

One thing Rosenberg’s assembly of authors and Everett Fox’s notes for the Five Books of Moses gave me was a perception of how much I and, for that matter, most Christians, do not, even cannot, appreciate in these texts.

It’s not just the dirty jokes we’re missing, though there appear to be many earthy asides we don’t catch.

More than that, though, is a recognition of how much Christians miss in their unawareness of midrash — the fleshing out of these amazingly barebone, minimalist texts — often assembled in the accompanying Talmud and more. My, how the rabbis over the ages have reimagined and given body to these spare lines! They’ve lived with them, dreamed of them, reinterpreted them. None of this comes through in any of the Protestant commentaries I’ve encountered, where, I suspect, many of the assertions would come as an embarrassment or appear even as borderline heresy. Oh, yes, it seems fair in this practice to actually challenge and confront the text, rather than accept it at face value. There’s no way a fundamentalist would accept irony, for example, or perhaps even humor. As for poetry? Metaphor compresses experiences, emphasizes the subjective over quantifiable objectivity.

 

Another thing that came through strongly, in essay after essay, was how much these books are family stories for Jews, reflections of their very identity and roots, even among non-observant families. I appreciate the authors’ childhood memories and idiosyncratic relatives woven through these essays. For the rest of us, we might be able to say so-and-so was “like” as Biblical figure, but we’d never think of these ancient characters as our ancestry and original household.

As for that Big Picture? Oh, my. My reading left me feeling it’s more like a huge art museum, with gallery after gallery to explore. And that’s before adding the New Testament.

 

Choosing from three different orderings

As I’ve noted, we have three different selections of the books of the Bible, and even their order of appearance can differ. Here they are for comparison:

Open Gutenberg Bible

HEBREW BIBLE, 24 books

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Samuel
  9. Kings
  10. Isaiah
  11. Jeremiah
  12. Ezekiel
  13. The Twelve (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zepaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi)
  14. Psalms
  15. Proverbs
  16. Job
  17. Song of Songs
  18. Ruth
  19. Lamentations
  20. Ecclesiastes
  21. Esther
  22. Daniel
  23. Ezra / Nehemiah
  24. Chronicles
  25. No Maccabees! And, of course, no New Testament.

Gutenberg Bible page

 

VULGATE/ROMAN CATHOLIC, 46 books in Old Testament.

Also, with slight variation, used by EASTERN ORTHODOX.

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Ruth
  9. First Samuel
  10. Second Samuel
  11. First Kings
  12. Second Kings
  13. First Chronicles
  14. Second Chronicles
  15. Ezra
  16. Nehemiah
  17. Tobit
  18. Judith
  19. Esther
  20. First Maccabees
  21. Second Maccabees
  22. Job
  23. The Psalms
  24. The Proverbs
  25. Ecclesiastes
  26. The Song of Songs
  27. The Book of Wisdom
  28. Ecclesiasticus
  29. Isaiah
  30. Jeremiah
  31. Lamentations
  32. Baruch
  33. Ezekiel
  34. Daniel
  35. Hosea
  36. Joel
  37. Amos
  38. Obediah
  39. Jonah
  40. Micah
  41. Nahum
  42. Habakkuk
  43. Zepaniah
  44. Haggai
  45. Zachariah
  46. Malachi

Plus New Testament

And, for further complications, the books of the Apocrypha are sometimes placed between the Old Testament and the New Testaments. The order above is the one I followed in my straight-through reading.

Johann Gutenberg

 

PROTESTANT, 36 books in Old Testament.

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Ruth
  9. First and Second Samuel
  10. First and Second Kings
  11. First and Second Chronicles
  12. Ezra
  13. Nehemiah
  14. Esther
  15. Job
  16. Psalms
  17. Proverbs
  18. Ecclesiastes
  19. Song of Songs
  20. Isaiah
  21. Jeremiah
  22. Lamentations
  23. Ezekiel
  24. Daniel
  25. Hosea
  26. Joel
  27. Amos
  28. Obediah
  29. Jonah
  30. Micah
  31. Nahum
  32. Habakkuk
  33. Zepaniah
  34. Haggai
  35. Zachariah
  36. Malachi

Plus New Testament

~*~

Hope this helps.