Monthly Archives: July 2015

On Mary and Martha of Bethany

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” by Velázquez (1618)

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The next major feast day – after  Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles” – is for Mary and Martha of Bethany, celebrated on July 29.   (Not counting July 25.  For that feast day see “On St. James the Greater,” from 2014.  The Bible readings are at St James, Apostle.)

The July 29 Gospel for Mary and Martha of Bethany is Luke 10:38-42:

Now as Jesus and his disciples went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

As Wikipedia noted, this episode is usually interpreted as meaning “spiritual values [are] more important than material business, such as preparation of food.”  The article said this mirrored what Jesus said in Luke 4:4 (as part of His Temptation by Satan):  “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.'” (Citing Deuteronomy 8:3.)  Not to mention John 6:63, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life.  Human effort accomplishes nothing.”  (Referring to eternal life.)

The Raising of Lazarus after Rembrandt - Vincent van GoghAlso, these two sisters had a brother, Lazarus.  See Martha – Wikipedia.  He’s the man that Jesus raised from the dead.  (As shown at right – by van Gogh – but not to be confused with the “beggar Lazarus.”  See Luke 16:19–31 and parable of the rich man and Lazarus.)

So anyway, here’s what Women in the Bible said of these two-sisters-and-a-brother.  First of all: “None of the three appeared to be married.”  That alone was highly unusual in Jewish society of the time, “where people were usually married before the age of 20.”  Thus the consensus is that all three siblings were “quite young, perhaps still in their teens.”

Another interpretation is that the three were “on the edge of society,” or otherwise worthy of being shunned, or seen as “unclean.”  Yet despite that possibility, “they seem to have been young, comparatively well-off, independent, and intelligent.”  Finally, the article said this:

[In this episode] Jesus was ignoring the traditional role of women, and encouraging Mary to think and learn.  He upheld her right to listen, think about ideas, and to develop her mind. She should not be limited to the tasks that society laid down for her, but be allowed access to ideas, as Jewish men were.

See also The Martha Syndrome and the Mary Solution – Religious tolerance  (as illustrated at left) which added:  “Our unbelief can block God’s miracles in our lives.”  (And that’s a point worth remembering.)  The article cited John 11:40, in the account of John’s Gospel, of the raising of Lazarus:

Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”  Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him,  “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.”  Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?

See also Matthew 17:20 and Mark 9:23, not to mention Exodus 16:7, “you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against Him.”  (The emphasized portion adds an interesting “plot twist” to the concept of communicating with God)

But getting back to the topic at hand, see Mary and Martha of Bethany 29 July:

Christian writers have seen Mary as representing Contemplation (prayer and devotion), and Martha as representing Action (good works, helping others)…  Contemplation has fewer results, but one of those results is Faith, without which it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)  Yet, there is a sense in which Action comes first – “If a man love not his brother, whom he hath seen, how shall he love God, whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20)

Which brings up the question:  Which of these examples should we we follow?  Should we follow Mary’s path, and let our earthly concerns tend to themselves?  Or should we follow Martha’s way, a live a life of service to others?  Maybe the best answer is both

See for example, Mary and Martha … who were they?  The site argued that far from being bickering sisters, these two were a team, each complementing the other:

Saint george raphael.jpg

Mary and Martha need not tame dragons [as shown at right] to engage the modern reader … they have much to offer beyond their imagined rivalry.  In Vermeer’s painting [shown below], Jesus points toward Mary, not as a rebuke to Martha but as a gentle reminder that leadership demands both the ability to listen and the ability to act.  Finally, Mary and Martha are not at odds but form two parts of a whole. (E.A.)

Which is another way of saying that the debate over which is the better path – faith or works – has been going for most if not all the 2,000 years since the Church was born.  See for example, Faith and Works – Reconciling the Two Doctrines:

[B]elievers are … declared righteous before God solely by faith…  Works, on the other hand, are the evidence of genuine salvation.  They are the “proof in the pudding,” so to speak. Good works demonstrate the truth of one’s faith.

So on this 29th day of July, 2015, Mary and Martha remind us that we need not “be at odds with each other” over religion.  Instead we need to work on becoming two – or more – “parts of the whole.”  (And – like many other efforts while we’re on this earthly pilgrimage – it may be easier to do it on your own, but it is definitely not as much fun…)


Johannes (Jan) Vermeer - Christ in the House of Martha and Mary - Google Art Project.jpg

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, (1655)

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The upper image is courtesy of Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary.  The caption:  “‘Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,’ Diego Velázquez, 1618.”   There’s more input on the painting below.

The “bright yellow” image is courtesy of The Raising of Lazarus after Rembrandt – Vincent van Gogh.

The “tolerance puzzle” image is courtesy of

Re: “if you believe.”  See also the Gospel for July 25, 2015:  Mark 6:1-13, on Jesus confronting a lack of faith in His home town:  “He could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.”  (See Mark 6:6.)

Re:  Mary representing contemplation.  The quote included this:

They [Christian writers] see the same symbolism also in Leah and Rachel, the daughters of Laban (Genesis 29 and 35).  Leah was dim of sight, but had many children.  Rachel had few children, but one of them saved the whole family from destruction.  Leah represents Action, which is near-sighted and cannot penetrate very far into the mysteries of God, but produces many worth-while results.

Re: Faith and works.  See also The Controversy Over Faith And Works Continues.

The “St. George and dragon” image is courtesy of Collections of the National Gallery of Art, and/or Saint George and the Dragon (Raphael).

The lower image is courtesy of  Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Vermeer) – Wikipedia.

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Here’s that “more input,” from the Velasquez painting link as noted above:

The plight of Martha clearly relates to that of the maid in the foreground.  She has just prepared a large amount of food and, from the redness of her creased puffy cheeks, we can see that she is also upset.  To comfort her (or perhaps even to rebuke her), the elderly woman indicates the scene in the background reminding her that she can not expect to gain fulfillment from work alone.  The maid, who cannot bring herself to look directly at the biblical scene and instead looks out of the painting towards us, meditates on the implications of the story…

This is the most likely interpretation[, but some] have argued over the identities of the characters, suggesting that the maid in the foreground is actually Martha herself and the lady standing in the background is just an incidental character….  On the one hand, we may be looking at a mirror or through a hatch at the biblical scene.  If so, it would imply that the whole painting, foreground and background, is set in Christ’s time and would perhaps lend weight to the argument that the maid in the foreground is Martha.  On the other hand, the biblical scene may just be a painting which is hung in the maid’s kitchen.

Finally, the article noted that when he did this painting, “Velázquez was experimenting with the potential of the bodegones, a form of genre painting set in taverns (the meaning of bodegon) or kitchens … to relate scenes of contemporary Spain to themes and stories from the Bible.”   And that whatever the interpretation, “we can appreciate this as an early example of Velázquez’s interest in layered composition, a form also known as ‘paintings within the painting.'”  See also A Painting Within a Painting: Hidden Messages in Dutch Art.


On the readings for July 26

Artemisia Gentileschi: Bathing Bathsheba

Bathsheba taking a bath –  with David watching  – “from his balcony (top left)…” 

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The last time I posted on the Bible readings for an upcoming Sunday was for Trinity Sunday.  That was May 27, nearly a month ago.  (Of course it didn’t help that I was on vacation for the first two weeks of July.  See A Mid-summer Travelog.)

And there’s another reason to focus on these particular passages.  I’ll be the lay reader – up front with a microphone – as part of my Anglican Communion authorization “to read some parts of a service of worship.”  So it’ll definitely help to know the background.

Those readings are in The Lectionary under Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 12.  The Track 1 readings are 2 Samuel 11:1-15, followed by Psalm 14, then the New Testament, Ephesians 3:14-21.  (The Gospel – that the priest reads – is John 6:1-21.)

2d Samuel 11:1-15 tells of David – when he was King of Israel – seeing Bathsheba, taking a bath “in the altogether,” as seen at the top of the page.  It also tells what David did to Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband.  (After he – David – got her pregnant.)   When Bathsheba told him about that, David had Uriah brought back from the war and tried to trick him into knowing her in the Biblical sense.  (That way, Uriah would think that the kid was his.)

When that didn’t work, David basically had Uriah killed.  (But he made it look like an accident.) And it was because of all this that David wrote Psalm 51, “by any measure, one of the best-known and most often read penitential texts” in the Bible.  See Psalm 51 Commentary.

See also Repentance for the Soul (Psalm 51) |

Psalm 51 is one of seven penitential psalms.  David threw himself on the mercy of God after committing adultery and murder.  That’s right: King David messed up “royally.”  His two-fold repentance provides a model that we should follow when we choose sin…

So anyway, 2d Samuel 11:1-15 begins:  “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him;  they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.”  That’s when the trouble began.

David Bathsheba.jpgBut first, a telling detail in 2 Samuel 11:4, in parentheses:  “(Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.)”   That’s another way of saying that the reason she was taking a bath in the first place was that she’d just finished her monthly period.  Which means in turn that Bathsheba was required to bathe, according to Leviticus 15:19:  “When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days…”   (“Et Seq.,” including various other situations requiring one to “wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water.”)  See also Ritual purification – Wikipedia.

There’s another aspect of this “telling detail.”  It was the writer’s way of making sure we knew the child had to be David’s.   (Without that detail some old-time spin doctor might say:  “Hey!  How do we know Uriah didn’t ‘know Bathsheba Biblically‘ before he left for the wars?”)

Other – related – highlights include 2d Samuel 11:8, where David brought Uriah back from the battle-front and told him, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.”  (That’s a euphemism for “Relax!  Go home and have sex with your wife!”  See Hebrew – How does the act of “foot washing” lead to “sexual intercourse?”)  But Uriah had a problem.  He was both too pure and too good a soldier.  See 2d Samuel 11:9.  So Uriah didn’t go home to Bathsheba and “wash his feet.”  Instead he “slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard.”

All of which may well be some kind of object lesson, but we digress…

The reading ended with David trying to get Uriah drunk again, and when that didn’t work he sent a letter to Joab, his army commander.  “In the letter he wrote, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.'”

(And just a note:  The Old Testament reading for next week skips over verses 16-25 of Samuel 11, and starts off with Bathsheba first hearing that her husband Uriah has been killed.)

Moving on to Psalm 14, it starts:  “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none who does any good.”  What follows is a “description of the depravity of human nature, and the deplorable corruption of a great part of mankind.”  See Psalm 14 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary.  But as usually happens, Psalm 14 ends with a note of hope:  “when the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.”  (“Jacob” and “Israel” are the same person.  See Genesis 32:22-32 – Jacob Wrestles With God, and also On arguing with God.)

File:StPaul ElGreco.jpgThe New Testament lesson is Ephesians 3:14-21, written by the Apostle Paul.  (Seen at right.)  Mainly the letter is about “Paul’s Hopes and Prayers for the Ephesians.”  This part was preceded by Paul telling about the hidden mystery that the Gentiles should be saved, and that it was to him – Paul – that grace given, that he should preach it.  In verse 13, Paul had just told the Ephesians not to be discouraged over his tribulation.  In this reading he prays that they may perceive the great love of Christ toward them.

Moving on to Gospel, John 6:1-21 will be read by the priest.  But as always, it pays to know something of the background of the reading beforehand.

The reading starts off with the story of Jesus  feeding the multitude:

Feeding the multitude is the combined term used to refer to two separate miracles of Jesusreported in the Gospels.  The first Feeding Miracle, “The Feeding of the 5,000” is the only miracle (apart from the resurrection) which is present in all four canonical GospelsMatthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15.  The second miracle, “The Feeding of the 4,000” with seven loaves of bread and fish is reported by Matthew 15:32-16:10 and Mark 8:1-9, but not by Luke or John.

For a non-traditional view of this miracle, see Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000.

This part of the Gospel reading ends with the people saying that Jesus “is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” and trying to “take him by force to make him king.”  That’s when he withdrew “to the mountain by himself.”  All of which led to the last part of the Gospel reading, the story of Jesus walking on the water, toward His disciples:

The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.  When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.  But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Wikipedia noted a number of alternate, competing and/or “scientific” theories about this miracle, and it’s probably a very good idea for us to explore them all.   After all, in John 14:12 Jesus did tell His followers, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…”   (See also “What’s in it for me?”)

Which may mean it’s high time for us to get cracking on that  “mystical side of Bible reading…”


Jesus walks on water, by Ivan Aivazovsky(1888)…”


The upper image is courtesy of David and Bathsheba – The Life and Art of Artemisia Gentileschi.  The painting was done in 1650.  The full caption:  

Pretty Bathsheba has finished her bath.  She is fixing her hair, using the mirror held by a servant…   Perhaps she has already received King David’s message.  David has been watching her from his balcony (top left) and asks her to pay him a visit.

Gentileschi (1593-1656) was a woman artist in an “era when women painters were not easily accepted by the artistic community or patrons.”  She was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, and painted “many pictures of strong and suffering women from myth and the Bible – victims, suicides, warriors.”  

Her best-known work is Judith Slaying Holofernes, which is pretty gruesome.  It shows her decapitating Holofernes, in a “scene of horrific struggle and blood-letting.”  She – Gentileschi – was raped earlier in life, which apparently wasn’t that unusual at the time.   What was unusual was that she “participated in prosecuting the rapist.”  For many years that incident overshadowed her achievements as an artist, and she was “regarded as a curiosity.”  But today she is seen as “one of the most progressive and expressionist painters of her generation.”

The “stupendous” image is courtesy of David and Bathsheba (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re:  “all that you can be.”  See Slogans of the United States Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The image at left is courtesy of

*  Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, the term mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and also the post On originalism.

Re: Psalm 51.  For more see Psalm 51 – WikipediaDavid’s Psalms of Repentance (Psalms 51 and 32), and/or Psalm 51: A Model Of Genuine Repentance | Answers From The Book.

The image of St. Paul is courtesy of St. Paul El Greco.jpg – Wikimedia Commons.

The lower image is courtesy of Jesus walking on water – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

On Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles”

Tizian 009.jpg

A Penitent Magdalene, by Titian (1565)…

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As noted in Mid-summer Travelog, I just got back from a two-week road trip.  (From Friday June 26 to Sunday July 12).  So now it’s time to get back up to speed.  I’ll do that with a post on the next major feast day.  That would be Wednesday, July 22, the feast day for Mary Magdalene.

As the Collect for her Day says, Jesus “restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection.”  She did that, and set an example for us all.

And she did all that despite a sordid past and a really lousy reputation.

To start off, “Mary” was an extremely common name at the time of Jesus.  This particular Mary was born in Magdala, which is where she got her name:   “Mary from Magdala,” or Magdalene.  Unfortunately it’s not clear where Magdala is, but most Christian scholars assume it’s “the place the Talmud calls Magdala Nunayya.”  (“Magdala of the fishes.”)  And the consensus is also that this is the site noted in Matthew 15:39, on what happened after Jesus fed the 4,000:

And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.  [39] And sending away the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan (below left).

As Wikipedia noted, this particular Mary has long had a bad reputation.  In Western Christianity, she’s known as “repentant prostitute or loose woman.”  But the consensus now is that “these claims are unfounded.”  Consider also what Isaac Asimov said.

He first noted that Magdala is usually considered a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and may have been a suburb of Tiberias.”  He also noted this Mary “has been considered, in tradition, to have been a prostitute and to have repented as a result of her meeting with Jesus.  (Thus the “devils” in Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2 “might then be considered devils of lust.”)

Asimov also noted some confusion that arose from the placement of the story of Mary’s “devils” coming right after the story of the woman washing the feet of Jesus with her tears and drying them with her hair.  See also Wikipedia, noting there’s long been a mix-up between Mary from Magdala and the “unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50:”

Mary Magdalene, the anointing sinner of Luke, and Mary of Bethany, who in John 11:1-2 also anoints Jesus’ feet, were long regarded as the same person.  Though Mary Magdalene is named in each of the four gospels … none of the clear references to her indicate that she was a prostitute or notable for a sinful way of life, nor link her with Mary of Bethany.

Asimov put it this way:  The sinner in Luke 7:36-50 “was, indeed, a prostitute in all likelihood,” but there was no direct link in the Bible between this woman and Mary Magdalene.  He added that to be “possessed by devils” – as Mary was said to be – would be considered today as “mental illness, rather than anything else.”  Thus to Asimov, Mary Magdalene would be more accurately considered “a cured madwoman rather than a reformed prostitute.”

Which may be a problem for her account of Jesus’ resurrection, as will be seen…

Yet – notwithstanding any confusion about her “sordid past” – it’s clear that Mary Magdalene showed more courage and faith than the original 11 disciples.  That’s one reason St. Augustine referred to her as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”  See also Mary of Magdala | FutureChurch:

Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity…  Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner…   Paintings, some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful, sinful, and worthy of repentance.  Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art.

The one indisputable fact seems to be that Mary Magdalene was both the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus.  (Which may have accounted for jealous males trying to  sully her reputation.)

As noted in John 20:1, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” 

So she went to tell Peter and the disciple “whom Jesus loved.”  They both got there, looked inside and saw the burial clothes lying there.  (And no body.)  Then they “went back to where they were staying.”  But Mary – ever faithful Mary, who ended up with the lousy reputation – stayed there, as noted in the Gospel for her feast day, John 20:11-18.  She saw two angels, who asked why she was crying, then turned to see another man she thought was a caretaker:

Supposing him to be the gardener [as seen in the bottom painting by Rembrandt], she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;”  and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Which is why this Mary – from Magdala – is rightly known as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Or as it was put in Who Was Mary Magdalene, the “history of western civilization is epitomized in the cult of Mary Magdalene.  For many centuries the most obsessively revered of saints, this woman became the embodiment of Christian devotion, which was defined as repentance.”

So why doesn’t this Mary get much better “press” than she does?  For one thing:

…since Mary Magdalene, as a repentant sinner, is always shown in paintings with her eyes red and swollen with weeping, the word “maudlin” (the British pronunciation of “magdalen”) has come to mean tearfully or weakly emotional.

(See also maudlin – Word of the Day |   In other words, this Mary became a bit of a cliche.  Then there’s fact – noted by Asimov – that Mary was not only the first one to see the risen Jesus, but that she was arguably the only person to have seen the risen Jesus:

[It] all might conceivably have rested entirely upon the word of one witness, Mary Magdalene…  Yet Mary Magdalene had been possessed by “seven devils.”  She had been a madwoman or, in any case, seriously disturbed, and her behavior might have remained erratic enough to give her the reputation of being “touched.”  Even if she had shown marked improvement under Jesus’ influence, the shock of the arrest, trial and crucifixion might well have unhinged her once more and made her an easy target for hallucination…  The people generally would have shrugged off anything she had to say as the ravings of a madwoman.

As Asimov concluded:  “The existence of Mary Magdalene may explain a puzzle concerning the resurrection – why it was believed, and yet not believed.”  Or as the last phrase might be expanded:  “why it was believed by some, and yet not believed by others.”

Which just goes to show the importance of the interactive – if not the mystical – part of your walk toward Jesus.  (Pursuant to John 6:37.)  In the end there’s simply no way to prove the existence of either God or Jesus, with enough courtroom evidence o convince the most jaded of skeptics.  In the end it all comes down to faith, and experience.

Apart from scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity…   Although traditional proof is complex, experience is simple:  “One thing I know; I was blind, but now I see.”

To those who’ve interacted with God in their John 6:37 walk toward Jesus – as for example through the discipline of Daily Office Reading,it just doesn’t matter what kind of sordid past Mary from Magala may have had.  They’ve experienced the risen Jesus themselves…

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Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen

The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen, by Rembrandt  (1638)…

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The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

That is, Titian did a “racier” version in 1533.  See Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia.

For more on this Mary see also MARY MAGDALENE, Bible Woman: first witness to Resurrection, and What Did Mary Magdalene look like?

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about Mary Magdalene are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 899-902. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

Re: Magdala Nunayya:  See History & Culture Archives – Tour Magdala, which noted that the term means “Magdala of the fishes,” as opposed to Magdala Gadar The former is the “better known Magdala,” located near Tiberias “on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.”  The latter, Magdala Gadar, is “in the east on the River Yarmouk,” the largest tributary of the Jordan River. 

Re: courtroom evidence:  “The main concept behind correct evidence handling is that the item recovered is the same as that produced in the court room.”

Re: faith and experience.  See Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Wikipedia, referring to “a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century…  This method based its teaching on four sources as the basis of theological and doctrinal development, scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.”  Also, a complete quote:

Apart from scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity…   Wesley insisted that we cannot have reasonable assurance of something unless we have experienced it personally.  John Wesley was assured of both justification and sanctification because he had experienced them in his own life.  What Christianity promised (considered as a doctrine) was accomplished in his soul.  Furthermore, Christianity (considered as an inward principle) is the completion of all those promises.  Although traditional proof is complex, experience is simple: “One thing I know; I was blind, but now I see.”  Although tradition establishes the evidence a long way off, experience makes it present to all persons.  As for the proof of justification and sanctification Wesley states that Christianity is an experience of holiness and happiness, the image of God impressed on a created spirit, a fountain of peace and love springing up into everlasting life.

As noted elsewhere in this blog, Jesus promises – in the most important part of John 6:37 – “I will never turn away anyone who comes to me.

The lower image is courtesy of File: Rembrandt – The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen.  See also On Easter Season – AND BEYOND.

A Mid-summer Travelog


The One World Observatory, a highlight of my recent road trip


Assiduous readers will notice I hadn’t done a blog-post since last June 20.  The reason:  I took a two-week-long road trip, to points north including Atlantic City and New York City.  (Also known as the Big Apple.)   As always, such a pilgrimage can be both instructive and enlightening – not to mention just plain fun.  There’s more on that below, but first:

Welcome again to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

John Steinbeck’s 1960 book Travels with Charley is all about pilgrimages in general and driving pilgrimages especially.  (See also 12 miles offshore, in a companion blog.  That post also refers to a “journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.”)

So the theme of this post will be to treat my recent road trip as a kind of Reader’s Digest condensed version – slash microcosm – of Steinbeck’s book and/or his travels.  In doing so I’ll be trying to find some moral and/or spiritual significance.  Also in doing so, I’ll be noting some significant differences between road-trip travel in 1960 and 2015.

But before we get into that, I should note that all during the trip up I “religiously” kept up with my Daily Office Readings.  And they were pretty exciting.  Early on there were Old Testament readings about the ancient practice of gouging out your enemy’s right eye.  (See the OT readings for Monday, June 28, 1 Samuel 10:17-27, and Tuesday, June 29, 1 Samuel 11:1-15.  See also Gouging the Eyes – Holman Bible Dictionary.)  And they ended with the well-known story of David killing Goliath.  See 1st Samuel 17, verses 31-39.  That was on July 11, the day before I got back home.  (And in turn I figure there might be some kind of object Lesson there.)

There’ll be more on those below, but getting back to the drastic differences in highway travel from 1960 to 2015.  For one thing, for the price you pay to camp these days – as Steinbeck generally did – you can get a quite comfortable Motel 6.  (And that’s tent camping.  Then too, for the price you pay for an RV or travel trailer, you could have stayed at a lot of Motel 6’s.)

For another thing, I didn’t pack hunting or fishing gear for my travels, as Steinbeck did. did pack – in my spandy-new 2015 Ford Escape – an 8-foot kayak, along with a stair-stepping stand and a 22-pound weight vest.  (To earn my Cooper aerobic points along the way.)  In that kayak – for example – I paddled across the Delaware River just below Wilmington.  (As seen at right, from the New Jersey side.)

I also paddled – some – up the Shenandoah River in Virginia, and through some of the backwater “meadows” southwest of Atlantic City.  Last but not least, I paddled for two hours on a nice little hideaway, Carvins Cove Reservoir.  It’s also in Virginia, just outside Roanoke.

A third big difference:  I didn’t get lost as much or as easily as Steinbeck.  (Or as he said he did.)  That was thanks mostly to my finally figuring out how to use the “map app” on my cell phone.

And I didn’t have to stop at a payphone – remember those? – to have a three or four-minute conversation every third or fourth day, to re-establish contact with the family “back home,” as Steinbeck did.  There was no need to.  The three branches of the family converging at the Swedesboro (NJ) cemetery – one of the main reasons for the get-together in the first place – could maintain constant contact via cell phone, including “instant texting.”

I did need to stop from time to time at local libraries, to use their computers.  But that was only if I needed a secure connection, like to check my bank accounts or – with the Ford being so new – to make the first payment, a few days into the trip.  (At the Hoboken Library.  Hoboken – across the Hudson – was the family base for visiting Manhattan, seen above left.)

And I wonder what John would have thought of cruise control?  (In either sense of the term…)

So now to set the stage for the trip:  Earlier this year, my brother from Utah sent an email saying that he and his wife were visiting the Northeast in July, and would I like to join them?  Naturally I said yes, especially when another reason was added:  Laying our father’s ashes to rest in the family plot in Swedesboro, New Jersey, along with those of his first wife – our mother – and our maternal grandmother and grandfather, and other of their offspring.

The ashes had been left in the care of Dad’s second wife, who in turn had died just last November 2014.  So in the months leading up to the road trip, discussion was had via email concerning the interment, along with getting headstones honoring their service in World War II.  (He was a navigator in the Army Air Corps.  She was an Army nurse in Memphis, where they met.)  And the memorial lent a certain gravitas to the whole “joint venture.”

Which makes this as good a place as any to end the first installment of my mid-summer travelog.  Except to note that one of the places I wanted to visit – on the way home – was Reading PA, known in literary circles as “Brewer.”  This fictional Brewer is the setting of John Updike’s five books about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, each constituting an homage to the full decades from 1960 to 2000.  (I’ve read all four novels and the final novella.)

In this way my trip emulated Steinbeck’s visit to Sauk Centre, Minnesota, “metaphoric setting of [Sinclair] Lewis’ satirical novel, Main Street,” seen at right.  (See also On Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies”.)  There’ll be more about that aspect of the road trip – and more – in the next installment.

But getting back to that David-and-Goliath story, as told in the Old Testament reading for Saturday, July 11: 1st Samuel 17:31-49.  As noted in Goliath – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Jewish traditions stressed Goliath’s status as the representative of paganism, in contrast to David, the champion of the God of Israel.  Christian tradition gave him a distinctively Christian perspective, seeing in David’s battle with Goliath the victory of God’s king…   The phrase “David and Goliath” has taken on a more secular meaning, denoting [any] underdog [] contest where a smaller, weaker opponent faces a much bigger, stronger adversary.

The article further noted this is “arguably the most famous underdog story” of all time, and that the phrase is widely used in news media, to characterize “underdog situations in every conceivable context, without religious overtones.”  The article also cited the work of Professor Leonard Greenspoon.  See  David vs. Goliath in the Sports Pages:

While most writers use the story for its underdog overtones (the little guy wins), there are rich subtleties of the biblical narrative that writers of all stripes can mine.  For example, David leaves behind his armor when he fights the militantly attired Goliath.  Where Goliath is heavy and slow, David is light and agile.  David is modest, but Goliath brags about his might…

So I guess there is some kind of object Lesson there…



David and his big-headed enemy, Goliath



*  Not to be confused with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the comedy by William Shakespeare.  Written between 1590 and 1597, it’s “one of Shakespeare’s most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.” See Wikipedia, and also Travelogue | Definition … by Merriam-Webster.

The upper image is courtesy of  One World Observatory: Curbed NY.  It’s part of the article,  It’s Official: One World Observatory Will Open May 29.  On July 13, 2015, that was five articles down from Don’t Eat at One World Trade Center’s Sky-High Restaurants.  And it was true that the place was crowded, prices were high and seating was at a minimum.

Re:  Earning aerobic points along the way.  The term “aerobics” – along with the need for cardio-vascular exercise in general – didn’t enter into popular use until 1968, some eight years after Steinbeck’s road trip.  That was with the publication of his ground-breaking book AerobicsSee also Kenneth H. Cooper – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Delaware Bridge image is courtesy of, which is apparently the German-language edition.

The view-of-lower-Manhattan-and-Observatory is courtesy of

The bottom image is courtesy of Goliath – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe caption:  David with the Head of Goliath, circa 1635, by Andrea Vaccaro.