Monthly Archives: April 2019

“If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem…”

By the waters of Babylon,” in exile, where a Hebrew Remnant finalized the Old Testament…

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

This blog has four main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (See John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance (John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus.  (John 14:12.)  The fourth – and most overlooked – is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind.  See Luke 24:45:  “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

And this thought ties them together:

The only way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is – as noted – to read the Bible with an open mind.  For more, see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

As noted in “On to Jerusalem,” this upcoming May 10th I’ll be flying to Jerusalem for a two-week  pilgrimage (As part of a local church group.)  To that end, I’ve been listening to a series of lectures-on-CD, The World of Biblical Israel | The Great Courses Plus.

And in the process of doing this post, I stumbled on a Jerusalem Post article that tied in to a point the professor made in Lecture 2, “By the Rivers of Bablyon – Exile.”  The article:  If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem:

There is an almost natural magnetic draw to Jerusalem that stirs within us a special emotion. For millions of people around the world the heart of ancient Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, symbolizes spirituality and mysticism, a place of prayer and miracles, the centre of the world and a holy portal to God.

Note the “spirituality and mysticism” part, which ties in with frequent themes of this post.  (That the “spiritual path” has more to offer than the “literal path.*”)  But the point here is this:  The title of that article is from Psalm 137:5-6:  “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.  If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”  (That’s from the King James Version; the Bible God uses.)  

Which just happened to tie in with the Biblical Israel Lecture 2, described further below.

See also Psalm 137 – Wikipedia, which described “Nebuchadnezzar II‘s successful siege of Jerusalem in 597 BC.”  That ended up with the people of Judah being “deported to Babylonia, where they were held captive until some time after the Fall of Babylon,” in 539 BC:

In English it [Psalm 137] is generally known as “By the rivers of Babylon,” which is how its first words are translated in the King James Version…  The psalm is a communal lament about being in exile after the Babylonian captivity, and yearning for Jerusalem.  The psalm is a regular part of Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant liturgies.  It has been set to music often, and was paraphrased in hymns.

So anyway, Professor Cynthia R. Chapman began by focusing on Psalm 137 as the story of how the final version of the Old Testament got made up by that Hebrew Remnant – those people in exile.  In other words, something very good – the final version of the Old Testament – was the result of something very bad happening to “God’s Chosen People.”

According to Professor Chapman, Psalm 137 constitutes both the mid-point – the very middle – of years of Ancient Jewish history, and also the very middle of Bible itself.*  And Psalm 137 came at precisely the time when the books of the Hebrew Bible – the Old Testament – were collected, edited and redacted.  And it all came about because of the Exile, that “national disgrace.”

That is, the Old Testament as we know it didn’t exist before 586 B.C., the year many Judeans were taken from their homeland.  (After the horrors of the Babylonian conquest.)  Then they went through a “death march,” 800 miles to Babylon, during which many of the Remnant died along the way.  (Those who weren’t executed during the post-siege “mop up.”)  After those horrors – and the shame of this national disgrace – they compiled, edited and shaped their collected national stories into a “virtual library.”  A library that connected them to their homeland.

In other words, before the calamity of the Exile, many books (in the form of scrolls) existed, but “here is where they were first collected into what we know as the Old Testament today.”

Eadwine psalter - Trinity College Lib - f.243v.jpgThat idea was mirrored in Babylon captivity, at Psalm 137 – Wikipedia:

This period saw … the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life.  According to many historical-critical scholars, the Torah was redacted during this time, and began to be regarded as the authoritative text for Jews.  This period saw their transformation into an ethno-religious group who could survive without a central Temple.

The link-article went on to say the period of exile “was a rich one for Hebrew literature.”  For example, the Book of Jeremiah 39–43 saw the exile “as a lost opportunity.”  Also, the “Priestly source, one of the four main sources of the Torah/Pentateuch in the Bible, is primarily a product of the post-exilic period,” while also “during this Persian period, the final redaction of the Pentateuch purportedly took place.”

I’ve written before about Moses writing the Torah – the first five books of the Bible – during and right after the 40 years of “wandering in the wilderness.”  (See e.g. On Moses and Paul “dumbing it down,” and My Lenten meditation.)  Which would mean those first five books of the Bible were written some time before 1,400 B.C., about the time Moses died. (What year did Moses die – answers.com.)  But it was only some 800 years later – and the product of a humiliating national disgrace – that the final version of the Old Testament as we know it came into being.

I’ll be writing more about Psalm 137 and “On to Jerusalem” in a later post.  In the meantime, here’s wishing you a happy Easter.  And a reminder that that joyous occasion could only come about after 40 days of Lenten “doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and denial of ego.”  Not to mention a humiliating death on the cross.

You know, I’ll bet there’s a lesson that can be gleaned from all this…

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James Tissot, “The Flight of the Prisoners,” from Jerusalem and on into exile…

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The upper image is courtesy of Psalm 137 – Wikipedia.  The full caption: “By the Waters of Babylon, painting by Arthur Hackerc. 1888.”

About the photo to the right of the paragraph beginning, “As told in ‘On to Jerusalem:'”  From the Wikipedia article on Jerusalem, the caption reads:  “Israeli policemen meet a Jordanian Legionnaire near the Mandelbaum Gate (circa 1950).”

As to the “Great Course,” see also The World of Biblical Israel – English.  Other books I’m reading for the upcoming include Entebbe: A Defining Moment In the War On Terrorism, by Iddo Netanyahu.

As to the “piritual path being better than the literal path.  See John 4:24:  “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  (See also Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, which noted of God that “His will has been expressed in the seeking.  But His very nature and essence is spirit, and it follows from this that all true worship must be spiritual.”)  And of course 2d Corinthians 3:6, saying the letter of the law kills, “but the Spirit [of God’s law] gives life.”

Re:  Psalm 137:5-6.  See also Psalm 137:5 Commentaries: If I forget you…, and Psalm 137 – Commentary in Easy EnglishAlso, “137” is an Imprecatory Psalm See Wikipedia, on those  invoking “judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God.”

Re:  “Babylon.”  See Wikipedia:  “The remains of the city are in present-day HillahBabil GovernorateIraq, about 85 kilometres (53 mi) south of Baghdad, comprising a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris.”  There’s probably a lesson there too…

Re:  Psalm 137 as “the very middle of Bible itself.”  In my Good News Bible, Psalm 137 folds out pretty much right at the middle.  Also, it’s on page 687 of a combined 1,395 pages.  (1,041 for the Old Testament, 354 for the New Testament.)  The precise mid-point page would be “697.5.”

About the image to the right of the paragraph, “That idea was mirrored in Babylon captivity.”  From Psalm 137 – Wikipedia, it’s captioned “Psalm 137 in the Eadwine Psalter (12th century).”  

The lower image is courtesy of the Babylonian captivity link at Psalm 137 – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “James TissotThe Flight of the Prisoners.”  That article added these notes:

In the Hebrew Bible, the captivity in Babylon is presented as a punishment for idolatry and disobedience to Yahweh in a similar way to the presentation of Israelite slavery in Egypt followed by deliverance. The Babylonian Captivity had a number of serious effects on Judaism and Jewish culture.  For example, the current Hebrew alphabet was adopted during this period, replacing the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.

This period saw the last high-point of biblicalprophecy in the person of Ezekiel, followed by the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life.  According to many historical-critical scholars, the Torah was redacted during this time, and began to be regarded as the authoritative text for Jews.  This period saw their transformation into an ethno-religious group who could survive without a central Temple.

This process coincided with the emergence of scribes and sages as Jewish leaders (see Ezra). Prior to exile, the people of Israel had been organized according to tribe.  Afterwards, they were organized by smaller family groups.  Only the tribe of Levi continued in its temple role after the return.  After this time, there were always sizable numbers of Jews living outside Eretz Israel;  thus, it also marks the beginning of the “Jewish diaspora,…”

Also, as to Hebrews killed during the post-siege mop-up, see 2d Kings 25, verses 8-12:

On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard … came to Jerusalem.  He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem.  Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon.  But the commander left behind some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields.

Also verse 18-20, describing the number of prisoners taken, mostly high-ranking officials.  And verses 20-21:  “Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed.

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”)  The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus.  (John 14:12).    A fourth theme:  The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity.  According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable…  Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians.  They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.”  But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…   (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…)

Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.”  See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by “learning the fundamentals.”  But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.  

Also, and as noted in “Buck private,” I’d previously said the theme of this blog was that if you really want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*”    

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpgIn other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.”  See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001.  The related image at left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.”

*  Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

On Romans 10:9 – and “Salvation for all…”

Flevit super illam“- Jesus wept as He approached Jerusalem, shortly before Palm Sunday

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First a note:  That “salvation for all” thing includes the addendum, “who come to Him.”

Back to the main topic:  Palm Sunday is coming up this weekend.  Easter Sunday comes a week later – on April 21 – and with it the end of Lent.  And of my chance to write up – as part of a Lenten discipline – “a reasoned, careful, blog-post treatise on precisely ‘why I don’t like Donald Trump.'”  (As I hoped in last March 15’s On the Bible’s “dynamic tension.”  That is, a logical reatise without the “fallacy of ad hominem attacks,” or my saying to Trump supporters, “What are you, dumbasses?”)

Which definitely would have been the hard part.

But alas, my busy schedule – including preparing for the upcoming “On to Jerusalem” – precluded doing that treatise.  So I’m back to a main theme of this blog, the Daily Office Readings.  For example, the New Testament reading for Tuesday, April 9, Romans 10:1-13.

‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);  because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

That first part (Romans 10:8) goes back to Deuteronomy 30:14, where Moses said, “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may obey it.”  Then Romans 10:9 – including the words emphasized – relates back to (for one example) Matthew 10:32:  “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father in heaven.”

And of course there’s good old John 6:37 – a standard feature of the opening blurb, and as illustrated in “Malayalam” at left – “I will never turn away anyone who comes to me.”

The point of all this is that the foregoing – and especially Romans 10:9 – gives all real Christians a ready answer to so-called conservative Christians who say or imply that you and I are “going to hell” if we choose not to interpret the Bible in exactly the same way that they do.  (See “No such thing as a ‘conservative Christian,'” and – as to the “going to hell card” – The Bible’s “dynamic tension,” on the danger of accusing fellow Christians of “heresy.”)

All you have to say is:  “I’ve confessed with my lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead.  So the Bible says I’m saved.”  (Even – gasp! – a “liberal Christian.”  On that note see There Is Such a Thing as a ‘Liberal’ Christian.  His name was Jesus.)

I’ve written on Romans 10:9 in “Trump-humping” – and Christians arguing with each other.  That included an added reference to 1st Corinthians 12:3:  “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  And about that tension between Deuteronomy 19 and Ezekiel 3:

In other words, if I think – or say, perhaps with relish – that someone I don’t like is going to “roast in hell” and he’s not, then I’ve put myself in danger of roasting in hell.  (Per Deuteronomy 19:16-19.)  Of course I don’t particularly care if a “Trump-humping evangelical” roasts in hell for eternity.  But it’s my duty – and my CYA – to warn him of the danger.  (Per Ezekiel 3:16-19.)

And speaking of too-far-right conservative Christians who take “an isolated passage from the Bible out of context(including “Stumpy,” at right):  One of the psalms today is Psalm 127.  Which includes Psalm 127:3-5: “Children are a gift from God; they are his reward.  Children born to a young man are like sharp arrows to defend him.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”

I’ve written on that topic is “Bible basics” revisited:

[S]ome Christians become snake handlers. (Like “Stumpy…”)  They do this based on a literal interpretation of Mark 16:18.  In other words, taking an isolated passage from the Bible out of context…  Other Christians work to develop large families – as a way of showing their faith – again based on focusing literally on Psalm 127:3-5, taking that one passage out of context: “Children are a gift from God; they are his reward.  Children born to a young man are like sharp arrows to defend him.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”

See Quiverfull – Wikipedia, on the “movement of conservative Christian couples” which sees children as a “blessing from God” and “encourages procreation, abstaining from all forms of birth control (including natural family planning) and sterilization.”

But “Basics” revisited set out an arguably-better approach:  You “could approach the Bible as presenting a plain, common-sense view of some people in the past who have achieved that ‘union with a Higher Power.'”  Such a common-sense approach can lead to an ability to transcend the painful and negative aspects of life, to live with “serenity and inner peace,” and develop a “zest, a fervor and gusto in life plus a much higher ability to function.”

Which means that ideally, one who reads the Bible on a daily basis should not become an intolerant, self-righteous prig.  (Going around telling others how to live.)  Or as Saint Peter said, “Don’t let me hear of your … being a busybody and prying into other people’s affairs…”  Instead, such Bible-Reading on a regular basis should lead to a well-adjusted and open-minded person.  And also one who is tolerant of the inherent weaknesses – including his own – of all people.  In other, a person able to live life “in all its fullness.”

So how do you do all that?  Here’s an answer from one of the great philosophers of our time:

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The upper image is courtesy of Triumphal entry into Jerusalem – Wikipedia.  It included the note:  “In Luke 19:41 as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he looks at the city and weeps over it (an event known as Flevit super illam in Latin), foretelling the suffering that awaits the city.”  See also Luke 13:34 and Luke 19:42.  Luke 13:34 reads:  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.”  Luke 19:42 adds, to the previous verse, “If only you had known on this day what would bring you peace!  But now it is hidden from your eyes.”  See also Flevit super illam – The Collection – Museo Nacional del Prado

The Palm Sunday image is courtesy of Palm Sunday – Image Results.  The image is accompanied by a web article from 2017, “Palm Sunday – How Jesus’ Triumphant entry into Jerusalem turned the world on its head.”  The article is from Christian Today, “the UK’s largest online Christian news provider, with the latest in-depth reports.”  The April 8, 2019 edition included an article, “Brexit and the decline of Britain: lessons from the Old Testament,” which included some interesting reading:

Britain today in its moral and political turbulence is reminiscent of Old Testament Israel in the 11th century BC. That too was a time when there was no guiding consensus and “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21v25).  But instead of looking to God, of course, Israel demanded a new system of government in the form of a strong man (1 Samuel 8v5) – just as many in Britain are now apparently doing.

The article noted in recent years many countries have opted “for maverick ‘strongmen’ to lead their nations – Erdogan in Turkey;  Putin in Russia;  Berlusconi in Italy;  even Trump, in a way, in America.”  (In a way?)  It then cited polling by the Hansard Society which indicated that “54% of voters would like ‘a strong ruler willing to break the rules.’  Only 23% said they were against such an idea.”

As to the goal for Lent about Donald Trump…  I wrote in The Bible’s “dynamic tension:”

So – for this Lent – I’m going to try mightily to prepare a reasoned, careful, logical blog-post treatise on precisely “why I don’t like Donald Trump.”  (Without resorting to the “fallacy of ad hominem attacks.”)  In other words, I will try – without resorting to name-calling – to present the valid reasons why I think Trump’s presidency is a constitutional crisis on par with Watergate…  Beyond that – for my Lenten discipline this year – I am also going to try mightily to understand why some Americans still support him.  (Without saying, “What are you, dumbasses?”)  And that is definitely going to be the hard part…

Also, the full Daily Office Readings for Tuesday, April 9, are:  “AM Psalm [120], 121, 122, 123; PM Psalm 124, 125, 126, [127], Jeremiah 25:8-17; Romans 10:1-13; [and] John 9:18-41.”

Re:  Deuteronomy, Chapter 30.  Verses 11 through 14 (“The Offer of Life or Death”) read:

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.  It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  No, the word is very near you;  it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

The John 6:37 “malayalim” image is courtesy of John 6:37 – Image Results.  Malayalam is a Dravidian language; that is, a “language family spoken mainly in Southern India and parts of Central and Eastern India, as well as in Sri Lanka with small pockets in southwestern Pakistan, southern AfghanistanNepalBangladesh and Bhutan, and overseas in other countries such as MalaysiaPhilippinesIndonesia and Singapore.”  That language is “spoken in the Indian state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry (Mahé) by the Malayali people, and it is one of 22 scheduled languages of India.”  Which proves the universal appeal of Jesus, to whom all people – including grumpy old white people who should know better – are “infants before God.”  See for example Where do I find the age of accountability in the Bible, which included the example of 2 Samuel 12:21–23, where “David seemed to be saying that he would see his baby son (in heaven), though he could not bring him back.”  Then there’s this:

[T]his is a subject about which we should not be adamant or dogmatic.  God’s applying Christ’s death to those who cannot believe would seem consistent with His love and mercy. It is our position that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to babies and those who are mentally handicapped, since they are not mentally capable of understanding their sinful state and their need for the Savior, but again we cannot be dogmatic.  Of this we are certain: God is loving, holy, merciful, just, and gracious … and He loves children even more than we do. 

The lower image is courtesy of izquotes.com/quote/217824.  See also Charlie Chan (Wikipedia).  The quote is said to have come from Charlie Chan at the Circus, and in the form given.  See Charlie Chan – Wikiquote and Reel Life Wisdom – The Top 10 Wisest Quotes from Charlie Chan.  But I could have sworn that the actual quote was, “Mind like parachute;  work best when open.”