Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Annunciation “gets the ball rolling”

The “Annunciation…”   (The white lily symbolizes Mary’s purity.)

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Wednesday, March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation.

The full title is the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which I discussed back On the readings for December 21.  (And also The original St. Nicholas.)  I did it that way – in that order – as a kind of metaphor.  It’s a good metaphor for how the early Church “figured it backwards.”

It all started with the birth of Jesus.  The early Church Fathers decided first that the celebration would be on December 25. (For reasons explained further below.)  Then they figured backwards, nine months.  Since they said Jesus was born on December 25, He had to have been “conceived” on the previous March 25.  That’s where the Annunciation comes in.

It celebrates “the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking his Incarnation.”  (More on Incarnation below.)   Then it’s not much of a leap to conclude that Conception and Annunciation happened the same day.  “She would conceive” became in effect “she did conceive.”

You can see the full set of Bible readings for the day at The Annunciation.  The readings are:  Isaiah 7:10-14, Psalm 45 (or a portion thereof), Hebrews 10:4-10, and Luke 1:26-38.

But first a word on how December 25 got chosen as the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

It started back in the olden days.  Nowadays we know all about the winter solstice, which “marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year.”  (In 2014 it was December 22.)  We also know that from that date onward, the days do start getting longer and the nights start getting shorter.

But back in those primitive olden days, “there was never any certainty that the sinking Sun would ever return.”  (As Isaac Asimov noted.)  So about mid-December those old-time people kept worrying that the days would keep getting shorter and  shorter, until there was nothing but eternal night.

But then around December 25 they noted that the cycle had stopped and the days were getting slightly longer.  They always felt great joy and gladness, and  the time when the sun started returning “was the occasion for a great feast in honor of what one might call the ‘birth of the sun.'”  That time of raucous celebration became known as Saturnalia in Roman times.

At the Saturnalia, joy was unrestrained, as befitted a holiday that celebrated a reprieve from death and a return to life…  It was a season of peace and good will to all men… Naturally, the joy easily turned to the extremes of licentiousness and debauchery, and there were, no doubt, many pious people who deplored the uglier aspects of the festival.

Among those “pious people” were the early Church Fathers.  They felt the festival was “a great stumbling block to conversions to Christianity.”  So the early Church “adapted itself to pagan customs” like Saturnalia.  In essence they transmogrified Saturnalia; they said Christians needed only  “to joyfully greet the birth of the Son rather than the Sun.”  (Asimov, emphasis added.)

Note also that the Annunciation pretty much coincides with the “northern vernal equinox:”

An equinox occurs twice a year, around 20 March and 22 September.  The word itself has several related definitions.  The oldest meaning is the day when daytime and night are of approximately equal duration.  The word equinox comes from this definition, derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). the Annunciation is celebrated about the time of the vernal equinox.  (Vernal is from the Latin word for “spring.”  The photo at right is Vernal Sunshine on Azaleas.)  In turn the birth of Jesus is celebrated about the time of the winter solstice.  (The summer solstice is the longest day of the year.)

Which brings up the matter of the Incarnation.  As Wikipedia put it:

The Incarnation … is the belief that [Jesus], “became flesh” by being conceived in the womb of Mary…   [The idea is that the Son of God] took on a human body and nature and became both man and God.  In the Bible its clearest teaching is in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…”  The Incarnation is commemorated and celebrated each year at Christmas, and also reference can be made to the Feast of the Annunciation; “different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation” are celebrated at Christmas and the Annunciation.

See also Liturgical year – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Then there’s a book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life(Which looks to be a pretty interesting read…)

It first noted that technically the liturgical year begins with Advent and goes through next November.  More to the point, the liturgical year “sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus.”  (It’s not just an “arbitrary arrangement of ancient holy days.”)  Instead:

It is an excursion into life from the Christian perspective [and] proposes to help us to year after year immerse ourselves into the sense and substance of the Christian life…   It is an adventure in human growth; it is an exercise in spiritual ripening.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.  On the other hand, you could say that while “technically the liturgical year begins” with Advent, it’s the Annunciation that gets the ball rolling

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The upper image is courtesy of Annunciation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, .  The full caption:  “Annunciation by Paolo de Matteis, 1712.  The white lily in the angel’s hand is symbolic of Mary’s purity  in Marian art.”  De Matteis was an Italian painter (1662-1728), who was  born in Salerno and died in Milan.  While in Rome (1723-25) he “received a commission from Pope Innocent XIII.”

The “winter solstice” – rotating image – is courtesy of the Wikipedia article.  The caption reads:  “Winter solstice in Northern Hemisphere over Asia.” 

See also Solstice and Summer solstice – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The lower image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on the Incarnation, contained within the article on  the Annunciation.  The caption reads:  “The Incarnation illustrated with scenes from the Old Testaments and the Gospels, with the Trinity in the central column, by Fridolin Leiber, 19th century.”

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about the “dating” of Christmas and the “olden days” are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 930-34. 

Just as an aside, 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.

The “Vernal Sunshine” is courtesy of

On St. Paddy and St. Joe

Guido Reni - St Joseph with the Infant Jesus - WGA19304.jpg

Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus…”

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We have two Feast Days coming up.  One is major and one is minor.  But the “minor” festival is the far better-known of the two.  (And celebrated more, usually with lots o’ beer…)

That is, March 19, 2015, is the Feast Day for St. Joseph.  That’s the Major Feast Day coming up, but it’s way overshadowed by St. Patrick’s Day, today, March 17.   I figure there’s some kind of object lesson in all of this, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet.

According to Apostles, Major Saints and Feast Days, St. Joseph is third on the list of important figures who have Feast days.  (He comes in third only to Christ the King and Mary.)  St. Patrick on the other hand didn’t even make that list.  But again, his Feast Day far overshadows that of “St. Joe.”  (Who might be called at least the lesser of the two father figures of Jesus:)

Christian tradition places Joseph as Jesus‘ foster father [but] represents Mary as a widow during the adult ministry of her son.  Joseph is not mentioned [at] the Wedding at Cana at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, nor at the Passion at the end.  If he had been present at the Crucifixion, he would under Jewish custom have been expected to take charge of Jesus’ body, but this role is instead performed by Joseph of Arimathea.  Nor would Jesus have entrusted his mother to the care of John the Apostle if her husband was alive.   (E.A.)

Saint Joseph – Wikipedia, which added that Joseph is venerated as a saint by many, including the CatholicAnglican, and Methodist faiths.  In some traditions he is the patron saint of workers.  And, with “the growth of Mariology, the theological field of Josephology has also grown and since the 1950s centres for studying it have been formed.”

See also St. Joseph – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online, which added that he is also patron saint of the dying.”  That’s because, “assuming he died before Jesus’ public life, he died with Jesus and Mary close to him, the way we all would like to leave this earth.”  And finally, this:

The Bible pays Joseph the highest compliment: he was a “just” man…   By saying Joseph was “just,” the Bible means that he was one who was completely open to all that God wanted to do for him. He became holy by opening himself totally to God.

That’s from St. Joseph, Husband of Mary | Saint of the Day.  (And points the way for all of us.)

The full readings for the Feast Day can be found at St. Joseph.  They are:  2 Samuel 7:4,8-16, Psalm 89 (or portions thereof), Romans 4:13-18, and Luke 2:41-52.

Now about St. Patrick.  We don’t know when he was born, but he is said to have died on March 17, now celebrated as his Feast Day.  In Irish his name would be Padraig.  That’s often shortened to “Paddy,” and is seen as a derogatory term for Irish men.  See Saint Patrick – Wikipedia, and also The Free Dictionary.   That in turn  gave rise to the “Paddy wagon:”

The name came from the New York Draft riots of 1863.  The Irish at the time were the poorest people in the city.  When the draft was implemented it had a provision for wealthier people to buy a waiver.  The Irish rioted, and the term Paddy wagon was coined.

Urban Dictionary: paddy wagon, about the “police vehicle used to transport prisoners.”

But we digress!!!

According to legend, St. Patrick was born in Britain but at 16 was captured by Irish pirates.  He was taken as a slave back to Ireland, and lived there for six years before escaping.   He got back to his family, then studied became a cleric, and in the fullness of time returned to Ireland.

Legend further says Patrick used the native shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity to the Irish.  And finally, legend says Patrick “banished all snakes from Ireland,” though there’s debate whether snakes were there in the first place.  An alternate theory: the “snakes” referred to the “serpent symbolism of the Druids.” (Wikipedia.)

See also St. Patrick | Saint of the Day |

He suffered much opposition from pagan druids and was criticized in both England and Ireland for the way he conducted his mission.  In a relatively short time, the island had experienced deeply the Christian spirit, and was prepared to send out missionaries whose efforts were greatly responsible for Christianizing Europe. (E.A.)

See also, How the Irish Saved Civilization.  That book argued that the Irish played a “critical role in preserving Western Civilization from utter destruction by the Huns and the Germanic tribes” after the Roman Empire collapsed.  (Those Germanic tribes included Angles and Saxons and Jutes Oh my!)   The book told the story of the “pivotal role” played by members of the Irish clergy in preserving Western civilization, with a “particular focus” on St. Patrick.

How the Irish Saved Civilization.jpgOr as Kenneth Clark put it, “In so far as we are the heirs of Greece and Rome” – after the collapse of the Roman Empire about 500 A.D. – “we got through by the skin of our teeth.”  We were saved in large part by a “group of monks huddled off the coast of Ireland.”

(There they were safe from the rampaging Vandals, Huns and other barbarians from the east.)

Now about that celebration.  See How America Invented St. Patrick’s Day | TIME, which began:   “Immigration and nativism transformed a quiet religious celebration into a day of raucous parades and shamrock shakes.”  That transformation began in America.

In Ireland – up until about 1904 – March 17 was a “quiet day with no parades or public events.”

The first recorded public American celebration came in Boston in 1737.  Around 1766, Irish soldiers in the British Army stationed in New York started holding a parade to honor “the Irish saint” that day.  Then came the end of the Civil War and more and more Irish immigrants:

Facing nativist detractors who characterized them as drunken, violent, criminalized, and diseased, Irish-Americans were looking for ways to display their civic pride and the strength of their identity…    Irish-Americans celebrated their Catholicism and patron saint … but they also stressed their patriotic belief in their new home.  In essence, St. Patrick’s Day was a public declaration of a hybrid identity [including] a strict adherence to the values and liberties that the U.S. offered them.

(See also Anti-Irish sentiment – Wikipedia.) By the 1890s, St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated not only in cities with large Irish populations; Boston, Chicago, and New York. It was also celebrated in cities like New Orleans, San Francisco, and Savannah. The tradition “grew across the U.S. and became a day that was also celebrated by people with no Irish heritage.  By the 20th century, it was so ubiquitous that St. Patrick’s Day became a marketing bonanza.”  (There’s probably a lesson there too…)

The TIME article ended with this:

The holiday also spread by becoming a means for all Americans to become Irish for the day. The shared sense of being Irish, of wearing green and in some way marking March 17, has resulted in St. Patrick’s Day being observed in a similar fashion to July Fourth or Halloween.  It’s the closest thing in America to National Immigrant Day, a tribute not only to the Irish, but to the idea that Americans are all part “other.” (E.A.)

See also St. Patrick’s Day – Facts, Pictures, Meaning & Videos, and St Patrick’s Day 2015: From London to Uganda – the 10 best Irish pubs outside Ireland.  (An FYI:  the list of best Irish pubs includes The Irish Haven in Brooklyn and Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in New Orleans.)

So Here’s to You, St. Joseph, patron saint of all workers and of the dying.

And Here’s to You, St. Patrick, who – among other things – helped to save Western Civilization from those barbarians, including the Angles and Saxons and Jutes.  (Oh my!)

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The upper image is courtesy of Saint Joseph – Wikipedia, which also noted that the “Pauline epistles make no reference to Jesus’ father; nor does the Gospel of Mark.”  The caption for the painting:  “Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus, Guido Reni (c. 1635).”

The lower image is St. Joseph and the Christ Child, courtesy of El Greco –  See also, On art history: El Greco’s Sensibility: A Painting of Saint Joseph:

Saint Joseph and Christ Child [the one by El Greco] is one of the first Western paintings in which Saint Joseph is the principal protagonist.  We see his enormous figure in the first plan, shown as a walker, and as a figure of trust and protection to the Child Jesus, who embraces the waist of His Father.  [He is] presented as a young man with a crook in his right hand, shows his paternal love toward Jesus, and is crowned by the three [angels] in the [upper] part of the painting.  These angels in full movement bear lilies, which symbolize the purity, and laurel and roses, symbols of triumph and love respectively.  Here we see that the agitated postures of the angels contrast the calmness of the group of St. Joseph and the Infant Christ.  Behind them, a view of Toledo is included.

Re:  the “skin of our teeth,” and/or the Irish saving Western civilization.  See  Civilisation (TV series) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and CIVILIZATION by KENNETH CLARK – Culturism.

One final note, the phrase Here’s to You is generally translated, Bottoms Up, “an expression said as a toast when people are drinking together.”  

Jeremiah weeping and Jesus’ “stoning”

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem…”


Friday, March 13, 2015 – The last time I did background and color commentary on Daily Office Readings (DORs) was on February 20.  That post was The True Test of Faith.  It talked about how two different Christians might react if they died, and only then found out that there was no God, no afterlife and no “reward for being good.”

This post will start off with today’s readings:  Jeremiah 11:1-8,14-20; Romans 6:1-11; and John 8:33-47.  For starters,  Jeremiah was known as “the Weeping Prophet,” as shown above.

He is also credited with writing “the Book of Jeremiah, 1 Kings, 2 Kings and the Book of Lamentations.”  He is considered a major prophet, quoted often in the New Testament.  It has been said that he first “spiritualized and individualized religion and insisted upon the primacy of the individual’s relationship with God.”  (As opposed to having to belong to a special group.)

Of particular interest is Jeremiah 11:19, “I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter,” a victim of those who “plotted against me.”  The International Bible Commentary added this:

In the plot by relatives and neighbors to kill him Jeremiah prefigures Christ who said that a prophet has no honor in his own country and that a man’s foes shall be those of his own household.  (Matthew 10:36 .)

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the “longest of the Pauline epistles and is considered his ‘most important theological legacy.'”  One scholar considered it his masterpiece:

It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages…   Not all climbers have taken the same route up its sheer sides, and there is frequent disagreement on the best approach.  What nobody doubts is that we are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision.  (E.A.)

For today, Romans 6:1-11 spoke of “Dying and Rising with Christ.”  The IBC said of Romans 6:1-14, that it is “easier to consider the passage as a whole rather than verse by verse.”   Paul wrote in part that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.”  The gist of the message is that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, by following him “we too might walk in newness of life.”  The IBC added this about the new (reborn) Christian:

When he is incorporated into Christ on profession of faith, he is given a personal share in the great events of Christ’s work and transferred from his old existence to a new plane of life.

He is “incorporated,” and given a share in the work of Jesus, including performing greater miracles than He did.  (John 14:12.)  The new Christian is thus brought to a new plane of life.

Turning to the Gospel, John 8:33-47 tells about Jesus describing the “true children of Abraham.”  John 8:31 noted that Jesus addressed “the Jews who had believed him.”  He said if they held to His word, they would know the truth “and the truth will set you free.”  One of the best-known verses in the Bible, but not without controversy.   See The Truth Will Set You Free | Psychology Today (August 2014), compared to The Truth Will Not Set You Free | Psychology Today (May 2012).

The main reading features some arguable witty banter between Jesus and those who “had believed him,” mostly concerning their kinship to Abraham.  The banter culminated with John 8:58, featured in the Gospel reading for tomorrow, March 14.  That’s where Jesus said, “before Abraham was born, I am!”  In turn, “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”  (See also Stoning – Wikipedia.)

Note that in saying “before Abraham was born, I am” (emphasis added), Jesus was harking back to Exodus 3:14.  That was just after Moses had seen the Burning bush, and been told to go back to Egypt to free the Hebrew slaves.  When Moses asked God’s name – knowing the Hebrews would ask that question of him – “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

This then was why Jesus kept getting threatened with stoning.  See  John 5:18, “not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”  See also Leviticus 24:16, “anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD is to be put to death.  The entire assembly must stone them.  Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.

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On a somewhat related note, the New Testament reading for last Friday, March 6 was Romans 2:25-3:18.  A key theme there seemed to be that you aren’t saved by observing the “minutiae” of religious ritual, no matter what the Legalists and/or Fundamentalists say.  See also On “another brick in the wall.”  The International Bible Commentary said this about Romans 2:25-29:

The hearers of God without God may be compared to a traveller who remains standing under the signpost instead of moving in the direction to which it directs him.  The signpost has become meaningless…   Being a “Jew” depends not upon rite, race, or written code, but upon an attitude of heart.

The IBC cited Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4, and Acts 7:51 for that proposition.  See also the Pulpit Commentary for Acts 7:51, regarding circumcision as an “outward sign of faith:”

Circumcision was never meant to be an end in itself.  The physical mark was meant to be accompanied by a deep spiritual commitment to God.  Where commitment was absent, circumcision soon degenerated into ritualism.  (E.A.)

See also Romans 2:17-29 |   See also the Gospel reading for Saturday February 28, John 4:24“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

That’s what this blog is about.  Trying to get beyond the literal meaning of the Bible, and get to those richer, deeper spiritual meaning of those readings…




The upper image is courtesy of Jeremiah – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption reads:  “Rembrandt van Rijn, Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, c. 1630.”

The lower image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article Zechariah ben Jehoiada, contained within the article on Stoning.  Zechariah was the prophet “who denounced the people’s disobedience to the commandments,” as noted in 2 Chronicles 24:21 (See also Matthew 23:35.)  The caption reads: “The Murder of Zechariah by William Brassey Hole.”


On St. Michael’s – Tybee Island

St. Michael, “reaching out to souls in purgatory…


March 11, 2015  –  Back on August 10th I did a post on St. Michael and All Angels.   It was about an Episcopal church  –  “Saint Michael and All Angels”  –  that Mi Dulce and I passed on the way out of Stone Mountain.  (That’s a park east of Atlanta.)

Which led to a question, “Who the heck is this St. Michael guy?

There’s more on St. Michael below.  But first let me say that last Sunday, March 8, “we” attended the 11:00 a.m. service at St. Michael Catholic Church on Tybee Island.  (An island on the coast of Georgia east of Savannah.  The Episcopal Church around the corner had a service at 10:00 a.m., but that was actually 9:00 thanks to the time change, so it was way too early…)

The sanctuary itself was nice and cozy, and the Bible readings were the same as those described in The “Big Ten” and Jesus with a whip.  That is, “Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, and John 2:13-22.  For the full readings see the Third Sunday in Lent.”  (The Catholic Church and Episcopal Church share the same Revised Common Lectionary.)

St. Michael’s has been on Tybee since July 5, 1891, as noted in the Morning News:

Tybee’s Roman Catholic chapel was dedicated yesterday morning (July 5, 1891) by Bishop Thomas A. Becker…  Bishop Becker named the chapel after St. Michael the Archangel, who is known as the rule[r] of the waves.  The name is peculiarly appropriate on account of the chapel being at the seaside.  The 9:30 o’clock train carried down about 200 people to attend the services, and they, together with Tybee residents, filled the little church to overflowing.

See St. Michael, under “About Us” and the parish history.  The history noted that the church on the beach cost the then-whopping sum of $2,000 to build.

Now, about Tybee Island.  It’s a small island and a small city east of Savannah, and the easternmost point in the state of Georgia.  Long known as a “quiet getaway for the residents of Savannah,” it has recently become equally popular for other tourists as well:

It is one of the few locations where the U.S. Air Force dropped an atomic bomb – by accident (during a botched 1958 military training exercise).  Though the “Tybee Bomb” did not detonate … there has been ongoing concern, since the Mark 15 nuclear bomb lost during the mishap was never found…  [On a lighter note,] Tybee Island has had an annual Beach Bum parade … down the main road in Tybee, Butler Avenue, and when parade floats come by onlookers have been known to shoot each other with water-guns.

See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   There’s also The Breakfast Club, a “legendary” way to start a bright Sunday morning, before going to mass at St. Michael’s.  (Just be sure to get there before the line starts forming outside the front door.)

But we digress…

For more about the original St. Michael, see the Book of Revelation at 12:7-10:

[T]here was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.  And prevailed not…   [T]he great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.   And I heard a loud voice saying … the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

Note that both the Hebrew and Greek words “Satan” (“Satanas” in Greek) translate as “an adversary,” while the root word for devil is “diabolos,” which is Greek for “slanderer.”

Or see Michael (archangel) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which included this:

Michael ([which translates] “who is like God?” … ) is an archangel in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings.  Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans refer to him as “Saint Michael the Archangel” and also as “Saint Michael. . .”   In the New Testament Michael leads God’s armies against Satan‘s forces in the Book of Revelation, where during the war in heaven he defeats Satan.

Also, St. Michael has a Feast Day – called Michaelmas Day – on September 29.

I’ve included two images of St. Michael.  The one below shows him “trampling Satan.”  The upper image shows him in another of his jobs, “reaching out to souls in purgatory.”  That means he might end up being the archangel who saves my own spiritual butt.

On the other hand, there is that part of the Book of Common Prayer which calls the idea a “Romish doctrine.”  But for myself I say, “Hey, I’ll take all the help I can get!



The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on St. Michael.  The full caption: “Archangel Michael reaching to save souls in purgatory, by Jacopo Vignali, 17th century.”

Dulce is Spanish for “Sweet,” or in the alternative Mi Dulce or “My Sweet.”   (See also the posts On “St. James the Greater”, and On the “Infinite Frog.”)

As to the definitions of Satan and/or the “Slanderer,” see the New International Dictionary of the Bible, Regency Reference Library, 1987, Page 899.

Re:  “shared lectionary.”  Wikipedia noted, “This lectionary was derived from various Protestant lectionaries in current use, which in turn were based on the 1969 Ordo Lectionum Missae, a three-year lectionary produced by the Roman Catholic Church following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”

The lower image is also courtesy of the Wikipedia article, with the full caption: “Guido Reni‘s painting in Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636 is also reproduced in mosaic at the St. Michael Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican.”

For more information, see the notes for On “St. Michael and All Angels.”



On “I pity the fool!”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who first said – in essence – “I pity the fool!

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March 10, 2015 – That full quote would be (from Emerson),  “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope, even at the advance stage of his life.” (Or “words to that effect.”)

Which is another way of saying that this follows up my review of Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.  And that’s another way of saying that my brother reviewed the last post that I did on our eight-day canoe trip back in November. (See it at Part II of the post On achieving closure.)

One conclusion was that I’d given undue credence to “the ‘pat-pat’ people of the world.” Which was another version of a quote that actually did come from Emerson, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist…

Up to speed:  My brother and I did an 8-day canoe trip, starting west of the Rigolets between Lake Ponchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico.  We paddled 12 miles out into the Gulf and camped on places like Half-moon Island and Ship Island. (And an occasional salt marsh.)

We ended up in Biloxi under less-than-happy circumstances. (Picked up by a Biloxi Marine Patrol boat due to “inclement weather.”)  So, my Part II review was on me trying to “achieve closure” back in February.  (I wanted to bring the trip to a de jure happy ending, if not a de facto happy ending.) Back to my brother’s analysis:

Read your blog on the trip and I think there is one point where you give [undue] credence to the view of the “pat-pat” people of the world.  The issue is the idea that only people, “not in their right minds,” would go to places (or do things) that are unique experiences  –  ones that most others never have.  In my mind, this is exactly what people in their right mind should be doing.  I pity those who don’t.

I agreed with him about the “pat-pat” people, bu the exchange reminded me of Mr. T and his famous phrase. (Here, an imagined quote from Emerson, and below in the more familiar form.) To me the phrase “pity the fool” reflected my true feelings about stay-at-home milquetoasts who would ask, “Why would anyone want to do that?” (As in, “Why would anyone want to take an eight-day primitive-camping canoe trip 12 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico?“) For that matter, why would anyone kayak an hour out into the Gulf of Mexico, just to achieve closure?

I talked about that in Part II. “Last February 8, I drove down to Biloxi, where our eight-day canoe trip ended some three months before. I’d packed my 8-foot kayak in back of my Ford Escape. I got a motel on the beach, and next  morning set off in the pre-dawn darkness. (I wanted to close the gap between how we wanted the canoe-trip to end, and how it actually ended.)”

I described that dark morning of February 9,  with my “nagging feeling, setting out in the complete darkness, of either going off the edge of the world or being eaten by sharks.” Then came this:

Every once in a while I’d pause, turn off my stop-watch and just enjoy the feeling “of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.” I imagine the explorers back in the olden days had something of the same feeling.

The truth is that I was very happy on that February 9 morning, paddling out from Biloxi Beach, even in the complete darkness. It was peaceful and the sunrise later on was “to die for.”  And – every once in a while, especially when I reached the turn-back point –  I’d stop paddling, enjoy the ambience and say to myself, “This is what it’s all about.”

Robert Louis Stevenson Knox Series.jpgWhich brings up some things Robert Louis Stevenson – shown at right – said in his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.   (See also On donkey travel – and sluts.) My true feelings about such a strenuous pilgrimage – even at the advanced age of 63 – reflected pretty much was Stevenson said in Travels with a Donkey, and what John Steinbeck said in Travels with Charley.

Stevenson’s book recounted a “12-day, 120-mile solo hiking journey through the sparsely populated and impoverished areas of the Cévennes mountains in south-central France in 1878.” The book – “a pioneering classic of outdoor literature” – is said to be the basis for Travels with Charley.

So, at the end of my first review we left Stevenson at page 50 of the 197 pages of his Travels.  He’d just run across a “pair of impudent sly sluts, with not a thought but mischief.”  (Young girls about 12 from a village of people “but little disposed to counsel a wayfarer.”) Stevenson had to grope in the dark for a campsite; “the scene of my encampment was not only black as a pit, but admirably sheltered.”  He ate a crude dinner – a “tin of bologna” and some cake, washed down by brandy – then settled in for the night.  “The wind among the trees was my lullaby.”

But he woke in the morning “surprised to find how easy and pleasant it had been,” sleeping in the open, “even in this tempestuous weather.” He then waxed poetic:

I had been after an adventure all my life, a pure dispassionate adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers; and thus to be found by morning in a random nook in Gevaudan – not knowing north from south, as strange to my surroundings as the first man upon the earth, an inland castaway – was to find a fraction of my day-dreams realized.

(Pages 50-56, “Upper Gevaudan.”) Stevenson said pretty much the same thing I said in Part II: The dawn and sunrise was “to die for,” and that he too enjoyed the “ambience.” He experienced something that the less-adventurous – then and now – don’t know they’re missing. Something of the feelings explorers back in the olden days had. (Those “early and heroic voyagers…”) On page 64 Stevenson expanded on that thought:

Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for.  To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind.  And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

Indeed, “who can annoy himself about the future” when immersed in the exacting task of holding a pack atop a stubborn mule and facing a “gale out of the freezing north?”   (Or for that matter, “immersed” in paddling for hours on end, 12 miles offshore, at the mercy of the elements, with the day’s end promising nothing but a warm meal on a soggy beach, or salt marsh.  Which actually turned out to be quite rewarding…)

That’s the nature of pilgrimages. They give us a break from Real Life, from the rat race of so many today.  Which I noted in St. James the Greater. That post quoted a pilgrimage as “ritual on the move.” That through the raw experience of hunger, cold and lack of sleep, “we can quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings, especially when compared with ‘the majesty and permanence of God.'”  In short, a pilgrimage can be “‘one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating’ of personal experiences.”

It’s hard to get that across to those who would ask, “Why would anyone want to do that?”   That’s where the “pity the fool” part comes in.  And that reminded of what Ralph Waldo Emerson said:  “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist…” See Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and/or Ralph Waldo Emerson – Wikipedia.  Also Paragraphs 1-17 – CliffsNotes, a review of Emerson’s Self-Reliance:

Emerson begins his major work on individualism by asserting the importance of thinking for oneself rather than meekly accepting other people’s ideas…   The person who scorns personal intuition and, instead, chooses to rely on others’ opinions lacks the creative power necessary for robust, bold individualism.

John Steinbeck said it more diplomatically. He began Part Two of Travels by noting many men his age – told to slow down –  who “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.” (They “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”)  That wasn’t his way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

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The upper image is courtesy of Ralph Waldo Emerson – Wikipedia.

The original post had a lower image is courtesy of www.jacobswell … pity-the-fool/: the “Jacob’s Well” blog, based in Memphis, Tennessee.  Jacob’s Well is “a place where people come together from different racial, economic, and cultural backgrounds to grow in the gospel and work together to overcome racism, addiction, and poverty.”  Further:

People who are hurting throughout our city have been turned off by religion and religious people.  Jacob’s Well is opening up the doors of a church, but offering a different experience.  Those living in poverty have received handouts for years, yet the conditions in our city have only grown worse.  At the same time, many enfranchised families desire to alleviate poverty in Memphis yet don’t know anyone personally who is poor.  Memphis is thirsty; the living water of Jacob’s Well is plentiful.  What better place than here?  What better time than now?

Emphasis added.  The upshot is that the blogger in Memphis seems to be a “kindred spirit.”  He’s trying to undo some of the same damage I am, by reaching out to those “turned off by religion and religious people.”  (Though I would add, “so-called religious people.”)  For further reading you can Google “faith in action,” with or without “definition” added.  See also James 2:14.  From there click on the blue “forward” icon to James 2:17.   (You just need to take care to avoid the temptation to think that you can “buy your way into heaven” or otherwise “grease the skids.”)

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The “Big Ten” and Jesus with a whip

From this Sunday’s Old Testament reading, Exodus 20:1-17…


The Bible readings for Sunday, March 8, are Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, and John 2:13-22.   For the full readings see the Third Sunday in Lent.  Here are some highlights.

In Exodus 20:1-17, Moses set out the Ten Commandments the first time.  (He did a second edition in Deuteronomy.  I.e.,  the “Ten Commandments appear twice in the Hebrew Bible, first at Exodus 20:1-17, and then at Deuteronomy 5:4-21.”)  See Ten Commandments – Wikipedia:

The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the sabbath;  as well as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, dishonesty, and adultery.

I wrote about the Ten Commandments in “Exodus: G&K,” the movie, On arguing with God, and On Moses and “illeism.”  The latter post asked the musical question, “What did Moses know, and when did he know it?”  (Alluding to a similar question asked during the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story altogether…)  That post also discussed illeism, the practice of “referring to oneself in the third person instead of first person.”

And just as an aside, such illeism has been used as a a stylistic device in literature:

Julius Caesar used the device in his Commentaries about the Gallic Wars, while Xenophon of Athens – from whom the term xenophobia derives – used it in Anabasis, “‘one of the great adventures in human history…'”

See On Moses, which noted that he used that same style in writing the Torah.

Turning to Psalm 19, I talked about it in The Psalms up to December 7.  I noted that Psalm 19 is “widely considered to be a ‘masterpiece of poetic literature,'” and that C. S. Lewis  –  who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia  –  considered it to be “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”  See also Psalm 19 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Verse 12 asks, “Who can tell how often he offends?  Cleanse me from my secret faults.”  I addressed that subject – “secret” or unknown sins – in On Ecclesiasticus (NOT “Ecclesiastes”), which cited Ecclesiasticus 5:5:  “Do not be so sure of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.”  The post also discussed “Holier than thou”, along with self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

See Psalms to December 7.   And now, turning to the New Testament reading…

The Apostle Paul began his 1st Letter to the Corinthians 1:18-25, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” He then rendered what the International Bible Commentary called a “very free rendering of the LXX [Septuagint] translation” of Isaiah 29:14, to wit:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”  (See also 1st Corinthians 1:19 Parallel.)

Paul ended the reading by noting that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The Gospel reading, John 2:13-22, tells about Jesus cleansing the temple, after arming Himself with a whip of cords.  This episode is “in all four canonical gospels of the New Testament:”

The narrative of the “Cleansing of the Temple” tells of Jesus and the money changers…  In this Gospel episode Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem for Passover, where he expels the money changers from the Temple, accusing them of turning the Temple into a den of thieves through their commercial activities. In the Gospel of John Jesus refers to the Temple as “my Father’s house…”  Some Christians think this is the only account of Jesus using physical force in any of the Gospels.

After the incident the disciples remembered Psalm 69:10, “Zeal for your house has eaten me up,” as detailed in On the psalms up to September 28.  The reading ended with Jesus promising to “raise this temple” in three days.  The “powers that be” thought that He was talking about the actual, physical Temple in Jerusalem, “but He was speaking of the temple of his body.”



The upper image is courtesy of The Ten Commandments (1956 film) – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The artist’s rendering of Charlton Heston as Moses was bulked up to modern physique standards when the DVD was released.”

The lower image is courtesy of Cleansing of the Temple – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, London version, by El Greco.”


Reflections on Volume 3







(I just published Volume 3 of my collection of blog-posts.  It begins like this:)


In the 15th and 16th centuries, superstitious people might have warned an explorer, sailing west from Europe, that he was doomed to fall off the edge of the world.  At the very least, they might have said, the explorer and his sailors would suffer horribly and never be seen again…   For all the grim warnings, nobody could have predicted that the explorers would not sail off the edge of the known world, but into an entirely new one. (E.A.)

Track 1, Disc 1, The Modern Scholar: Journeys of the Great Explorers.


That’s what this blog is all about.   Finding that entirely new world

I’m not saying that the Bible is just another set of superstitions, or a handbook on methods of social control.  And I’m not saying that after you read the Bible, you’re supposed to shape yourself into another “carbon copy Christian.”  (Or “just another brick in the wall.”)

There are a lot of people who seem to use the Bible for just those reasons, but I’m not one of them.  I see the Bible more as a tool of liberation.  I see the Bible as a “pair of spiritual wings.”  (See Isaiah 40:31.)  It’s a set of spiritual wings that can take you to wonderful places and experiences that you’ve never dreamed of.

So the idea behind this blog is:  Reading the Bible can lead you into that Whole New World.

Or as I said in the Intro page, you might consider the Bible as a vast, unexplored, new continent.   Just like the one Lewis and Clark opened up, starting in May 1804.

*   *   *   *

As noted, I just published Volume 3 of my collection.   (To order a copy, see For a book.)

Now, about the image above.  I got it – and the “15th century” text – from The Blog.  That page talked about blogs in general, including a citation to Blogging For Dummies.  “BFD” said that at its most-basic level, “a blog is a chronologically ordered ordered series of website updates, written and organized much like a traditional diary.” (Emphasis added.)

This blog – my own diary – has grown and expanded since May 2014, when I first started.  It’s been a learning experience, but that’s not surprising.  After all, the Bible is “the most influential, the most published, the most widely read book in the history of the world…”

I published Volume 2 of this book-collection of blog-posts back on August 16, 2014.   Volume 1 included my first 13 posts, up to and including On “Titanic” and suspending disbeliefVolume 2 began with On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?   It went on for a total of 12 posts and ended with On “Patton,” Sunday School teacher and On the readings for June 1, subtitled “On liberally interpreting ‘Sabbath day’s journey’.”

Since publishing Volume 2 last August, a lot has happened.  For one thing I’ve clarified that long-sought “true test of faith” that I’ve been looking for.  Under that true test of faith, even if I get to the end of my life and find out that my faith is based on a hoax, it won’t matter.

Unlike the false Christian, I hope I wouldn’t be outraged.  I wouldn’t say, “You mean I could have spent my life partying?  Boozing it up?  Chasing women?  Boy am I angry…”   I hope to say – if I learn my faith is some kind of cosmic practical joke –  “You know, I wouldn’t change a thing.”  (See also Why I’d Still Believe In God Even if the Bible was a Fairytale.)

I wrote about that “wouldn’t change a thing” revelation in the post-column, Ash Wednesday and a True Test of Faith, posted on February 20.  In turn, I wrote that column in response to a reader comment on Oscar Wilde and Psalm 130.

One reader – “Harpo” – quoted Oscar Wilde:  “People fashion their God after their own understanding.  They make their God first and worship him afterwards.”  Harpo went on to say there are “thousands and thousands of Gods, and nearly as many religions.”  He then said the fact that “an adult would continue to hold on to this last childhood fable [God] when there is no more evidence [of God’s] existence than the other [fairy tales], bewilders the thoughtful and scientific mind.”    I responded, in pertinent part:

I agree that there are way too many so-called Christians who use the Bible and their faith as an excuse to close their minds…  I’m working on a new post, “The true test of faith” (or some title to that effect).  The punch-line will be how two different Christians might respond if they died and found out – as you say – that there is no God and no after-life.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. . .

*   *   *   *

As noted, I ended Volume 2 with a post on a liberal interpretation of the term “Sabbath day’s journey.”  That is, I noted that “from the time of Joshua to the time of Jesus, the distance a devout Hebrew could travel on the Sabbath was gradually and continually expanded.”  See The readings for June 1.  I wrote that to counter the idea you must read the Bible conservatively.

I began Volume 3 with On Jesus in Hell


Continued in Reflections on Volume 3 – Part II


File:Christ's Descent into Limbo by Dürer .png

The upper image is courtesy of, a blog where the blog-bio notes:  “I am the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Medford, Oregon.  I believe that faith should be able to sustain us, not oppress us.”  (Emphasis added.)

The lower image is “Christ’s Descent into Limbo, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer (circa 1510),” courtesy of  Christ’s Descent into Limbo by Dürer – Wikimedia.

A  full citation:  Aladdin – A Whole New World (HQ 1080p HD) – YouTube.

Re: “Social control.”  See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which added that the term is defined as “the regulation of individual and group behavior in an attempt to gain conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group.”

A full cite: Lewis and Clark Expedition – WikipediaSee also National Geographic: Lewis & Clark:

When Thomas Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark to find a water route across North America and explore the uncharted West, he expected they’d encounter woolly mammoths, erupting volcanoes, and a mountain of pure salt.  What they found was no less surprising.

Reflections on Volume 3 – Part II

Imagine if Moses had told the whole truth about that “big bright round thing in the sky…”



As noted in “Part I,” I ended Volume 2 with a post on a liberal interpretation of “Sabbath day’s journey.”   I began Volume 3 with a discussion of Jesus in Hell.  (For the rest of the story about the painting above – of Moses getting stoned – see the notes below.)

That column – about Jesus in Hell – discussed the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell.   It also spoke of the Bible as a rich source of universal “stories, themes, metaphors, and characterizations.”  That is, the Bible contains a number of “literary forms and genres,” including “poetry, narratives, epistles, proverbs, parables, satire, and visionary writing.”

All of which – I argued – provides yet another reason for studying the Bible.  “To find grist for becoming a better, more-productive and more fascinating artist or member of the “Literati.

Another note:  In reading this blog you need to keep in mind that to most reasonable people the Bible is not a history book in the modern sense.  For one thing, “its writers lacked the benefit of modern archaeological techniques, did not have our concept of dating and documentation, and had different standards of what was and not significant in history.” (Asimov, 8)

Then too it’s important to keep in mind that the guys who wrote the Bible had to focus on their immediate, primary audience.  For Moses – writing the first five books or Torah – that meant his fellow Hebrews who had far less education than he did.  In turn that meant Moses had to write very carefully, mostly so his main audience would listen to him in the first place.  But he also didn’t want to get burned at the stake for heresy, or tarred and feathered.

Which led to a question: How would those primitive, backward Hebrews have reacted to Moses telling them things we now take for granted?  How would they have reacted to being told:

“You see that big bright round thing in the sky?  The thing that disappears when it gets dark, to be replaced by a smaller not-so-bright round thing?  Well, it looks like it revolves around us, but really, we live on this other big round thing, which is hurtling though space, and our big round thing actually revolves around that other Big Bright Round Thing In The Sky, not the other way around like we’ve been thinking all these years…”

The chances are good that if Moses had said that to his fellow Hebrews – primitive, backward and ignorant as they were at the time – he would have ended up either burned at the stake or tarred and feathered.  (Or maybe both.)

(See for one example, Exodus 17:4, where Moses said to God, “What am I to do with these people?  They are almost ready to stone me.”)

The point is this:  When Moses first told his Story of Creation to his fellow Hebrews, he had to use language and concepts that his “relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience” could understand.  In other words, Moses’ ability to “tell the story he wanted was limited to his audience’s ability to comprehend.”  (See The readings for June 15 – Part I.)

Which is appropriate, because that’s the same problem God has when He tries to communicate with us.  (Or, the problem we have in trying to communicate with Him.)  See e.g. Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

(TLB, emphasis added.)  See also John 3:12, where Jesus said, “if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

All of which is a good reason why I say, “You’re only cheating yourself if you read the Bible in a too-strict, too-narrow, or too-fundamental way.”   You risk creating God in the image of you, not the other way around.  See for example, Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 5:1.   (And by the way, maybe that’s what Oscar Wilde was talking about when he said that people “fashion their God after their own understanding.”  Maybe he just recognized that it’s an ongoing problem…)

And there’s another ongoing problem to keep in mind as you read the Bible, or this blog.  The idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun was never “contrary to Scripture.”   It was only contrary to a too-conservative, too-literal interpretation of that Scripture…



The upper image is courtesy of Stoning – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “The Punishment of Korah and the Stoning of Moses and Aaron (1480–1482), by Sandro Botticelli, Sistine Chapel, Rome.”  See also Heresy – WikipediaThe “stoning” article said this of the painting:

The painting … tells of a rebellion by the Hebrews against Moses and Aaron.  On the right the rebels attempt to stone Moses after becoming disenchanted by their trials on their emigration from Egypt.  Joshua has placed himself between the rebels and Moses, protecting him from the stoning

Which raises anew the question:  “What would those backward, ignorant, sons-of-the-desert have done to Moses if he’d told them the truth about that ‘big bright round thing in the sky?'”

For one possible answer, consider the lower image – Cristiano Banti‘s 1857 painting Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition” – courtesy of the article, Heresy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Galileo Galilei was brought before the Inquisition for heresy, but abjured his views and was sentenced to house arrest, under which he spent the rest of his life. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.  He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions. (E.A.)

Re: Genesis 1:27Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary added that “It is the soul of man that especially bears God’s image.”  (E.A.)  The complete citations: Genesis 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, and Genesis 5:1 This is the written account of Adam’s family.

See also Genesis creation narrative – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quote – about the Bible not being a history book “in the modern sense” – is from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 7.  (The same page that noted the Bible was and is “the most influential, the most published, the most widely read book in the history of the world.”)   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.