Monthly Archives: February 2016

Moses, the Burning Bush, “et alia”

Moses and the Burning Bush – subject of next Sunday’s Old Testament Bible-reading…



The last time I reviewed the next-Sunday Bible readings was November 30, 2015.  (On Advent – 2015.)  But this next Sunday, February 28, 2016, I’ll be up front, serving as lay reader and chalicist.  (chalice is shown at left.)

Accordingly, it would behoove me to get familiar with those readings.

You can see the full readings at Third Sunday in Lent.

Those readings include:  1) Exodus 3:1-15 (on Moses and the Burning bush);  Psalm 63:1-9 (the psalm I call “Patton’s psalm … both humble and defiant”); and 1st Corinthians 10:1-13 (Paul’s “warning against idolatry.”)  They’re the ones I’ll be reading up front.

The Gospel – Luke 13:1-9 – will be read by “Father Paul.”

And a BTW:  The theme of that Gospel is “repent or perish.”  On the other hand, you could also say the Gospel is on a metaphoric “fig tree that bears no fruit.”  (And in turn you could say that ties in with the last post, on Conservative Christians content to stay “career buck privates.”)

Also incidentally,  et alia is Latin for “and others.” (As in, readings on Moses “and others.”) 

You can see the full Old Testament reading at Exodus 3:1-15.  For one interpretation, see Burning bush – Wikipedia, which said “the burning bush is the location at which Moses was appointed by Adonai (God) to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan.”

The article noted other interpretations, including that Moses “may have been under the influence of a hallucinogenic substance when he witnessed the burning bush.”

(Note also Mount Horeb – where Moses saw the Burning bush – is where he later “struck the rock” and got water, shown at right.)

And finally, the Burning bush article directed the reader to “see also” the article on Theophany.

For another take, see The great religious leaders, a 1958 book by Charles F. Potter (1885-1962).  Potter was a “Unitarian minister, theologian and author.”  In 1923-1924, he became “nationally known through a series of debates with Dr. John Roach Straton, a fundamentalist Christian.”

And for starters, Potter noted the “pre-Mosaic religion of the Hebrews was a mixture of animism and fetishism.” (43)  But that all started to change when Moses had his theophany, his experience with the burning bush. (37)  The upshot?  Moses got commissioned by God in Exodus 3:10:  “I am sending you to Pharaoh.  You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.

Or as Potter put it, he got the divine call to every prophet:   A “great wrong to be righted, a task to be done, and then a sudden blinding realization that the task is one’s own.” (43)

Potter noted several important factors about this theophany of Moses.  One was that in all such experiences, “the hearing of the prophet seems much more acute than his vision.” (38)  See also Exodus 3:6, “Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”

But perhaps more important:  A “new religion does well to build on the old.” (38)  And so, during his lengthy stay with his family – in exile, in Midian – Moses may have recalled some of the things he learned during the first part of his life, when he was a literal Prince of Egypt.

That is, he may have combined the “traditions of the fathers” with some things he learned as a “Prince of Egypt.”  In doing so he went on to forge a sense of collective self in the Children of Israel.  They became strong enough to go back and re-conquer their ancient Promised Land.

That is, Potter indicated that as such a Prince of Egypt, Moses was likely familiar with Akhenaten.  (Seen at left.)  He was the “heretic king” who had ruled Egypt a mere century before Moses. (36)

Briefly, Akhenaten introduced the idea of one God to Egypt – monotheism – but Egyptians just weren’t ready for that.  (They liked “traditional Egyptian polytheism.”  See Wikipedia.)

And so after his death the Egyptians abandoned Akhenaten‘s “new-fangled religion” and went back to their old ways.  But in the mind of Moses, Akhenaten‘s One God may have taken new form.

Recalling his suffering fellow Hebrews in Egypt, Moses may have thought this way:

The great gods of Egypt could not  be expected, of course, to help the Hebrews…  If only they had one great god to help them now!  Then Moses remembered the heretic [Akhenaten]…  [Perhaps] there was one great god, greater even than Aten.  Perhaps this unknown god had caused all things, even the sun, and really cared for suffering human beings, and would deliver the Hebrews from bondage and help them escape to some better land!

(36-37, emphasis in original.)  That was of course a nice thing to think about God.  (That “He” might redeem a nation of illiterate slaves.)  But then Moses realized this “new God” wanted him to do the “legwork.”  And so – not surprisingly – Moses protested his new assignment.  “Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'”

Among other concerns, Moses knew the great God of the Burning bush was not the “God of their fathers” to the Hebrews back in Egypt.  (Remember theiranimism and fetishism…”)

Moses also knew that this stubborn people – his fellow Hebrews who had not been “princes of Egypt” – would not “accept a totally new God.”  (Or a new religion.)  So he had to build on the past, as shown in Exodus 6:3.  There God told Moses,I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai – ‘God Almighty’ – but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them.

In other words, before Moses appeared, “God” had apparently only appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  (And then only as El Shaddai.)  It was not until the time after Moses that God appeared to the Children of Israel as Yahweh.  And so, after his “Burning bush experience,”  Moses went on to forge a new nation from a group of exiled, illiterate slaves:

Moses made the Hebrew tribes into a nation by giving them a God … but that God was not made de novo.  With [his] wisdom in dealing with men … Moses conveyed to his people the idea of one great personal God by using concepts already at hand…  His was the task of leading a people from animism to monotheism … and he did a piece of work which deserves admiration…  [T]o Moses belongs the glory of the pioneer.

(42-43)  And it all started with that “burning bush” experience.  Which is one big reason Potter said of Moses, “His burning bush still lights our world.” (61)

So as a result of all this, I have been able to both review next Sunday’s Bible readings, and continue work on My Lenten meditation.  (See also two birds with one stone.)

70 patton.jpgTurning to Psalm 63:1-9, I reviewed it in “Patton,” Sunday School teacher:

He cursed like a sailor and believed in reincarnation, but Patton was a devout Episcopalian, as shown in the film [Patton, a poster for which is seen at right] starring George C. Scott.  For example, Patton was at a low point in his career during World War II [and] was almost sent home in disgrace, but he found comfort in Psalm 63.

Turning to 1st Corinthians 10:1-13 (ESV), it includes a passage on Moses’ Children of Israel being “under the cloud,” passing through the sea, and “baptized into Moses.”  It also includes this passage, that “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful, and … with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

And finally,  Luke 13:1-9 includes the Parable of the barren fig tree.  Not to be confused with the parable of the cursing the fig tree in Matthew 21:18-22.  Though both parables have “very similar wording,” the Luke 13:6-9 parable is about a “fig tree which does not produce fruit.”

Which arguably brings us back to Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”



The upper image is courtesy of Moses and the Burning Bush painting Bourdon Sebastien.  See also Moses and the Burning Bush – Hermitage Museum, which said of the 1642-45 painting:

Bourdon’s work bears evident traces of his religious belief and the constant inner opposition of his Protestantism, which he was obliged to conceal, to the Catholic surroundings…  The shepherd Moses, who tended his flock on Mount Horeb, saw an angel in the burning bush. When he drew closer to have a better look and understand how the bush was aflame but not consumed, God called to him from the very centre of the flames and revealed His name to Moses, making him His chosen one.  The Lord instructed Moses to go to the Pharaoh and lead the oppressed sons of Israel out of Egypt.  Moses covered his face with his hands, since he was afraid to look upon God.

Re: “chalicist.”  See also Chalice – Wikipedia, which includes the image in the text.

The “Moses striking the rock” image is courtesy of Mount Horeb – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Moses Striking the Rock at Horeb, engraving by Gustave Doré from ‘La Sainte Bible,’ 1865.”

References to Potter’s The great religious leaders are from the 493-page Simon and Schuster edition (NY 1958).  The book is sub-titled “A revision and updating of ‘The Story of Religion‘ in light of recent discovery and research including the Qumran Scrolls.”  Story of Religion was published in 1929.

Pages 36-43.  Part of Chapter II, on Moses, “who discovered the personality of God.”  The subtitled portions included in the quoted material include:  the Meditations of Moses; the Theophany; the significance of the burning bush; sacred localities; sacred trees and shrubs; sacred lights; not consumed; Moses protests; “Changing Gods;” and “Early Hebrew Animism.”

On a related note, in writing about Zoroaster – at page 69 – Potter said:

It is impossible for any mystic to describe his own trance temperately and accurately.  There seem to be … two common elements in these calls which come to prophets.  They all speak of a great light or flame and they are all commissioned to preach.  Paul on the Damascus road or Moses by the burning bush or Zoroaster by the bank of the Daiti – brothers all.

(That “clunk” you heard may have been a Southern Baptist going into apoplexy.)

The lower image is courtesy of Parable of the barren fig tree – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Jan Luyken etching of the parable, Bowyer Bible.”

Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”

A drill sergeant posing before his company

An Army Drill Sergeant, ready to teach new recruits “the fundamentals of being a soldier…” 

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As noted in My Lenten meditation, I’m not giving up anything this 40 days of Lent.

Instead I plan to spend this time “contemplating on how and when” Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible.  (The Torah.)  But first, here’s a note about the “lead-in paragraphs.”

(The ones above “In the meantime.”)

Up to this point, those paragraphs have said the blog is about exploring “the mystical side of Bible reading.”  That’s an accurate statement, but a trifle vague.  On the other hand, help in curing that vagueness came to me in the form of some recent see Daily Office Readings.

Specifically, help came from one of the “gap readings,” between February 6 and 7.  That reading is 2d Timothy 2:3-4:

 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. (E.A.)

(Saint Timothy is shown at right, with his grandmother.)  On that note, see also On reading the Bible.   That’s a post I originally published in July 2014, but recently “tweaked.”  Near the end of the update, I took issue – again – with Biblical literalists.

Such literalism means “adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense” of the Bible.  But to me, “literalness” doesn’t give full effect to the Bible’s frequent use of metaphor and parable.  (See also On three suitors (a parable), on the “essence of the parabolic method of teaching.”)

Accordingly, I agree there is a time and place for fundamentalism, “learning the fundamentals.”

I also agree that the best place to start your “Bible training” is to take it literally:

Just like Army Basic Training, the best place to start is with the fundamentals:  “This is where individuals learn about the fundamentals of being a soldier…”  But no good soldier wants to be stuck as a buck private [during] his whole time “in service.”  (Although there are some few [“soldiers of Christ”] who enjoy having no additional responsibility…)

In turn I concluded that this blog is for and about those Christians who want to develop into something “more than just someone who knows the bare ‘fundamentals.’”

See also Spiritual boot camp, which talked about the words “mystic” and “mysticism,” and how they affect some people:

The words “mystic” or “mysticism” seem to give some Christians apoplexy.  Try it on a Southern Baptist some time!  But seriously, one online dictionary defines a mystic as “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute.”  Again, arguably different words but the same idea…

All of which is a good reason to switch to Paul’s “soldier metaphor…”

There’s more on that metaphor later, but first some notes about that Lenten discipline.

I’ve noted that in writing the Torah, Moses had to be extremely careful.  He had to be extremely careful because if his audience took his message the wrong way – or weren’t ready for it – he’d likely be killed.  (As by getting thrown off a cliff or stoned.  See Moses getting stoned.)

Jesus faced the same risk of stoning – a number of times – as shown by other recent Daily Office Readings.  For example, John 8:59:  “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”  And again in the NLT version of John 10:31:  “Once again the people picked up stones to kill him.”

And Jesus Himself noted the danger – in the Gospel for February 21, the Second Sunday in Lent:  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones to death those who have been sent to her!”  (Luke 13:34.)  And that’s not to mention Paul’s recital in Hebrews 11:36-37 (NIV):

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning;  they were sawed in two;  they were killed by the sword.

The point of all this is that anyone – up to and including Jesus – had to be extremely careful in putting forth “the Word” to people who weren’t ready to receive its full implications yet.

And of those potential prophets, Moses – shown at right – was arguably the one who faced the greatest danger of all.  He was after all “the First.”  He was the original “prophet,” the man who single-handedly had to meld a huge group of former slaves into an army able to enter and conquer their own particular Promised Land.

But getting back to the Lenten meditation…

It turns out that there’s a number of theories on when, how, or even if Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible.

For example, according to Mosaic authorship – Wikipedia, “The Talmud discusses the authorship of all the books of the Hebrew Bible and assigns all but the last eight verses of Deuteronomy, which describe the death of Moses, to Moses himself.”

Then there’s Did Moses Write Genesis? | Answers in Genesis.  After noting the “Documentary (or JEDP) Hypothesis” – which the author rejected – he came to this conclusion:

There is abundant biblical and extra-biblical evidence that Moses wrote the Pentateuch during the wilderness wanderings after the Jews left their slavery in Egypt and before they entered the Promised Land…  Contrary to the liberal theologians and other skeptics, it was not written after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon (ca. 500 BC)…   It is the enemies of the truth of God that are failing to think carefully and face the facts honestly.  As a prophet of God, Moses wrote under divine inspiration, guaranteeing the complete accuracy and absolute authority of his writings. (E.A.)

For the sake of argument, I’m assuming as well that “Moses wrote the Pentateuch during the wilderness wanderings.”  But note also that the author of Did Moses Write Genesis seems to be one of those Biblical literalists I frequently take issue with.

Then there’s From What Did Moses Compose Genesis?  That article claims Moses had access to material written by “Abraham, Jacob, Noah, and even Adam.”  For myself, I’m inclined to think Moses got those materials, but through oral tradition, as noted in My Lenten meditation.

Finally – for now – there’s When did Moses write Genesis:

The Book of Genesis is traditionally attributed to Moses, writing around 1400 BCE.  However, scholars now say that the Book of Genesis was really written in stages over a period of several centuries during the first millennium BCE.

I should note there’s a pretty good chance that statement – that Genesis was written by somebody other than Moses – will likely “give some Christians apoplexy.”  

That in turn makes this a good stopping point.  Except to say that after Basic Training, the good soldier – and by extension the “Good Soldier of Christ” – has a chance to go on to Advanced Individual Training, “where new soldiers receive specific training in their chosen MOS.”

For example, a new soldier could go to the Field Artillery Center at Fort Sill Oklahoma.  (With all of the Freudian implications appertaining thereto.)

Or to the Aviation School at Fort Rucker Alabama.

Or even to the Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

On the other hand, a ” Not-so-good Soldier of Christ” could choose to remain a buck private for the duration.  But I seriously doubt if that would “please his commanding officer…”


Re:  “‘Gap readings’ between February 6 and 7.”  The dates for Lent and Easter shift each year.  (It’s a “moveable feast.”  See How Is the Date of Easter Calculated?)  So, most lectionaries include Daily Office Readings for a Season of Epiphany that can last up to eight weeks.  But in 2016, Lent started early.  Thus the “Week of the Last Sunday after the Epiphany” – which includes Ash Wednesday –  came on February 7.  But the readings for the week before February 7 were for the Week of the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.  That means there’s a “gap,” in which the readings for the Fifth, Sixth Seventh, and Eighth Sunday after  the Epiphany go unread in a year like 2016.  On the other hand, there are other – more assiduous – “Daily Office Readers” (like me), who do all the readings, regardless of any gap.  And it was from just that practice that I “re-discovered” 2d Timothy 2:3-4 – and it’s “soldier metaphor” – in such a timely manner.

Re:  Biblical literaiism.  See also Biblical Literalism – Huffington Post.

The image to the left of the “spiritual boot camp” paragraph is courtesy of the link, “United States Marine Corps Recruit Training,” in the Wikipedia article on Army Basic Training.  The full caption:  “A Drill Instructor provides an example of boot camp instructional style to a Marine Corps poolee, before the poolee’s departure for boot camp.”

The “Moses” image is courtesy of Moses – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Moses holding up his arms during the battle, assisted by Aaron and Hur; painting by John Everett Millais.”  For more on the Battle of Rephidim, see Was Moses the first to say “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work?”

The “Moses writing” image is courtesy of: 

The “Sad Sack” image is courtesy of  See also Sad Sack – Wikipedia, an article about the fictional World War II-era soldier, an “otherwise unnamed, lowly private experiencing some of the absurdities and humiliations of military life.”

Note that I originally planned to end this post with the image below, with the caption:  “An Admiral speaks to the remaining Navy SEAL trainees “at the end of ‘Hell Week.’”

That image is courtesy of United States Navy SEAL selection and training – Wikipedia.  The full caption is this:  “First Phase [of training:]  Then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Mullen addresses the remaining trainees of Class 266 at the end of ‘Hell Week:'”  (See also United States Navy SEALs – Wikipedia.)  As to the “Hell Week” in Navy SEAL training:

The first two weeks of basic conditioning prepare candidates for the third week, also known as “Hell Week.”  During Hell Week, candidates participate in five and a half days of continuous training.  Each candidate sleeps at most four hours during the entire week, runs more than 200 miles, and does physical training for more than 20 hours per day.

But then I would have had to note also that the U.S. Army equivalent of Navy Seal training would be held at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, North Carolina.  “However, the latter site did not offer a suitable image for this post.”  

Then too the point of that “Navy SEAL” image would have been to contrast the truly-zealous “Good Soldier of Christ” – volunteering for such training – with the slacker content to get by with just learning “the fundamentals.”

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And finally – really, really this time – note other articles of interest, to be addressed in a later post:  Don Stewart :: When Did Moses Write, or Compile, the BookWhy Moses Did Not Write the Torah – Mesa Community College, and Tablets of Stone – Wikipedia.

My Lenten meditation…

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We’re now well into Lent, which means doing Lenten Disciplines.  For many, that means giving up something.  On the other hand, some people choose to add a discipline “that would add to my spiritual life.”  (See Lenten disciplines: spiritual exercises or ego trip?)

For my part, I’ve always wondered just when, where and how Moses came to write the first five books of the Bible. (The Torah.)  So I’ve decided that – aside from Bible-reading on a daily basis, which I already do anyway – I’ll spend this Lent “meditating” on this topic.

More precisely, I plan to spend this Lent contemplating on how and when Moses wrote those first five books.  And as Wikipedia explained, contemplation means “profound thinking about something.”  Further, “In a religious sense, contemplation is usually a type of prayer or meditation.”  And finally there’s this:

Within Western Christianity contemplation is often related to mysticism as expressed in the works of mystical theologians such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross as well as the writings of Margery Kempe, Augustine Baker and Thomas Merton.

So in so “contemplating,” I’d be in pretty good company.

And aside from all that, there’s the matter of “reaching the unreached.”

Put another way, from 1972 to 1985 there was a British sitcom on PBS called “Are You Being Served?”  Which brings up an interesting fact these days.  That fact is that there’s a whole segment of possible converts to Christianity who aren’t being served.

They are the potential Christians who’d like to find out more about the Bible.  However, they don’t want to develop the faith of a narrow-minded pinhead. (Mere rhetoric hyperbole.)

Take for example the sentiment expressed by Gordon Sumner, known to his fans as Sting:

I don’t have a problem with God.  I have a problem with religion.  I’ve chosen to live my life without the certainties of religious faith.

But as noted below, “If your religion makes you ‘certain,’  you’re missing the point!” That is, maybe – just maybe – if I could figure out a common-sense explanation to some of these Biblical mysteries, I might be able to “convert” Sting and others like him…

But getting back to the meditation-contemplation.  The key question:  “What did Moses know, and when did he know it?”  For example, did Moses know the full story about the “big bright thing in the sky?”

Did Moses know – far in advance of his fellow human beings – that the “earth” revolves around the “sun?”

On the other hand, there’s some pretty good evidence that if Moses did know that, he’d have been well advised not to share that information.  He would have been “well advised” on pain of being stoned to death, for “heresy.”  As it was, on more than one occasion Moses came close to being killed by the very tribe of Habiru he was ostensibly leading.  (See On Moses getting stoned.)

And something like that almost happened to Jesus, in the Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. (That is, last January 31st.)  But in Luke 4:21-30, Jesus wasn’t threatened by stoning, as Moses was.  Instead, “the people” wanted to throw Him off a cliff.

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  But he passed through  the midst of them and went on his way.

As Wikipedia noted, “Throwing or dropping people from great heights has been used as a form of execution since ancient times.”  And in what may well be overstating the obvious:  “People executed in this way die from injuries caused by hitting the ground at high velocity.”

Another aside: The article noted that in “pre-Roman Sardinia, elderly people who were unable to support themselves were ritually killed.  They were intoxicated with a neurotoxic plant … then dropped from a high rock or beaten to death.”

But we digress…  Getting back to Moses, tradition says he wrote the first five books of the Bible. (The Torah.)  Of those first five books, the last four – ExodusLeviticus,  the Book of Numbers, and Deuteronomy – are all pretty much autobiography.  Moses wrote about his life, and his role in leading the Hebrews out of slavery and into their Promised Land.  (In doing so he referred to himself in the third person, a literary device called illeism.  See also On Moses and “illeism.”)

But in writing Genesis, Moses had to go back to the origins of time itself.  He had to go back to the Creation of the World itself.   And in doing so, he almost certainly had to rely on oral tradition.   (Referring to “cultural material and tradition transmitted orally from one generation to another.”)  Note also that from Sunday, January 10, up to Saturday, February 6, the Old Testament Daily Office Readings have been from the Book of Genesis.

Beyond that, the readings from Genesis resumed on Monday, February 15, with the story of Jacob[:] Father of the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Those OT Daily Office Readings will continue until Wednesday, March 9.  (After that the DOR‘s from the OT will be from the Book of Exodus.)

So the subject of the Book of Genesis – as arguably written by Moses after the fact – is definitely topical. And for starters, there’s the question whether Moses “wrote” the Torah at all. On the matter of “Semitic writing,” see History of writing – Wikipedia;

The first pure alphabets … emerged around 1800 BC in Ancient Egypt, as a representation of language developed by Semitic workers in Egypt…  These early abjads remained of marginal importance for several centuries, and it is only towards the end of the Bronze Age that the … Proto-Canaanite was probably somehow influenced by the undeciphered Byblos syllabary, and in turn inspired the Ugaritic alphabet (ca. 1300 BC).

Since Moses apparently lived from about 1392 to 1272 – see – writing as we know it was just beginning.  Which is why – it seems – Moses probably had to rely on oral tradition

Then there’s the question whether Moses actually dictated the Torah to an amanuensis, rather than actually “writing” it himself.  (See On Amanuenses, about Paul and his “person employed to write … what another dictates.”)  Did Moses dictate the first five books of the Bible to another person, in the manner of Peter dictating to Mark?  (And as shown below.)

To be continued

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The Apostle Peter dictates to Mark the Evangelist

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The upper image is courtesy of Mark the Evangelist – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Saint Mark the Evangelist Icon from the royal gates of the central iconostasis of the Kazan Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, 1804.”   The lower image is also from that article:  “Saint Mark writes his Evangelium at the dictation of St. Peter, by Pasquale Ottino, 17th century, Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux.”

Re: “Sting.”  See 10 Questions for Sting – TIME.  And re:  “If your religion makes you ‘certain,’ you’re missing the point!”  See On a dame and a mystic. The comment by Sting exemplifies some common perceptions today:   1) that too many Christians are too close-minded; 2) that too many are way too negative; or 3) that too many think The Faith of the Bible is all about getting you to follow their rules, on pain of you “going to hell.”  (See also my way or the highway – Wiktionary.)

“…what did Moses know, and when did He know it?”  One of many phrases – like “Irangate” or “Benghazi-gate” – traceable back to the 1972 Watergate scandal.  It can be credited to Senator Howard Baker, who famously asked, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”  The question was originally written by Senator Baker’s counsel and former campaign manager, future U.S. Senator [and Hollywood star], Fred Thompson.  See,, and

The “cliff” image is courtesy of  The article noted that the “people” – the ones Jesus spoke to in Luke 4:21-30 – “hadn’t really grasped the radical reforming he had in mind in order to bring good news to the poor and imprisoned and blind and oppressed.”  In other words they weren’t ready for it yet…

The “Jacob” image is courtesy of Jacob – Wikipedia.  The caption: “Joseph’s Coat Brought to Jacob
by Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari, c. 1640.”  The story of Joseph being thrown into a pit began in the DOR’s for February 15, with his brothers being jealous.  (Gen. 37:1-11.)  On Tuesday, February 16, the brothers throw Joseph into a pit as an alternative to killing him.  (Gen. 37:12-24.)  On Wednesday, February 17, the brothers Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood, then show it to their father, as shown in the Ferrari painting.  From there he went into slavery in Egypt…

Re: “To be continued.”  See Cliffhanger – Wikipedia, which noted that a “cliffhanger is hoped to ensure the audience will return to see how the characters resolve the dilemma.”  See also the image below, courtesy of  Did Back to the Future Originally Not End With ‘To be continued?’

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On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016

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Last year, Ash Wednesday came on February 18.   This year, 2016, it’s celebrated on February 10. Which brings up a post I did last year at this time:  On Ash Wednesday and Lent.  That post was on and about the “whole topic of Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent:”

According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan.  Lent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter.

See also Lent 101 – The Upper Room.  So the “40 days of Lent” are supposed to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent “wandering in the wilderness.”  On a related note, that act by Jesus mirrored the 40 years that the Hebrews – led by Moses – also spent “wandering around.”

But before that 40 days of Lenten “wandering in the wilderness,” there’s one last celebration, one last “blowout.”  (The whole Christian – or liturgical – calendar year is pretty much filled with such alternating seasons of celebration and penance…)

For example,  Lent is a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.  But that season of self-denial is preceded by “Fat Tuesday.”  That’s the day before Ash Wednesday, which means this year Fat Tuesday is February 9. The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and Mardi Gras is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!

As Wikipedia put it, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.”

See also A Brief History of Mardi Gras – Photo Essays – TIME, which noted that “Mardi Gras isn’t all nudity and drunken debauchery (though, yes, there is definitely nudity and drunken debauchery).”  (Emphasis in original.)

But – as the article noted – the origin of Fat Tuesday was far more spiritual:

In earlier times, people used Lent as a time of fasting and repentance.  Since they didn’t want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house, they cleaned out their cabinets.  They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available.  It was a great feast!  Through the years Mardi Gras has evolved (in some places) into a pretty wild party with little to do with preparing for the Lenten season of repentance and simplicity.

Lent 101, emphasis added.  And incidentally, there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  That’s because Sundays don’t count in the calculation.

That’s important because it means you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve given up for Lent.  (A fact overlooked by the producers of 40 Days and 40 Nights.  That “2002 romantic comedy film” showed the main character in a “period of abstinence from any sexual contact for the duration of Lent.”  But as noted, he could have “taken Sundays off.”)

But getting back to the subject at hand…   You can see the full set of Bible readings for the day at Ash Wednesday.  The highlight – once again – is the Gospel Matthew 6:1-6,16-21.  That’s where Jesus warned of “practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”

On that subject, fasting (and abstinence are the usual components of a Lenten discipline. But as Jesus noted, “Do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”  Instead, He said to basically put on a happy face.  That way, “your fasting may be seen not by others, but by your Father who is in secret.

As for almsgiving, Jesus said, “Do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do … so that they may be praised by others.”  Instead, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret.

Incidentally, that’s where the expression the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing came from. And finally Jesus said this about praying in public:

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret;  and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Are we getting the picture here? 

The one theme Jesus kept returning to –  over and over again – was hypocrisy.  That includes – but is not limited to – “the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.”

I wrote about this whole controversy in On praying in public.  I concluded that post with a variation of the classic Henny Youngman one-liner,  “Take school prayer…  Please!

But we digress…

If you’re interested in more history on Ash Wednesday see The History and Meaning of Ash Wednesday.  That site noted the “pouring of ashes on one’s body” – as an “outer manifestation of inner repentance” – is an ancient practice.

The earliest mention of that practice seems to have come at the end of the Book of Job, “older than any other book of the Bible.”  In Job 42:6 – and after he is rebuked by God – Job says, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”  (Not to mention “dressing in sackcloth, a very rough material.”  On a related note, see also On Job, the not-so-patient.)

And finally see The ‘Splainer: Ash Wednesday and dirty Christian foreheads, about “washing:”

No one is required to keep the ashes on his or her face after the ritual.  But some Christians choose to, perhaps as a reminder to themselves that they are mortal and fallible, while others may choose to leave them on as a witness to their faith in the hope others will ask about them and open a door to sharing their faith.

Here’s wishing you a happy and spiritually-fulfilling Lent!

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The initial indented quote about Lent is from Wikipedia

The original post had an image courtesy of A Brief History of Mardi Gras … TIME.  That article includes the caption:

OK, Mardi Gras’ reputation as an alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal is not completely unearned.  In 1973, a ban was established on Krewe parades in the increasingly rowdy and narrow streets of the French Quarter.  In subsequent years, tourists and other drunken fools descended on the Quarter (especially the particularly saucy Bourbon Street) en masse, and the tradition of showing skin for beads began.  Native New Orleanians despise the reputation, and rarely venture into the Quarter during Carnival season.

Emphasis added, which means “there’s probably some kind of object lesson there…”

For another take on praying in public, see school prayer.

The lower image is courtesy of Lent – Wikipedia.  The caption:  

Lent celebrants carrying out a street procession during Holy Week [in Granada, Nicaragua.] The violet color is often associated with penance and detachment.  Similar Christian penitential practice is seen in other Catholic countries, sometimes associated with mortification of the flesh.

The article added that Lent’s “institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus … which ultimately culminates in the joyful celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

On Jesus as a teenager – REDUX

James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.jpg

Before getting into Jesus as a teenager, note that the upcoming February 15 is Transfiguration Sunday.

On that note, see On Exodus (Part II) and Transfiguration, a post I did last year at this time.  That post noted that the Last Sunday of the Epiphany season is also – by tradition – known as Transfiguration Sunday.  That’s based on the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus – in its earliest form, in Mark 9:2–8.  (I erroneously wrote that it was in “Mark 9:29.”)

Among other things, that post talked about the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings.  Specifically, it talked of how the movie painted a picture of Moses that was the “opposite of what we’ve been led to expect for other reasons.  For one thing he hears voices, strange and unknown, just like Jesus.”  (Like Jesus):

“I fasted for three months.  I even whipped myself before I went to sleep.  At first it worked.  Then the pain came back.  And the voices.  They call me by the name: Jesus.”

I noted that this was not unlike the idea that “‘Jesus may not have known the minute He was born who He was.”  That is, that Jesus may have “found out some time later in His life” just who He was, just like Moses had to have experienced.

That post also noted that Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land, even after leading the Children of Israel through 40 years of Wandering in the Wilderness.  However- with the Transfiguration of Jesus – Moses finally was allowed to enter that Promised Land.  And that, even though it was a thousand years or more after he expected to.  (Which just goes to show that God’s timetable may not be anything like the timetables we expect in our lives.)

But getting back to Jesus as a teenager:  That post asked the musical question:

What did Jesus know, and when did He know it?

In other words, did Jesus know that He was the First-born Son of God when He was a teenager.

Which raises a host of other questions.  For example, if Jesus did know that He was in fact the First-born Son of God – as a teenager – He could see into the future.  And He would know – absolutely – everything that ever was or ever had been.

So maybe – as a teenager – Jesus did know everything there ever was to know, and everything possible that ever could be known.  Yet there He was, stuck in that backwater, hayseed town of Nazareth, far away from any possible excitement, like what He might find in Jerusalem.

And, probably the worst thing of all for Him was that He had to take orders from older people, people who He knew didn’t know a fraction of what He knew about “real life.”  Of course:

Since every teenager in the world has felt exactly the same way – since the beginning of time – how could the people in Nazareth know this teenager was any different?

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The upper image is courtesy of James Dean – Wikipedia.  The caption: “Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.”  The article noted, “Dean’s premature death … cemented his legendary status.”

As to the word “redux” in the title, see the notes to On “Job the not patient” – REDUX:

It’s an allusion to the 1971 book by John Updike, Rabbit Redux … about an aging high-school basketball star – Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom – as he went through five decades of life… See Wikipedia [which] added that the word redux means “brought back” or “restored…” Wikipedia also noted, “Rabbit Redux led to a redux in popularity of the word redux…” 

Re: Last year’s post on Exodus … and Transfiguration.  In that post I erroneously wrote that the “account of the Transfiguration of Jesus” was described in “Mark 9:29.”)