Herod and the Magi, a Study in Contrast on Epiphany

Rich guys, all — Herod, the half-blood king of Judea enjoying extravagances still evident today; and those magi, bearing gifts of rare value. Today is epiphany, in western Christian tradition, remembered as the moment when Jesus’ importance became evident to the greater world.

Setting aside belief about Jesus’ divinity and all that for a moment simply to look at the stories themselves, which appear only in the gospel of Matthew, and setting aside the question of how many magi there were (traditionally three because Matthew tells of three gifts) and whether or not they were kings (Matthew does not identify them as such), Herod and the magi are a study in contrast.

The Particular Exasperations of Learning Biblical Hebrew

“The language of God,” Biblical Hebrew. I’m off soon to teach our third week’s class, and we’re in the thick of it now. The alphabet (or aleph-bet) is kind of fun — little ditties, the novelty of recognizing letters completely different from what we see in English, of reading from right to left. But the rose is paling as we get into “weak roots” and the finicky needs of gutteral letters. Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, a.k.a. “Hebrew Bible,” because… ok, you get it… can be exasperating. So many rules that hardly qualify as rules for all their exceptions, shape-shifting letters, and other letters that simply disappear from the words you’ve laboriously memorized. But what a thrill to recognize the multi-layered nature of sacred text, to be able to unpack a single Hebrew word to yield a full sentence, to see the wordplay for oneself, and to contemplate the possibilities and limitations of translation. I hope the students catch that energy at least as often as they grimace at “compensatory lengthening” and “virtual doubling.”

Anne Rice, the Bible, and Cyrus the Great

I just finished Anne Rice’s Servant of the Bones. From the original queen of vampire writing, who’d have thought? A book that includes not just the gothic but profound questions of purpose and identity and (here’s what’s especially intriguing to me right now) reflects some good research into ancient Near Eastern religion and history. Marduk, the god of ancient Babylon, plays a role, Cyrus II, who founded the Persian Empire; so too the Jewish hasidim of our time.  The main character learns to love and pursue learning, even while he dissolves, shape-shifts, kills, saves, and knocks on heaven’s door. A cool read, all around…

Ah, the Insecurity of Security!

Turns out that in order to comment on my Good Morning America essay, you need to “register.” The good news: I was told that you can use “ANY alias and even a bogus email.” So much for security. Thanks for posting to the site!

Can Learning Be A Spiritual Exercise?

Can learning be a spiritual exercise? Check out my Good Morning America essay and plz comment. I’d love to hear your ideas on the topic!

Talkin’ about the Bible

Wonderful to see so many people at the Charlottesville Barnes and Noble last Wed eve! As moderator David Bearinger noted, Winn Collier’s Holy Curiosity and my Bible Babel are very different projects, though both concern the Bible. The Virginia Festival of the Book (a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities event) has included panels on religion and spirituality in the past but not specifically on the Good Book. The conversation and questions reflected well the two ways that Winn and I worked with the Bible in our books — confessional and informational — and pushed each of us to think and talk about the other. After all, one cannot assume a confessional position without reflecting intellectually, even if just to read and interpret, the text, on the one hand. On the other hand, any academic treatment of the Bible is still treatment of a religious and sacred text, which inevitably draws the investigator into the world of spirituality, even if only to think about how that text has affected and informed the faith of others. Thanks to all who attended!