Sunday, September 17, 2006


Walking through the Old Testament is an arduous job. That Testament is filled with faithlessness, conflict, betrayal, war, and murder... all too much like the present age.

I was called to Christ by receiving, not from human lips or paper, a promise that I was loved. This world is so harsh and antihuman that we must believe that our home is in a place of love. Only in this way can we avoid despairing, and so being tempted to join this world's destructiveness and bottomless lust for more and always more.

In this way, one can tell the true Christian from the false: for the true Christian, doing good is not entirely optional. It is as if one is caught in a blizzard. In the very center of it is a warm spot, but elsewhere, it is painfully cold. And the spot keeps moving. So, either one stays up with it, or the chill reminds one of one's dereliction.

Just so, let us not linger in the chill of the Old Testament, but take a holiday into the warmer gospels.

Now, the New Testament is a difficult teaching as well. The cross is our body, and we are nailed to it. Those who heal a society, its peacemakers and its teachers, are routinely mocked and persecuted. The official church is filled with self-righteous Pharisees and conniving Sadducees. Outside the church are righteous people, like the Centurion who felt compassion and the Syrophoenicean woman who taught Jesus true humility. Many of these don't call themselves Christians, but since they have accepted Love as their teacher, no army of angels could keep them away from His mansions.

And so I hesitated where to go for this holiday.

Paul is too complicated for a weary traveler.

Revelation? Fahgeddaboutit.

Matthew and Luke make for a difficult entry, of researching dozens of obscure names for the basically unimportant issue of Joseph's lineage.

John is beautiful, very poetic, but outside of the basic tradition. One is always wondering whether John is talking about the same Jesus as the Synoptic gospels.

And so, I chose Mark for my repose.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

1 Samuel 31

This chapter states that Saul (Hebrew: "desired") fell on his own sword and his armor bearer saw that he was dead.

Saul's sons Jonathan (Hebrew: "Jehovah has given"), Abinadab ("my father is noble" or "my father is willing"), and Malki-Shah ("my king is wealth" or "king of aid") fall before Saul does. The archers wound Saul on Mt. Gilboa ("swollen heap" or "bubbling fountain"), so that he is afraid of being run through and also abused.

The Israelites are forced by the rout of the army to abandon their homes along the valley. Saul's body was abused, with the head being cut off and presumably displayed in Philistine towns, his armor becoming a trophy of the goddess Ashtoreth, and his body being fastened to a wall in Beth Shan ("house of ease"; a traditionally Philistine valley town). Ultimately, the bodies of Saul and his sons were burned in Jabesh ("dry") Gilead ("rocky region") and buried under a tamarisk tree, and the people fasted for a week.

Jabesh Gilead is the town that Saul rescued from Nahash the Ammonite in 1 Sam. 11. The term for tamarisk tree ("eshel") occurs only three times in the Old Testament. It is the tree in Gen 21:33 which Abraham plants in Beersheba and calls on the name of God. It is also the tree under which Saul abode in 1 Sam. 22:6 just prior to his mad attempt to track down David.

The final chapter, 1 Samuel 31 (see also 1 Chron. 10), should be compared against 2 Samuel 1 (see also 2. Sam. 4). In the latter, the son of an Amalekite claims to have slain Saul at his request, while in the former, Saul killed himself. The two accounts can't be reconciled. Perhaps the son of the Amalekite is lying. Certainly it would seem to be a good way to ingratiate himself with David. But the scripture cannot, absolutely cannot be read as literally true and internally consistent. 1 Chron. 10 also states that Saul died because he failed to consult God and consulted a medium instead.

It's doubly lucky that David had been forbidden to join this fight, or he might have killed his friend, Jonathan, and thereby broken his oath.

The abuse of the body that Saul feared may have included sexual abuse. Although the word is, as it is in English, vague, in Judges 19: 25, it is used to mean sexual abuse.