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November 19, 2019

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Much of the Bible is open to misinterpretation because the authors "wrote" as they spoke -- that is, there is significant use of colloquialisms. Any preacher worth his salt will use language that is familiar to his audience. Even if it may, a few hundred years later, confuse those who weren't part of the culture of the day.

If you say "Jonah was in a whale", do you mean that literally? How about if you say "My coworker was in a pickle"** -- do you wonder if it was kosher dill? Language changes all the time. But colloquialisms change far faster, and are far more easily misread.

** It occurs to me that I have no idea whether that particular colloquialism is current. For anyone who has never encountered it, be assured that it was in the mid-20th century. And everyone then would know that it merely meant you were in a difficult situation or in trouble.

Once we start to take Lot's rape seriously--not just as a joke about the Moabites and the Ammonites--then we can see the story has the shape of a tragedy, very much in the Greek style. Lot *is* righteous, he takes in the angels and defends them, but he's also both feckless and sarcastic...

That is an interesting, and quite persuasive interpretation.

I do wonder, though, if we might read too much into extremely spare accounts - the entire story is a handful of sentences.

One could also question the cultural assumptions - after all Abraham himself was married to a half sister, and was quite prepared to pass her off as his sister for fear of Abimelech...and what are we then to make of this ?
And unto Sarah he said: 'Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is for thee a covering of the eyes to all that are with thee; and before all men thou art righted.'..

If you say "Jonah was in a whale", do you mean that literally?

There was a big bettor at the local casino that owed Jonah a lot of shekels? It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

"6] Lot came out to the entranceway, shut the house door behind him,"

Since we're midrashing Biblical text with contemporary sarcasm, may I suggest this instead of that literal translation of the original from the King James:

And Lot beheld the mob and said: "Well, shut the front door and get a load of these Groypers! You are the very examples of victimized manhood whom I will block from reading my daughters' profiles on Tinder!"

"6] Lot came out to the entranceway, shut the house door behind him,"

Since we're midrashing Biblical text with contemporary sarcasm, may I suggest this instead of that literal translation of the original from the King James:

And Lot beheld the mob and said: "Well, shut the front door and get a load of these Groypers! You are the very examples of victimized manhood whom I will block from reading my daughters' profiles on Tinder!"

Make it a blues song and sing it twice.

Make it a blues song and sing it twice.

I do not know why.

"If you say "Jonah was in a whale", do you mean that literally?"

Was it a blue whale, which would have been a mansion with a six-car garage and a option to buy for the swallowed Jonah?

He wasn't krill, so he would have been filtered/spit out, but ... details, details.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2bP5FONNxo

Of course, one of the more recent and quintessentially bankrupt American strains of crypto- and biblically-literal corporate tax- dodgy Christianity .... which has sterilized and eunuched the mysterious, metaphorical poetry of biblical religious texts, and thus their deeper more profound meanings ... if one is a believer .. the prosperity gimme yer money so I may prosper gospel, as now personified by trump's new demon- (read "the Other") fighting religious operative in the White House may any day vomit up a Trump AIRBnB offering which rents out the blue whale as a party house, fully furnished with ample parking in the rear for all of the Jonah's among the conservative movement, or perhaps three-day cruises inside the Trump Hotel Blue Whale, but in a peculiar reversal, the suckers will do the swallowing hook, line, and sinker.

I do wonder, though, if we might read too much into extremely spare accounts - the entire story is a handful of sentences.

But centuries (or millenia) of jewish learning and argumentation have been devoted to such interpretation. Some of us may wonder whether such energetic attention could be better spent on other matters, but some of us are anti-religious bigots. And at least, in this case, the interesting reinterpretation comes up with something of particularly topical relevance, i.e. xenophobia etc, to which attention can righteously be paid. I have nothing against learning or argumentation for its own sake, but I do pay attention to who thinks which subjects are worthy of time and energy, and under what circumstances.

Thanks for this Dr Science!

I occasionally read a blog by a fairly orthodox (small-o orthodox vs Eastern Orthodox) Christian scholar in Jerusalem. A lot of his work has to do with interpreting New Testament stuff, and in particular the recorded sayings of Jesus, in the context of contemporaneous Aramaic usage.

Many things end up... different. And often not so bizarre.

Nigel:

I do wonder, though, if we might read too much into extremely spare accounts - the entire story is a handful of sentences.

It is one of the premises of Judaism that there's no such thing as reading too much into the Torah. It's like any other fandom, in that you get an inverted pyramid of thought, meaning, and story resting on each element of canon.

Our (Jews in general) goal isn't to recover some single, original, definitive, intented meaning for each verse, as though the Torah is a straightforward users manual. Each verse is assumed to have multiple possible meanings and interpretations, and creating midrash--fanfic--to flesh out the stories, to connect them to other parts of the Bible, to history, and to current experience is one of the standard Jewish ways of approaching the text.

I absolutely get your point about what is called the "sister-wife" story. That's a very complex issue, too, and more than worthy of another long post.

russell:

What is the blog? It sounds very interesting, I'd like to read it, too.

Hey, russell, how about a link for that. It sounds interesting.

The Jerusalem Perspective.

Enjoy!

Some of us may wonder whether such energetic attention could be better spent on other matters, but some of us are anti-religious bigots.

By the way, if anybody was in any doubt (not likely, if they're used to my comments) this is not aimed at anybody except myself, a famously anti-religious bigot.

Thanks, Dr.S.

It is one of the premises of Judaism that there's no such thing as reading too much into the Torah. It's like any other fandom, in that you get an inverted pyramid of thought, meaning, and story resting on each element of canon...

Not entirely unlike the study of history or literature, then ?
(Which I suppose in some way it is in any case.)
Each succeeding generation rereads and reinterprets in its own way.

I can see the appeal.

I wasn't familiar with Henry O. Tanner before. He was pretty good.

Nigel,

Toynbee actually did make this comparison seriously. He noted that the Western literary scholarship discusses secular fiction and poetry with same seriousness as Rabbinical, and later, Christian Theology discussed the Scripture. He even thinks this is one of the great innovations of Western culture, compared to the Ancients.

Personally, I have always felt that the story of Lot's daughters is a later addition. After all, Lot is the patriarch of Ammonites and Moabites, and Abraham's nephew. The story of her daughter's raping him seems to me as designed to nullify the kinship, and to cast the neighbouring peoples in bad light.

This sort of fits here since it is about something biblical — the uses of hellfire rhetoric. Consider it a tribute to John Thullen.

https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/11/in-defense-of-hellfire


Though in defense of my co- religionists, there has always been a universalist strand in Christianity. We can believe in hell— some people clearly deserve to suffer ( if not on a lake of fire level) so long as it isn’t eternal. But the article is about how the rhetoric of hell and judgment is actually used in the Bible — usually against rich oppressors. Modern day conservative evangelicals never seem to use it that way.

there has always been a universalist strand in Christianity.

Goes back, at a minimum, to Origen.

That's an excellent piece, Donald. At first mainly very entertaining, but it works up to something genuinely fierce and impassioned. It's a worthy tribute to JDT.

LOL
Thomas Aquinas would definitely have been one of those guys in high school who claimed to like the Saw series “for the plot.”..

The gift of Abimelek is a curious one. I can't read Hebrew but the Greek Septuagint, the ancient translation, says Ιδοὺ δέδωκα χίλια δίδραχμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου· ταῦτα ἔσται σοι εἰς τιμὴν τοῦ προσώπου σου καὶ πάσαις ταῖς μετὰ σοῦ· καὶ πάντα ἀλήθευσον. For me, the key part translates as "this is for the fear of your face and for all [that is] with you".

It reads a lot like a damages for rape. We know, naturally, that Abimelech did not lay Sarah. But no one around him, nor Abraham knew. The one thousand silver pieces were to restore her honour, or to compensate for the loss. And this is extraordinary. In the usual run of Hebrew Bible, such things are always punished with blood. In fact, the story needs to be really old, because it runs to the contrary of this central theme.

There are other exceptions, though: Rahab, the whore, Ruth, who goes willingly to bed with a man to survive and, finally, Mary in the New Testament. Matthew lets the Jesus's lineage run through all of them.

But that is an aside. In general, the vein of Abraham's and Lot's interactions with town-folk seem to be negative. It is as if the moral of the stories were: "Don't trust the town-folk. They are without common decency."

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