Friday, July 22, 2016

Hanging out at the Abarim Publications campus

Our friends love to hang out at the Abarim Publications campus

The other day my evening was pleasantly graced by the arrival of two friends, who had separately found their way to the Abarim Publications headquarters, unbetwixt of the other's being there. My two friends know each other but they don't like each other all that wholeheartedly.

Friend A is preciously sweet but not too clever, whereas Friend B is not the dullest knife in the drawer but also not very friendly at times. We ended up sitting side by side on the porch, with me in the middle.

"Why do spiders do that?" said Friend A, pointing at a spider's web (I'm honestly not making this up).
"To catch flies with," I said, while to the left of me Friend B hardly suppressed a derogatory guffaw.
"It's beautiful, though, isn't it?" I said to Friend A, who was slowly developing an expression of full-spectral disappointment. "You should see it in the early morning when the dew still sticks to it. We all have to eat, but spiders break out the good china, so to speak."

Friend A took a sip from her tea, then let her eyes wander up to the stars. Soon she had forgotten about the spiders and remarked how beautiful the stars looked.

"They are the biggest things you have ever seen," I said. "Each of them is bigger than the whole earth."
  "Really?" said Friend A but in a tone that suggested I hadn't convinced her at all. To the left of me Friend B took a deep breath but before she could say something I turned to her and said: "Many people don't realize that a star is really only the visible part of a much larger entity. The other part is...?"

Friend B gave no reply.

"And many people believe that the universe is a large sphere, which is precisely the same as thinking that the earth is flat. Because the shape of the universe resembles most a...?"

Friend B again gave no reply and turned her gaze towards the indistinct darkness ahead of us, and I quietly hoped I had been able to illustrate that no matter how smart one is, there are always people smarter, while there is no supersession in the niceness department.

After a few minutes of quiet contemplation, Friend A wanted to know if I had seen clips of an anti-West demonstration that had erupted in some place somewhere earlier that day, and augmented her inquiry by saying, "Why do they hate us so much?"

Apparently, Friend B wasn't yet ready to form a response, so I said, "It's awful to be hated, isn't it?"
"But why?" said Friend A.

And I said, "Maybe they think we took something from them. And gave them crap in return. Or maybe bad people are stirring up folks who aren't mature enough to make up their own mind, and claim their own rightful piece of the pie."

Before Friend A could say something or I could add something, Friend B jumped up and screamed, "Spiders make webs because Jesus told them so! And stars are big because they sing Jesus' praises! And evildoers hate us because THEY DON'T KNOW JESUS!!!" And off she ran, leaving me with Friend A in a world to be inherited by children.

After a while of silence, Friend A said slowly, "Sometimes it's easier to love your enemies than to love your friends."

And I said "Amen", even though that's not my custom.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The top 10 of Hebrew words for love

Love, as all poets will attest, is a tricky thing.

Particularly since we moderns mostly consider love a feeling, and feelings tend to go all over the place, from eternally hot to stone cold the very next moment.

The matter of the nature of love is important to theophiles because since God is love (1 John 4:8), the very nature of the Creator is under scrutiny when love is considered.

Is God a feeling? Does God give you butterflies? Does God make you say YUMMMMMMM when your wet tongue slithers across the frozen swirls of a vanilla cone? Here at Abarim Publications, we think not.

The Hebrews figured that the "heart is the most deceitful thing" (Jeremiah 17:9) and appear to have viewed love as an action irrespective of emotions. That's not to say that the Hebrews didn't have the same feelings we do when we "love", "fall in love" or "make love", it just means that whenever you see the word "love" in the Bible, you're probably looking at the wrong word.

It's overly reported that Greek has several words for love, but Hebrew, as usual, has Greek beat by a landslide. Here are our roughly ten top picks for Hebrew words having to do with love (and follow the links to our online Hebrew dictionary for a closer look at these words):


The verb אהב ('aheb) is usually translated with to love, but it rather means to be attracted to or to be attached to, and that in a rather mechanical way (like a magnet to a nail).

It's used to describe a parent's attachment to a child, but not the other way around (as kids tend to dart off). This kind of magnetic attraction may obviously exist between a man and a woman, but this verb can also used to describe what impels someone to rape someone else (Genesis 34:3, 2 Samuel 13:1).

The obvious antithesis of this verb is שנא (sane'), which means to hate and which is identical to the verb that means to sleep. Sleeping in the Bible is often used in the sense of being inattentive or aloof (Matthew 26:40), which suggests that our verb אהב ('aheb) primarily has to do with being attentive and intimate.


The verb חסד (hasad) is the reason why we see curious words like "loving kindness" or "faithful love" in the Bible.

It appears to have originated as a word that expressed a kind of economic and emotional loyalty among relatives or friends or neighbors, but it appears to have moved into legal jargon as the verb that describes a formal contract or covenant.

But where in our world the word contract brings to mind a being bound by a law that when broken will land you in jail, the Hebrew word חסד (hasad)  has primarily to do with human decency and allegiance.


The verb רחם (raham) expresses a kind of devotional love that usually goes one way: from a caregiver to the receiver of this care.

It's often used to describe a parent's devotion to a child, and subsequently also God's devotion to mankind.

The verb ידע (yada') means to know, but it's also used to mean to make love ("and Adam knew his wife and she conceived..." Genesis 4:1).

Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
This is commonly explained by suggesting that men don't know what a woman looks like until the wedding night, but that's most certainly prudish nonsense. Isaac and Rebekah were "having fun" (the verb is צחק, shahaq) to such an extend that Abimelech could deduce from afar that they were husband and wife (Genesis 26:8-9).

In a gregarian society, where animals freely mate and sexual "revolutions" haven't happened yet, the sexual side of life is openly acknowledged by everybody. In stead, the ancients appear to have understood that worship and sexual ecstasy are dealt with by the very same regions of our brains.

In other words: to the brain it makes no difference whether we make love to our spouse of to the Lord.

Via the act of copulation, life is passed on to the next generation and many commentators have noted that copulation is an utterly holy act.

It's part of a indivisible package that also contains a lifelong commitment to spouse and offspring, and it's no literary mystery why in the Bible the relationship of God and man is so often metaphorized as a marriage.

Since a marriage is consummated when the husband inserts his member into the woman's facilities, the appearing of the "כבד (kabed) of the Lord" into the tabernacle is laden with sexual phraseology.

The derivatives of the verb דוד (dawadhence the name David) are commonly translated with 'beloved'. But most fundamentally these words probably have to do with a slow, caressing movement or else the act of containing something precious.

Our verb seems etymologically akin the verb ידד (yadad), which also means to love, and which in turn appears to be kindred to the word דד (dad), meaning nipple or breast.

This latter word clearly expresses the whole spectrum of the verb  דוד (dawad) as one's ample breasts can be both a target to a calid husband, and the body part that contains nutrients for a baby.

Here at Abarim Publications we roguishly surmise that the verb ידד (yadad) may just as much have reminded a Hebrew audience of the word דד (dad), meaning nipple as of the word יד (yad), meaning hand.

Obviously, the hand would be instrumental to the male contribution to afore insinuated fondling, is expected to move with tenderness and is evenly amply equipped to contain something.

It should be noted that where in English similarities like this have no real value, in Hebrew they are among the most fundamental principles of ancient information technology.

The best part of all this is that the verb that describes the act of throwing hands in the air out of a celebration of joy is ידה (yada), which is commonly translated with to praise.

This verb in turn lies at the base of the name Judah, and thus the ethnonym Jew.

Ergo: the Jews are not only the Praisers, they are also the Ecstatic Lovers, as well as the Breast with which God fed humanity in its infancy (Genesis 12:3, Hebrews 5:12-15, 1 Peter 2:2).

Friday, July 8, 2016

How historical are the gospels, really?

This is not what things looked like in Jesus' time
Contrary to popular belief, imperial Christianity or "Christianity-as-we-know-it", didn't start with Jesus, or with Paul, but with Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century. For its first three centuries, the original Jesus movement was a Jewish sect that lowered the bar to join so drastically (by for instance no longer demanding circumcision) that pagans could join with relative ease. And thus they did and did so in droves, because even though the Jesus movement was illegal, it was also irresistibly attractive.

Here at Abarim Publications we like to believe that the original movement indeed began in a certain historical Jewish individual, but the literary genre that would feature Him sought mostly to provide commentary on the times via His highly allegorical biography. The earlier writers (Mark, Paul and doubtlessly many we've never heard of) couldn't simply state that the Romans sucked and why, because they would have swiftly executed them. In stead, they disguised their more controversial ideas in The Adventures of Jesus. Take the story of the demoniac called Legion, for instance; that's pretty blatant.

This is what things looked like in Jesus' time

By the time these authors wrote, the Romans would have considered their works silly laments over some dude who got himself killed decades earlier, as one of tens of thousands of insignificant natives who had been terminated in order to preserve the hallowed peace. To their intended audiences, however, these stories were about a whole lot more. A Roman censor might have snickered over the absurd but harmless report that long ago a Roman governor had publicly released a known terrorist called Barabbas, but the gospel's target audience understood this story's subtle details. Likewise Paul's plea to have a runaway slave named Onesimus forgiven would have been considered absurd but relatively harmless to any Roman snoop, but to the real Philemon the real Onesimus meant quite something else.

Jesus was a Jew, but His movement was not simply a continuation of Jewish thought. After the time of the latest Jewish prophets, Judaism began to be permeated by Greek thought to such a degree that the Galilee of Jesus was no longer Jewish but rather Greco-Jewish. When the Romans conquered Judea, they disposed the Jewish king as well as the incumbent high priest and installed a political elite which was more to their liking. That made Galilee a Greek-Hebrew hybrid in the cultural sense and a Roman-Jewish hybrid in the political sense. All this gave understandable rise to a movement that demanded the utter purification of Hebrew religion, which included the return of a rightful Jewish king, a.k.a. messiah or christus in Greek.

The Siege of Masada meant
the end of the Sicarii
Jesus appears to have largely sought to avoid these people (John 6:15) and their movement quickly fractured into a spectrum of vastly differing sentiments. So-called Zealots were militant brutes, who managed to spawn an even worse offshoot called the Sicarii. These guys were sly assassins who killed anonymously and did nothing but evoke Roman wrath and bloody retaliation upon innocents. Our friends the authors appear to have represented these two groups in Jesus' disciples Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot.

Then there were Essenes, who solved the problem by completely separating themselves from main society and teaching righteousness to whatever audience would come to them in the desert -- the character of John the Baptist obviously resembles these. As told, this movement was beheaded by the Roman-Jewish government (Mark 6:17) but respectfully surpassed in virtue and effect by the Jesus movement (Matthew 11:11).

Meanwhile the Romans suffered their own share of attacks, both from without and within. Around the same time that Jesus was born in Judea (give or take a few years), a federation of Germanian tribes tore three whole Roman legions to shreds at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest meant
the end of Roman legions XVII, XVIII and XIX
At that same time, the Illyrians (in present Bosnia) staged their revolt and kept the Roman army busy for three excruciating years.

The Germanians got away with it but the Illyrians were wholly destroyed. At that same time Judea was made a Roman province, and while some insisted on an Illyrian-like armed revolt, most realized that a respectful dialogue with the oppressor would be much more fruitful.

 "Knock and the door will open," said Jesus, and with that He almost certainly referred to the great doors of the temple of Janus Quirinus in Rome. At peace time these doors were shut with great imperial fanfare. At war time, they would open, and horror upon horror would flood the land.

But the most vicious attacks on Rome came from within. When Julius Caesar had pronounced himself dictator for life (half a century before Jesus' birth), dozens of disgruntled senators clubbed up under the epithet The Liberators (namely Rome from tyranny).

And one late winter day, these Liberators proceeded to assassinate old Julius, hoping that this would bring the Republic back. Unfortunately, all it did was infuriate Ocativan, who chased and killed the last of the Liberators at the Battle of Philippi and pronounced in rapid succession (1) himself as the adopted son of Julius (well, it said so in Julius' will), (2) the Republic dead, (3) but resurrected as divine Empire, (4) of which he would be the first Emperor, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, (5) which meant that he was also the Savior of the World, (6) which meant that Julius had to be divine, and (7) which meant that Octavian was the Son of God.
The doors of the Temple of Quirinus
Matthew 7:6-8

All that he glazed by giving himself the name Augustus, from the Latin verb augeo meaning to increase, enlarge or magnify, and the derived noun augustus, meaning majestic or magnificent one.

The Liberators had bitten the military dust precisely like the Illyrians would three decades later, and became the thinking man's example of how not to do it. But the internal Roman liberation movement kept going strong. One native Italian people in particular felt they had a bone to pick with their domineering Latin neighbors, whose wretched village of Rome had now so gloriously taken over the world. These people were called the Samnites and although they had resisted Roman rule longer than anybody else on the peninsula, they too had grudgingly yielded.

One particular Samnite family was that of the Pontii. In the 4th century BC, commander Gaius Pontius had beaten the Romans silly at the Battle of the Caudine Forks. Early in the last century BC, the defender of the plebs (lower class) and military commander Pontius Telesinus had fought Roman general Sulla, whose tyrannical actions set the collapse of the Republic in motion. Some decades later, Lucius Pontius Aquila, a tribune likewise of the plebs, so managed to vex Julius Caesar that the latter famously began using the former's name as cuss word. But Pontius Aquila did more than vex Julius, as he soon joined the Liberators and became one of Caesar's assassins. By the time of Jesus, the name Pontius had the same regicidal ring to it as the names Booth and Oswald do in ours.

The Liberator denarius showing a pileus, a "freedom hat", which was the symbol of a freed slave. Such a freed slave was known as a pilleatus, which is often assumed to be the root of the name Pilate. 

When Jesus was in His mid-twenties, a perky Pontius Pilate stepped from the Samninte Liberator stage of Rome onto Judean soil, and stayed on for an unusually long ten years. We have two main sources of information on this man: Roman and Judaic. Even decades after he was deposed, Roman historians bore Pontius Pilate a measure of ill will that barely fits a man of his modest stature, and easily makes an unbiased reader suspect that he did something entirely disagreeable. The gospel writers, on the other hand, spoke remarkably well of Pilate.

The Judea in which Jesus was born, and in which He preached, was tried, executed and commemorated was not a country sparsely populated with complacent peasants but rather a land where the most intimate of human considerations were expressed in the most potent of people movements. There were no two clearly established fronts, no obvious good-guys and bad-guys, but two fractured mirrors facing. Tensions raged like bundled snakes and shared anger yielded brittle alliances between the most unlikely of candidates.

And at the very heart of that, a Samnite Liberator who was clipped of his balls met a courageous genius with no will to fight. Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent, because the Samnite liberator understood perfectly the position of the Judaic liberator: to render upon Caesar what belonged to Caesar, and to thus set captives free (Luke 4:18).
Vespasian, a.k.a. the Muleteer:
"The emperor comes out of Galilee"

Three decades later, the revolt broke out. Emperor Nero, who until then had entertained Paul, sent general Vespasian and his son Titus to sort things out.

Quickly after Nero's death, Vespasian returned to Rome as the new emperor, tickled pink by the legend that the new emperor of the world would come from Galilee.

Meanwhile Titus attacked Jerusalem and destroyed it and its temple. And as his father's nickname had been Mulio, was Titus not the Colt, needed of the Lord?

Thousands upon thousands of Jews were crucified and the rest was deported. What was left of the city was declared off limits. Judaism was robbed of its central temple and its sacred city, and without its heart it spiraled into an unprecedented crisis and onto its near-certain demise.

What saved Judaism and the unsurpassed wisdom it had collected over the centuries, was expressed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which told of a resurrected Temple and a heavenly kingdom.

So how historical are the gospels, really? During the last few decades, archaeology and Scripture Theory have unearthed vast amounts of data in which a certain grave's cover stone slowly dissolves. The ever so vague outline of what lies beneath points at a literary effort vastly surpassing the traditional interpretations of the New Testament.

Here and there the hopeful few think they can actually peek through pin holes and peer into the howling hollow of history but the honest answer to our question is a rather sheepish look and the calm confession: "we got no clue how deep this goes, but hey, stay tuned for more".

Don't know yet, but stay tuned

Friday, July 1, 2016

Certainty is a futile virtue

Possibly the most disastrous event in Biblical history was the destruction of the Temple of YHWH in 70 AD. The Temple had been sacked, looted or destroyed many times before, but everybody knew that from the destruction of 70 AD there was no turning back. It's even quite justifiable to state that early Christianity was in fact classical Judaism trying to deal with the loss of the Temple.

Relief from the Arch of Titus in Rome, which commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD

Perhaps up to the third century AD, Christianity was not separate from the many forms of Judaism but one of them, namely a Judaism that saw the destruction of the Temple as part of the greater pattern of redemption and something that needed to be incorporated into proper theology.

Jesus of Nazareth died and rose again four decades before the Temple was destroyed, and Paul had been a formidable religious and political force long before Titus marched upon Jerusalem. Paul was so important, even, that he was tried by at least one Jewish king, two Roman governors, and was finally transported to Rome to be dealt with by Caesar himself, which demonstrates that Paul was no small figure in any sense.

But the gospel as literary genre most likely originated just prior to the destruction, and the four gospels that we have in our Bibles clearly stem from right after, and use that tremendously traumatic event as centerpiece of their message.

The other day a dear friend of mine dropped by and told me that he and his wife had bought a house somewhere far away. They'll retire sometime next year. We sat on the porch and looked out over the world, and in the distance we could see a small gathering of young men, some playing soccer and some others engaged in a heated discussion that involved a lot of shouting and gesturing.

"Isn't it wonderful to be old?" said my friend, and I could only agree (even though technically I'm about half-old). I remembered being twenty and making it out of adolescence wildly confused about myself and angry with the world, until I found one single certainty (I don't even remember what it was, but perhaps something like: I think therefore I am).

I clung to that certainty as if it were a small island in an ocean of trouble, and all I set my mind to was to find another one. I fought everybody who disagreed with my certainty and shoved it down the throat of whoever came my way and who was still in the throes of ignorance.

I found my second certainty, and placed it on top the first. Then I found a third, and a fourth, and I built myself the tower of what would become my temple of certainty. It was grand, golden and indestructible. I was envied, admired and quoted galore. And it came to ruin.

One particular Saturday night a good few years back, I was standing outside in the garden, looking at the stars, basking in the glow of my convictions,when  a "voice" came to me.

The voice asked me one single question (and no, I won't divulge that question), but I couldn't answer it. I wasn't that I couldn't come up with the factual answer to a complicated inquiry, or even the result of some too difficult mathematical problem. Not at all. In fact, I saw the answer to the question very clearly in my minds eye. The answer was: 50-50.

With a mind-blowing shock, I realized that my entire temple was set on a foundation that could not support it. I learned that Saturday night that all certainty is an illusion, and that my temple had been a temple for me, not to God, and subsequently it came crashing down.

I entered into a psychotic episode that completely incapacitated me for weeks and lingered for years after. It's really quite a miracle that I didn't utterly lose my mind or kill myself during that period. My brain went into a reboot phase and was reformatted and decertainized.

I expected madness and death on the other end but much to my surprise something completely different started to happen. I'm not going to bother the reader with approximations and metaphors, because if the reader hasn't survived the destruction of his or her own temple, the reader is incapable of getting it. And if the reader has, then he or she needs no further explanation.

My friend has those weird eyes that don't move when they look at you and make you nervous if you have something to hide. They are (how shall I put it?) "entirely open". It's the most wonderful feeling to be able to look into eyes like that and feel no shame at all.

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