Saturday, March 31, 2018

Deep cries out to deep

As the deer pants for the waters so my soul longs after thee

Everybody knows about the panting deer of the opening line of Psalm 42, and many experience the sentiment that gave rise to this image. But few realize the exquisite and valiant choice of words the sons of Korah display, especially in the seventh verse.

Psalm 42 is a dance of fluidic words. Meticulously, the author breaks a continuum, evokes contrasts and has elements congrue into new onenesses.

The word for "deer" comes from a root that generally denotes a protruding or something that stands proudly and quietly ('wl; other derivations are words meaning: belly, leader, porch, ram, door post, terebinth).

Its longing or panting is penciled with the verb arag, a very unusual word that, judging from equivalents in cognate languages, rather means a bending, declining or even ascending.

Contrary to common interpretation, the image is gentle and still and charged with great tension. The deer emerges from the forest — early morning perhaps; mist in elongated blurs rests nimbly on the grass — and as it stands attention the observer feels its thirst. Slowly the animal stoops towards the flow of water below.

The author yearns to emerge from the throngs of those who challenge his trust in the One he desires. But in stead of drinking Him, he drinks his own tears, and all that pours is his own soul within him, descended, like the very water that the deer yields towards. The author's soul is depressed, like the Jordan (means Descender or Descended, follow the link below to visit our Biblical Name Vault). That is why he remembers God from the Jordanian low land, but also from the high peaks of the Hermon, and thus he creates the maximum vertical stretch possible from his local perspective. The author fills the entire leap from highest point of the earth to the lowest; the deepest depth, and cries out to the deepest depth after which he was created.

Creation began when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, and darkness lay on the face of the deep (tehom; same word; and note that the word for 'to' is 'el, which is also the word for God). In Romans 8 we read about creation groaning and suffering anxiously from longing for the revelation of the sons of God, and we must recognize that in the private ardor of Psalm 42, the voice of the entire universe resounds, perhaps even as primary intend. But that's far from all.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Of course ancient Hebrew had vowels!

It's often said that vowels were added to ancient Hebrew by the Masoretes. This is wholly incorrect.

The oft repeated rumor has it that Biblical Hebrew has no vowels, and any now existing vowels were added later. This is incorrect. The great success of the Hebrew language lies precisely in the Hebrew invention of vowel notation. This invention was made around the time of king David (roughly 1000 BC, at the dawn of the Iron Age), and it gave ordinary people access to vast amounts of information. Prior to vowel notation, reading and writing was a magical affair for which one had to train in special priestly schools. Vowel notation allowed ordinary people to access vast vaults of information after a relatively simple education. Upon vowel notation, simply everybody could learn, share and add to what mankind knew, and this in turn led to the surge of human modernity that is still in full swing today.

Even in the Stone Age there was a highly sophisticated wisdom tradition — to give a hint: all domesticated crops such as potatoes, rice and corn, and animals such as sheep, dogs and pigs, were bred from feral ancestors in the Stone Age; folks from the Stone Age also invented metallurgy, music, painting, architecture, international trade, and pretty much everything (shy of the electric grid) that makes modern man modern — but a major problem was how to preserve data. When wisdom was shared orally, it only took an accident, battle or bout of some disease to knock out the village wizard (= wise-ard) and hence delete the village's data. The consonantal alphabet and later vowel notation not only turned every Tom, Dick and Harry into a sagely priest (hence a kingdom of priests — Exodus 19:6) it would also allow data to be preserved in a medium other than a fleshly brain.

The Hebrews understood that a happy life went hand in hand with knowledge of creation, and made science their form of worship (Psalm 19:1, Zechariah 8:23, John 4:23, Romans 1:20). They defined the deity as the Creator, who, per definition, had to exist separate from creation. But in a brilliant feat of deductive reasoning, they also surmised that between the creation that so closely followed the Creator's character and nature, and the Creator Himself, there had to be a kind of transition that was both: where Creator and creation met and were one; that "attractor" upon which the whole chaotic universe was designed to converge and would settle in (not merely the First Mover but more so the Ultimate Destiny of everything that exists).

This bottom-line from which everything that exists derives its existence, this attractor to which everything that evolves must evolve, this intermediate between the Creator and creation, this they called "the Son" (Psalm 2:12), and "the Word" (Genesis 15:1). In later Scriptures this semi-natural phenomenon famously became personified in Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 1 Timothy 2:5).

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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Eat Me, Drink Me, Taste Me, Spend Me

We humans call ourselves with some pride Homo sapiens, after the verb sapio, meaning to taste or have taste and thus to have the ability to discern between that which is tasty (i.e. nutritious) and that which isn't (Genesis 2:16-17). But although the acquisition of knowledge may come natural to us moderns, the pursuit of knowledge as a conscious collective objective is a relatively late invention (Genesis 4:26).

To be wise is to taste

People, like animals, initially counted on their physical power (Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10) and strength in numbers (Psalm 20:7, 33:17, 2 Samuel 24), and when some proto-nerds began to see the potential benefit of connecting certain sounds to certain objects or actions, they first had to convince their tribe members of the advantages of convention itself. Even something as universally accepted as language was once a novelty, and while anatomically complete ancient humans were living their happy and fulfilled lives, few of them would have imagined that their intuitive yawps and grunts could be refined into implements of data retention. When formal language tried to emerge on the efforts of a few visionaries, it was doubtlessly met with opposition from conservatives and traditionalists, who insisted that the old ways were better and all that new stuff would surely cause cerebral flatulence.

Without a shared language, it's nearly impossible to tell whether another creature is smart — hence the recent consternation among scientists who at long last discovered that creatures such as dolphins and elephants have theory of mind, just like humans, and are therefore quite "sapient." Better yet: without a conscious sense of self and thus others, creatures can not distinguish between themselves and the rest of the group, and even though an intelligent observer may see separate bacteria, ants or penguins, the bacteria, ants and penguins only see the collective. Prior to speech, mankind could have had no clue how different from other creatures man could be, or whether an encountered Denisovan or Neanderthal was a sure foe or potential friend (see for more on this our article on the adjective αγιος (hagios), meaning holy).

The earliest appreciators of knowledge faced the same problem as the earliest linguists: how to convince the populace at large of the vast peace-making benefits of liberally collecting and thus freely sharing information about the natural world (1 Kings 4:33-34, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). If the general population then was anything like ours today, it saw the world as a hotchpotch of uncontrollable forces and no amount of effort other than wielding clubs at anything big and hairy to make any sense.

Only when proto-nerds were able to produce faster spears and hotter fires and so to demonstrate that knowledge equaled power and thus prosperity — which first required convincing people of a correlation between intent and effect, which is still difficult today — began knowledge to be appreciated. People who had knowledge were probably initially domineered by people who had physical power, but when knowledge began to be recognized as something more potent than strength or even wealth, people who had knowledge rose in social status. Knowledge became a commodity, like gold or jewelry, which in turn meant that it could both be hoarded and counterfeited. Both the secret and the lie were invented, and along came a whole new form of tyranny.

Like any currency, knowledge can be converted into a kind of fiat currency. Fiat currency is a unit of agreed upon value (a piece of paper that reads words like "I owe you 10 apples" or "angels will protect you") without an intrinsic value (actual apples or actual protection). As long as currency is redeemable for the value it represents and forgeries can be curtailed, the economy is pretty safe. But when currency is disconnected from actual value, as is the case with modern money and its forgone gold standard, it's no longer clear what actual value the currency represents simply because not all an economy's value is represented in its money.

Such dissociated fiat currency has to be "believed" in all religious meaning of the word, and subsequently controlled by a central institution (a bank or church) which can issue more of it at will. Since in such an economy such institutions are not limited by some actually limited amount of true wealth (gold in the vault, food on the table) fiat currency tends to drift increasingly further away from the tangible value it originally was designed to represent. Fiat wisdom, subsequently allows for speculative bubbles (crazy sects), rampant inflation (hence the thriving Christian Industrial Complex), and economies peopled by revered experts in fields that don't relate to the substantial world (hence the many esotericisms).

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

The important noun ημερα (emera) means day

The important noun ημερα (emera) means day, and survives in modern English in such useful words as hemeralopia (day blindness), hemerobaptist, (someone from a Jewish sect which practiced daily ritual bathing) and hemerocallis (a lily that flowers for one mere day).

Where our word comes from isn't immediately clear but the word ημι (hemi), meaning half (hence our word hemisphere) certainly jumps to mind, specifically when we remember Jesus saying that there are twelve hours in a day (John 11:9), which is obviously half of the twenty-four we moderns are used to. That's because, unlike our English word "day", the Greek word ημερα (emera) is solely reserved for the lit half of earth's solar day, and particularly the goings on of a day (Matthew 6:34, Luke 1:23, Romans 14:5). Our word ημερα (emera) is often used juxtaposed to νυξ (nux), meaning night, or the period without legitimate activity (hence our word nocturnal; Matthew 4:2), and the two are creatively combined into the word νυχθημερον (nuchthemeron), or "night 'n-day", which covers the whole twenty-four hour cycle (see below).

Rather than exclusively denoting a stretch of clock-time of fixed length, our word ημερα (emera) may in a poetic sense denote any continual period during which legitimate activity is performed without interruption. As such our word ημερα (emera) means "uninterrupted procedure" or "routine" and may be used synonymously with "trial/hearing/test" (Acts 17:31, 1 Corinthians 4:3, 3:13). Hence Jesus submitted that he had been in the temple daily, or the whole time, while the evil of darkness continued nightly, also the whole time (Luke 22:53).

On the "the day of John's public appearance to Israel" (Luke 1:80), John may have showed up first but his initial showing up was the beginning of continued public activity. The "day of slaughter" (James 5:5), likewise, may not be associated with one particular calendar day and will probably also not last precisely twelve hours, but denotes an indefinite period of uninterrupted carnage. The same goes for the "day of judgment" (Matthew 10:5), the "day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30), the "day of wrath and revelation" (Romans 2:5), and the "day of the Lord" (Matthew 7:22, Luke 17:24, Acts 2:20, 2 Peter 3:12). Likewise the "last day", upon which all mankind resurrects, is probably not a calendar day after which the earth stops spinning, but the final procedure before the new creation can commence (John 6:39-40).

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Samson: arch-hooligan par excellence

Reubens' interpretation of Samson killing the lion

There is only one Samson in the Bible. He was the only son of the Danite Manoah of Zorah, whose miraculous conception was foretold by an angel who appeared to her (Judges 13:3). The angel told her that her son would be a Nazirite who would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5).

Samson grew up in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol, but we know nothing of that time or when he began to display his proverbial powers. We also don't know what drove him to travel down to Philistine country (although the author states that YHWH enticed him to look for trouble — Judges 14:4), but there, in Timnah, he saw a woman he asked his parents to get for him (Judges 14:1). He and his parents travelled back to Timnah, and while on the road, he famously killed an attacking lion (Judges 14:6), and its carcass would later home a swarm of honey-producing bees (see for a surprising connection between Samson's bees and the Christmas story our Introduction to Scripture Theory).

The woman slipped through Samson's fingers due to trickery of her people, and Samson embarked on a series of wildly violent campaigns against the Philistines (which also resulted in the lynching of the woman and her father — Judges 15:6). As he took up residence in the cleft of the Rock of Etam, the Philistines retaliated by invading Judah. The men of Judah decided to hand Samson over to their enemies at Lehi, and Samson responded to that endeavor by picking up a donkey's jawbone and pummeling a thousand Philistines to death with it (Judges 15:15). To commemorate this event, he named the place Ramath-lehi and an adjacent spring he named En-hakkore.

At the end of his twenty year career as judge of Israel and Philistine-slayer, Samson took interest in a woman he saw in the Philistine stronghold of Gaza. The towns-folk of Gaza fixed to kill Samson, but in stead saw their town's gates getting hoisted up a mountain opposite Hebron (Judges 16:3). Still craving a woman, Samson went to the valley of Sorek and met Delilah.

Delilah was exceptionally gifted in the art of whining, and she drove Samson to the point of death (Judges 16:16). He finally told her that his Nazirite blessing might be compromised if his hair would be cut, which she promptly did (Judges 16:17). Powerless, Samson was delivered over to the Philistines, who blinded him and transported him to the prison in Gaza (Judges 16:21). When the Philistines brought Samson to the temple of their deity Dagon, the fallen judge prayed to the Lord, regained his strength and destroyed the temple, killing 3,000 Philistines and himself in the process (Judges 16:30).

The apostle Paul demonstrates that faith in the Lord does not always go hand in hand with elegance and subtlety when he lists Samson among the heroes of the faith (Samson in Greek is spelled Σαμψων, Sampson; Hebrews 11:32).

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Red is both the color of dawn and the name of the first human

Red is the color of dawn and the beginning of civilization

Perhaps by coincidence and perhaps not, the דום root-cluster contains roots that all seem to have to do with stillness or productivity, with a clear nod to the color red.

Red is the color of dawn and is also the first color a human baby learns to see. It seems plausible that to the Hebrews the color red signified the rudiments or principal beginnings of civilization, which of course is a mere manifestation of the beginning of a wisdom tradition, or as we would call it today, the preservation of information (in a cultural expression). That would link the beginning of wisdom to typical red items such as wine (Noah's vineyard: Genesis 9:20) and blood (hence the covenant of blood: Exodus 24:8), and since the art of understanding is metaphorized in a standing on dry land (Noah again), a partial understanding would be similar to mud and mire (in which Noah's dove couldn't find a foothold; Genesis 8:9).

A strikingly similar relationship between tranquility, muddy substances and the color red is demonstrated by the root-group חמר (hamar; see the name Homer), and perhaps even by the root group יון (ywn; see the name Javan, which is the Biblical word for Greece).

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The name Zaccheus

Only the gospel of Luke tells the familiar story of Zaccheus (Luke 19:2, 19:5 and 19:8). Zaccheus was a tax-collector of Jericho, who wanted to see Jesus but was forced to resort to climbing up a sycamore tree due to his small stature. When Jesus passed beneath the tree and saw Zaccheus, He told him to come down and invited Himself to Zaccheus' house.

The people who saw all this were disgruntled about Jesus associating with a man who collected the hated Roman taxes, but that was possibly because they benefitted from Zaccheus' operation. These Roman taxes proved later to be one of the major catalysts in provoking the Great Jewish Revolt, which culminated in the destruction of the temple of YHWH in Jerusalem (see our article on the name Annas for a discussion on these taxes and their Jewish collectors).

Zaccheus, however, exclaimed that he would give half of his possessions to the poor, and any excess he might have extorted, he would pay back fourfold. Upon hearing this, Jesus declared the man and his house saved and him a son of Abraham (Luke 19:9).

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

The noun καρπος (karpos) means fruit

What has a banana in common with a carpet?
The noun καρπος (karpos) means fruit, but has a slightly broader compass than the word fruit does in English. It derives from a very old root that also gave rise to our English words "carpet", "excerpt" and the verbal element "carp" in words such as "carpology" (the biology of fruits and seeds) and "mericarp" (a particular portion of a fruit). Our noun also resulted in the name of the abundantly fruitful fish, the carp, and corresponds to the Latin verb carpo, from whence we have the familiar aphorism carpe diem, or pluck the day.

The ultimate meaning of the word καρπος (karpos) does not appear to emphasize the mere production of fruits ex nihilo, but rather the return on an investment (namely seeds and labor). In Greek the word for wrist is also καρπος (karpos), and although it is probably a whole different word, it was probably derived from a root that means to turn around (Liddell and Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon).

In the Bible our noun καρπος (karpos) describes the fruit of trees and plants (Matthew 3:10, Luke 12:17, John 12:24) but also the harvest of a field (2 Timothy 2:6). Our word may describe the whole produce of a project such as a vineyard (Matthew 21:41) and even one's children (Luke 1:42, Acts 2:30).

Dictionaries will state that the latter usage and the following are metaphors, but that's an auto-centric mistake. Our word is an economic term that denotes the return of an endeavor: anything that comes about after an initial investment and subsequent effort (Romans 1:13, 7:4), and that includes apples, corn, children and: deeds or works (Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8), results or effects (hence the "fruit of the Spirit": Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5:9, but also see Romans 15:28, Hebrews 12:11 and James 3:17), and verbal praise and thanks (Hebrews 13:15). As such, in many contexts a more proper translation of our word would be "yield" (hence the "yield" of the Spirit).

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The reality of Jesus Christ

The significance of Jesus Christ (his example, deeds, teachings, etc) should not be confused with the personal historicity of Christ. In fact, the only Christ we can observe in any scientific sense is the literary Christ; the character in the Bible. But this one and only "scientifically real" Christ in turn is obviously also based on something. All literary characters have to have links to reality or else the audience can't relate and the story fails (which explains why there are no novels about stones or slugs and such), and the quest for the "historical Jesus" tries to answer what, exactly, inspired the literary Christ; which historic stamp caused Jesus the literary imprint, what historic reality is represented in the literary Christ.

The most popular answer has always been that the gospels are literary snapshots or observations caught in precise verbal realism. Nowadays we know that this clumsy literary technique didn't exist back then, and you might as well say that the evangelists recorded it all on an iPhone. The gospels aren't journalistic realism. They are also not a rock opera, excursions in dadaism or manuals for the internal combustion engine. They are, however, part of the most sophisticated literary tradition the world has ever seen. They operate on a level of complexity that has never been paralleled since. The gospels as literary works are right up there with the pyramids of Giza, Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and our very own space shuttle.

The Hebrews realized that neither the world nor the people in it are governed by the erratic whims of warring deities but by a sort of law. This law, they observed, always worked, always worked the same, and always worked the same for everybody (Romans 2:11). It was one with the universe but also ran the universe, and thus outranked the universe and thus must have also governed the creation of it. This natural law they called the Word of God, and they additionally realized that knowing this law would ease living and give power. The Bible is full of references to folks who purported to capture and harness this natural law (Genesis 3:6, Luke 20:10), or who tried to make others believe that they had indeed mastered it and were its emissaries, even its divine representatives on earth (Exodus 32:1, 1 Kings 18:26).

The world isn't governed by the erratic whims of warring deities but by a sort of law

But others saw that man had been equipped to merge with this natural law, to become one with it in heart and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5). Man, they realized, is not only an integral element of the creation that this law brought about and continually upheld, but was given the capacity to embody it consciously. If man embodied the whole of natural law, he would subsequently embody the whole of the universe, from its inception to it finest working principles (1 Kings 10:3-5). He would be like God and with God. He would be entirely free (John 8:32).

The literary character of Jesus, we are told in the story, personifies truth, which in turn encompasses everything that can be known about everything that can be known, or that which the Bible calls the Word of God. This Word is what reality is based on, and what Jesus embodies (Isaiah 45:7, John 1:3, Romans 11:36, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:3). The literary Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), which is why the sum of God's word is truth (Psalm 119:160) and in Jesus are all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom (Colossians 2:3).

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

The word זית (zayit) means olive and is a complicated symbol

The Hebrew word for olive tree is זית (zayit; Deuteronomy 8:8, 2 Kings 18:32, Amos 4:9), or the fruit of it; olives (Micah 6:15) and olive-oil (שמן זית, shemen zayit; Exodus 27:20, Leviticus 24:2).

A person who occupied any of the few highest earthly ranks — the king, high priest and a prophet had no earthly superiors — was called an anointed (see the name Messiah), and anointing was done with olive oil (Judges 9:9). A failure of the olive harvest was a disaster because that would mean that Israel's social structure couldn't be maintained (Deuteronomy 28:40).

And it also caused the olive tree to be one of the most symbolical entities in the Bible. What is symbolizes, however, is commonly not very well understood, but it's by no means an accident that Jesus' passion began with His arrest on Mount Olivet.

That the symbolism of the olive is really quite complicated is demonstrated in the story of Noah, where after the flood a released dove returns to the Ark with in her mouth a עלה-זית טרף, ('ayle-zayit tarap; Genesis 8:11), which literally means: the violently torn leafage of an olive (tree), but which translations of the Bible usually generously interpret as a freshly picked olive leaf.

This image has further been developed into a dove carrying a whole olive branch, which then became interpreted as a symbol of peace. But this evolution is faithful only to that odd human persistence to warp whatever is out there into whatever we want. In short: Noah's dove has not a thing to do with offering peace to anyone.

The word יונה (yona; see the name Jonah), meaning dove, is closely similar to יון (yawen) meaning mire or being without foothold, and even ינה (yana), meaning to vex, oppress or wrong someone. The earth had been flooded for 150 days (Genesis 8:3). The Ark wrecked on Ararat in the seventh month, and in the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible (Genesis 8:5). Forty-seven days later, the dove came back with our 'ayle-zayit tarap in her beak. And whatever that was, it certainly was not a freshly picked leaf from a cheerfully blooming olive tree.

Whatever remained of the drowned olive trees was at that time still below a vast amount of water. It took three whole months for the water to recede the height of the draught of the Ark (three months between running aground and seeing the ground). Forty-seven days after that there were only high mountain summits above water. What the dove had managed to harvest was a hardy helping of whatever little plants or mosses had sprouted on the mountain tops.

Ergo: the word by which the Hebrews knew the olive also meant something more basic, namely a freshling, or firstling, or even herald of a lot more to come. And that's not all that odd, as we shall see.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Psalm 8:5 - a little lower than God?

Some do it right (Green, Young, Schlachter) but the most popular translations have it flat wrong. What does it mean to be "a little lower than God"?

Entire theologies have been derived from the notion that man is a little lower than God, but the essence of the statement fails the essence of Scriptures, namely that man has fallen and is fully separated from God, and through Jesus Christ man is forgiven, and returns to God.

It's a principle of binary simplicity: yea or nay, you're in or you're out. There's no half way, no almost there.

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A principle of binary simplicity

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