The Jewish and Christian Liturgical Calendars Offer Conflicting Emotions In Spring

Check out my latest Nashville Free Press column about the Jewish and Christian calendars at this time of year and the way we’re supposed to be exploring the emotionality of Spring.

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The Art of Taking Ourselves Less Seriously For the Public Good

Read my latest Nashville Free Press article.

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Fun with the Bible: Jesus as the Passover Sacrifice in the New Testament Gospel of John

My latest column in the Nashville Free Press is all about Passover and Easter and what that means for Jesus being John’s Lamb of God. Enjoy “Lamb – It’s What’s For Dinner.”

If you liked that then you’ll also enjoy my previous post, The Synoptic Gospels and John Crucify Jesus on Different Days – Want to Know Why?

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Fun with the Bible: 7 Fun Facts About the Book of Esther This Purim

Rather than go through the entire book of Esther, which would be an enormous undertaking and not what Fun with the Bible is all about, I’m going to point out a few fun things about the biblical book of Esther.

1. It’s one of the scrolls, or megillot, that the Jews read in full at particular times throughout the liturgical calendar year.

2. In Judaism, the holiday surrounding the Book of Esther is called Purim, and it is a particularly fun holiday with partying, games, costumes and revelry, celebrated in a fashion much akin to Halloween. It is the one holiday during which it is sanctioned to get wasted – so wasted in fact, that you are not supposed to be able to tell the difference between the names of the good guy and the bad guy in the Purim story (think Carnival).

3. The bad guy in the story is named Haman, and in episode 309 of South Park, “Jewbilee,” some cryptic references to this arch-enemy of the Jews are made. Curiously, they have nothing to do with Purim. Haman, the king’s vizier, was planning on killing all of the Jews across Shushan (ancient Persia) because one Jew, Mordechai refused to bow down to him. Mordechai, using his niece who had recently married the king, managed to thwart Haman’s plan and have Haman killed instead. And in the general telling, that’s where the story ends. What people often leave out is that the Jews were able to rise up and kill 75,000 of their enemies on the same day (legally sanctioned by the king, fyi). Twisted and often ignored.

4. The holiday begins with the Fast of Esther, the name of Mordechai’s niece who helped save the Jews from Haman. Before executing her plan she fasted for three days. Jews commemorate this fast with one fast day of their own.

5. The book of Esther is the ONLY book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God in any way.

6. Strangely enough, the book of Esther is the only Old Testament book (the only books around at the time, mind you) not discovered at Qumran amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls.

7. My girlfriend’s name is Eszter (the Hungarian spelling of Esther), so I have a particular affinity for this book…if only for this reason.

If you’re celebrating, Happy Purim!

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Italian Author, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose Is One of the Most Compelling Books I’ve Ever Read

This book was spectacular, as my post title indicates. I read it a month ago (maybe longer now) and have been wanting to write this review for a while. Of course, the distance between me and the book grossly jeopardizes the thoroughness, accuracy and quality of my assessment but I suppose that’s a risk you just have to take

….and if you’re still reading have decided to take.

The brilliance with which this book reflected its time period (the first half of the 14th century) is simply marvelous, but I suppose that Umberto Eco is a scholar of the Middle Ages. I once wrote a post about my love of historical fiction and how important I find the accuracy of historical fiction to be, and I think that this book just takes the cake in the quality with which the period was understood and researched. In fact, though the story itself revolves around a series of disturbing deaths in a monastery in Italy, it also focuses heavily on a few key religious issues that were important at the time. Had the characters themselves not been distracted by these issues and literally had their own fascinating story thrust into the middle of them, then the book would never have been as accurate as it was.

One of these issues was the papal seat being moved to Avignon and the decadent lifestyle being lived there. This, of course, contrasts with the centrally important theological issue of Jesus’ poverty (or not) and whether that meant that all devout men (i.e. monks or those associated with the church) should be poor. Obviously the Pope and the wealthy bishops and cardinals insisted that Jesus was not destitute and to whatever degree he lacked property didn’t think that others should, and many different sects of monks insisted the opposite. Some monks took to condemning the pope as an impostor and the anti-Christ and were branded as heretical and persecuted by the Inquisition which had just started to get warmed up at the time. These central issues (pope at Avignon, Jesus’ poverty, heresy of disagreeing monks) were crucial to the time period.

Outside of these fascinating topics were intense and highly relevant philosophical conversations about the value of reason and revelation, learning and knowledge, life and death, the place of religion and so much more. But none was mentioned in some high-minded independent fashion. Rather, it was imbedded in the fascinating story that revolved around these murder mysteries.

Truly, The Name of the Rose is a work of genius. A wonderful book. Get your copy of The Name of the Rose today.

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Fun with the Bible: The Importance of Charity in a Ten Commandments Time

I wrote an article for the Nashville Free Press in my column, No Holier Than Thou, about the importance of charity and the concept of charity among Judaism, Islam and Christianity. To check out this article, please click HERE and please feel free to leave comments either there or here.

Enjoy!

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Paul Doesn’t Want Christians Getting Married in Corinthians 7 Because the World is Ending

My latest Nashville Free Press column for No Holier Than Thou is out, and it’s all about the Apocalypse, the impending end of the world and the Christian and Mayan predictions about such things. It also has a brief analysis of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7 in which he says marriage isn’t a great idea.

You can read it by clicking HERE. The article is called, “In Case of Rapture, I Owe You Ten Dollars.” Feel free to leave comments there, here or in both locations if you really want to show me some love (or hate).

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Fun with the Bible: Obama’s Inauguration Ceremonies, Religion and the Bible

Yes, it is a little late for such an article seeing as how we’ve been enjoying our new president (who would have thought we could ever say “enjoy” and “president” in the same positive sentence?) for nearly two weeks now, but as it happens, I recently got a column in a new upstart paper called the Nashville Free Press. It’s a spin-off from the radio station, Radio Free Nashville, which is a sensational non-profit station dedicated to discussing matters that the mainstream media ignores. A particular favorite of mine is the Health at Every Size show with Dr. Peggy Elam (8 a.m. Pacific Time every Monday). You can listen to any of their shows on the web through their website.

In any case, the leaders of that wonderful endeavor just started a newspaper dedicated to similar principles: bringing people the news that mainstream media feels comfortable ignoring. And as it happens, yours truly has a column in this new paper called No Holier Than Thou. The link is in the blogroll to the right under My Sites –>

Please feel free to check it out whenever you like. Along those lines, for this week’s Fun with the Bible post I’m going to point you in that direction. Click HERE to read up on the place of religion, God and the Bible in the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. You can return here to leave comments on the article and your thoughts about religion in the Inauguration.

Hope you enjoy!

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Fun with the Bible: Adam and Eve’s Crotch-Covering Leaves

jay-with-adam-leaf

This is me in Kuala Lumpur holding a giant leaf that I found, and which made me think of Adam in the Garden of Eden. After the serpent tricks Adam and Eve, we can read in Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”

Now, this is no fig leaf and it certainly couldn’t get turned into a loincloth, but I couldn’t help but think that if they’d had such leaves it would have been a lot easier for them to diaper-wrap these than anything else. After all, where did they learn to sow and with what implements were they sowing anyways?

Have you been to Kuala Lumpur? What do you think of this verse in the Bible?

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Fun with the Bible: Verifying Isaiah with Archaeology and How the World Could Be Without Judaism, Christianity and Islam

There is a verse in the book of Isaiah, chapter 22, verse 10, that reads, “You counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall.” This is in the midst of a denunciation of Hezekiah, king of Judea in the latter half of the eighth century BCE by Isaiah.

For you see, in the eighth century BCE, the Assyrians were marching across the known world (Mesapotamia, or the Middle East, if you will) and conquering the hell out of everyone. In Judea, King Hezekiah decided to build (by reinforcing) a great and mighty wall around the city of Jerusalem to protect it from the Assyrians. In the northern kingdom of Isreal, by the way, the Assyrians conquered the Israelites and dispersed the tribes. Hence the ten lost tribes of Israel. In any case, Hezekiah was not going to let that happen to Judea and so he built this wall.

On a separate note, modern archaeologists digging in the old city of Jerusalem uncovered the wall that Hezekiah had build around the city and at one point in the wall, they actually found the foundations of a house jutting out. Before that discovery, religious folks and scholars were unsure about the particular meaning of this verse and what it referred to – or that it referred to something so real and tangible. However, after this discovery scholars knew that King Hezekiah had indeed built this wall and that a contemporary of his had chastized him for disregarding the homes of the common people in order to build the wall.

Now, personally, I think Hezekiah made the right decision, but the point I want to make is not that. Much of the Bible, as many of you know I believe, did not happen – at least not the way it is written. However, that does not preclude the fact that much of it is still true. In some cases, archaeology like this can perfectly verify the words of the Bible.

However, I’d like you to consider something else. The Assyrians had a policy of moving the conquered people away from their land and moving foreign people in. Moreover, they would force these conquered people to marry and assimilate with people elsewhere, thereby destroying all tribal identities and creating only people who saw themselves as subjects of the Assyrian empire. This is precisely what happened with the ten northern tribes from the kingdom of Israel and why they are now lost, and had Hezekiah not built this wall and chosen to do it as he did then the tribe of Judah would no longer be here because the Assyrians would have conquered them and done the same thing.

To whatever degree you think God has a hand in things, consider that without this man building this wall, there would have been no Judea and therefore no Jews. Thus, there would be NO Christianity and I’d be willing to bet, no Islam. Many people might cynically say, No religions, that’s a great thing, but let’s not be so naive as to imagine that nothing else – no other beliefs – would have risen in place of these systems that now dominate humanity. And no matter what, human nature would have overridden the peaceful inclinations that those religions had. Don’t forget, at their core Islam and Christianity are both religions of peace, for whatever violence has plagued their histories.

So, no wall from Hezekiah and the world as we know it would be a very different place. Consider that when you consider the impact of small things on the world at large.

What do you think about these verses?

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