The Bible (2013)

I received an email, earlier this week, from a friend, urging me to promote and watch The Bible, a mini series that premiered on the History Channel last night. Initially, I was going to ignore it, particularly since we don’t have access to the History Channel. If the buzz about the show was hot enough, we would find it on DVD or watch it later on the internet. But, yesterday afternoon an invitation came to watch it with a friend, so off we went.

I was disappointed on a number of fronts.

The producer of the series, Mark Burnett, quoted in USA Today says “By telling these emotionally connected, big stories, hopefully millions of people will reopen their Bibles,” he goes on to state “If you know the Bible, you’ll enjoy  seeing the stories come to life. If you’ve never read the Bible, I think you’ll love the stories,”. There is truth in both the statements, but I’m not sure it.s the truth he was looking for.

As we watched last night, we did indeed reopen our Bibles. It wasn’t because we were so excited about the story we were seeing, it was to somehow verify the things we were seeing were actually there. I some cases they were, but somewhat obscure, in others it would appear the writers of the program started with the biblical story, closed the book, and then said “how could we make this better?”

The seeming need to portray gratuitous violence is a good example of the odd way stories were chosen. Abraham’s story is generally one of peace. He lives in the promised land as a nomad, he even buys, at his own insistence, a piece of ground to bury his wife. There is one instance of violence recorded in the Hebrew Bible, the rescue of Lot. This little story doesn’t have a lot to do with the main story line except to give an indication of how large and strong Abraham’s community had become. It did, however, offer an opportunity for sword play, blood, gore, and adrenalin flow.

Later, the program depicts a couple of ninja angels fighting their way out of Sodom (I can’t find a reference for that one), a sword fight between the young Moses and Pharaoh’s son (extra biblical), and in the final scenes of the first episode, a sword fight between the two spies and the residents of Jericho (their presence was suspected, but I don’t remember dead bodies in their wake). Is this violence just inserted to keep the male in me engaged? It could be, but by highlighting the violence, God’s work, and power, are diminished.

Choosing episodes which can draw the excitement oriented audience also means other, more important parts of the story need to be left on the cutting room floor to make the show fit into ten episodes. All of Jacob story, along with the migration to Egypt, and care God gave the people through Joseph, is missing. We just suddenly, inexplicably, begin a new scene in Egypt four or five hundred years after the preceding scene. When Moses comes down from the mountain with the tablets of stone, I am expecting the story of the Golden Calf, but instead, we suddenly jump ahead fourty years to Joshua and the city of Jericho. Anyone, not familiar with these stories would have been lost trying to connect the dots.

Another area of disappointing choice made by the writers is in their depiction of women. God’s redemption has often come through women, seen as the weaker part of the ancient society. We do see Eve take the fruit, cause the fall, however, the roles of Sarah, Hagar, Miriam, and Rahab are diminished to the point, in some cases, of being unnamed. We don’t even get to meet Rebekah,

I’ve made it sound like the show was all bad, and that’s not true.  It was cool to sit and watch someone else’s visualization of the well known stories of the Bible and compare it to the one in my own mind. The task is a daunting one when all of us have images burned into our minds by Sunday School teachers of how the promised land must look and feel,  what the plagues were like, and how beautiful Sarah was.

The Bible is trying to tell me a story that I already know intimately, can picture vividly, have grown into, and unfortunately they just won’t be able to get it right, but they did manage to achieve one of their goals, they did get me to open my Bible again if only to try to figure out what they were thinking.


Hebrew: The Language

Hebrew is a slippery language.

Its slippery in more ways than one and the internet provides a wonderful metaphor for its slipperiness. Just try copying and pasting a piece of Hebrew text from say Wikipedia into a word document and see what happens. The moment you hit paste, and the text appears, it changes into something else, moving words and letters. You can trick it by copying the English text around it, pasting the whole thing into your document, and then, very carefully sneak up on the Hebrew, deleting the English. Sometimes it will hold and you can go on merrily writing things, even saving from time to time. Close the document, come back tomorrow, and you may find, that over night, somewhere in the bowels of your hard drive, the Hebrew words had a party, ate matzah balls, drank kosher wine, and forgot where they belong and just lined themselves up in what appears to be a new, random order.Their sentence now says something completely different.

Now, I realize that all this running around of words has more to do with word processors, left and right margins, and the direction of text, mechanical things, but, I think it says something about Hebrew as well in a metaphorical way. Hebrew scholars talk about four different ways of interpreting Hebrew text:

  • Peshat (Hebrew: פשט‎ lit. “simple”): the direct interpretations of meaning.
  • Remez (Hebrew: רמז‎ lit. “hint[s]”): the allegoric meanings (through allusion).
  • Derash (Hebrew: דרש‎ from Heb. darash: “inquire” or “seek”): midrashic (Rabbinic) meanings, often with imaginative comparisons with similar words or verses.
  • Sod (Hebrew: סוד‎ lit. “secret” or “mystery”): the inner, esoteric (metaphysical) meanings, expressed in kabbalah. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

So while the text is running all over my page, making new meaning as it goes, there are already at least four ways that is could be considered even before it started moving.

I suppose that other languages could be treated in the same way, looked at from four different aspects. Hebrew scholars would likely agree, but, they would also likely argue that Hebrew is the only language designed to be handled in this way, designed to lend itself to different levels of meaning, particularly when it is found in the sacred texts.

I just think its cool.

Hebrew is Over, Was it Worth the Effort?

Yesterday, I finished my last Hebrew assignment, an exegesis of Genesis 12:1-3. Nothing on this journey has been as difficult as the three courses of Hebrew that were required by the Christian Reformed Church. At times I felt overwhelmed. I put in hours upon hours trying to get the words and the grammar to stick in my head. The credits that I got for these courses took far more energy than any of the other credits. The question has to be asked: Was it worth the effort?

The question is particularly relevant because I have not yet found a Christian Reformed minister who actually uses his or her Hebrew training. All of them passed the courses or else they would not be ordained, but it seems that it was little more than something that needed to be done rather than a skill that is valuable to their work in ministry or, if it was once seen as valuable, the skills have been allowed to fall by the wayside in the busyness of the work of the church. Some will argue that the computer tools available, make use of the actual language unnecessary, all that is needed is an understanding of it.

I am glad that I was forced to put in the effort. I’m glad that my prof did not just do enough to get me through, but, challenged me to think in new ways. For me, the time spent has been worthwhile. I can find meaning in the Hebrew words, grammar and syntax. With so many good translations used today you might wonder what the point of actually reading the  text yourself would be. Nine months ago I would have said the same thing, but how do you know which is right when they differ.

Here is an example: Genesis 12:1 is part of the text of the exegesis paper. It is the record of the call of Abraham. The New International Version, which is found in most CRC’s, says:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

The NRSV, says:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

They look pretty much the same, don’t they? They are, except for the word “had”, which doesn’t seem like that big a deal.. “Had” also shows up in the King James version and  changes the tone of the call from something that has just happened to something that has happened a while ago, maybe even a long time ago. Abraham’s response in verse four is:

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him Genesis 12:4a NIV

“Had” changes the tone of Abraham’s response in verse four  from an immediate leaving to, perhaps, a longer,  drawn out response. It changes the message of the verse.

“Had” is not part of the Hebrew text. Without the last nine months of work, I would have a hard time knowing which of these translations was right. Now I know.

So, why is it there? The best argument  I can find, is to make the text match  with Stephen’s sermon in Acts seven. There, Stephen says that God’s call came to Abraham when he was living in Ur of the Chaldeans. The last part of Genesis 11 has Abraham living in Haran not Ur.  “Had” is added to put the call further in the past, in Ur.

The the translators, who wrote the KJV, apparently attempted to match the words  of the Hebrew Bible with the New Testament.  The NIV, in some cases, has followed the example set out by the KJV whether or not it was correct.

There are, of course, many other cool reasons to work with the original language. This example for me is one of the more troubling ones. Unfortunately, it’s not the only example.

Of course, my stated determination to keep, and grow, this language skill may be nothing but hot air. If I don’t find ways to work at it, I, like so many others who took the courses, will return to Hebrew illiteracy.


It seemed like a long pull, but, the last paper of the semester was submitted half an hour ago. It was Hebrew Exegesis and I was looking particularly at Genesis 12:1-3. It’s amazing how three short verses can turn into 4000 words and still not give the feeling that enough

has been said.

The prof was good enough to give me an extension to take a bit of pressure off at the end of the term. It was appreciated and I don’t think I abused his generosity, but, the extension may have lifted a little too much pressure. The paper was originally due on Tuesday. I worked on it Tuesday, after finishing a New Testament take home exam, and on Wednesday as well between rations and phone calls. Thursday I made farm calls for Threefold Consulting as I did on Friday morning as well. Friday afternoon and evening were taken up by a funeral and a movie (more on that later). So, by this morning it was starting to feel like the generosity was turning into a lack of motivation to finish. Deadlines are a good thing.

More than three full weeks are stretched in front of me. I really want to read a few real books. Lose myself in novels, in fantasy, in fiction. I miss reading for fun. There will be a bunch of farm calls to do and some training sessions, but no 4000 word papers.

Of course, Christmas is part of the coming weeks. Everyone will be home which is exciting. Distance makes it impossible for our family to be together very often. It is a real treat that it is going to work out this year.

A contented sigh.

I Think the Season Passed

It looks like biking is over for this year.

Today, while hammering away at Hebrew Exegesis and Hermeneutics (I’m using those words just because I can) it seemed that the sun outside was beckoning me to ride. I checked the thermometer, 10 degrees Celsius. I look outside my window again. It doesn’t look too windy. I really do want to go!

So, I put on the spandex (try not to let your imagination run too much here) and another layer, thinking that maybe 10 degrees is not really so warm, and head out.

My first realization that this was not a good idea was when the wind hit me. My east facing window did not give me much indication of the west wind. It was blowing and it was making a wind chill that likely pushed my balmy 10 degrees down to two or three. I went anyway and after a kilometer and a half turned directly into the wind. I lasted another kilometer or so, put my back to the wind and pedaled for home.

By the time I got there, it felt like I might need to spit up a lung. Fingers needed to be pried off of the handlebars.

The bike is inside now, on the trainer, where I guess it will likely stay till next March or April. For the next couple of months the scenery I see biking will be the basement and my computer screen.

So, the end of season number is 1338 km counting all three bikes. Nowhere near last year’s record, but considering all the other things we did this summer, I’m satisfied.


Hebrew Grammar is Behind Me

I wrote my Hebrew exam this morning. I’m not going to say it was simple, but, my prof is really interested in my success. The exam was a take home exam.  I was allowed to study it as much as I wanted for the week and then was to write it with no aids. I did just that! The week to concentrate on just this piece of the whole was good.  The exam was 10 Hebrew sentences that I was to translate literally and then put into an understandable English sentence.  Some of them I recognized right away (which was cool) as well-known biblical texts (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 23:1, Ruth 1:16, Jonah 1:17,  and Deuteronomy 6:4) others were more obscure.  Just being able to recognize the Hebrew text  as being one of these passages is much more than I ever could have done four months ago.

I will need to continue to work with this over the next month so that I don’t lose it all.  In September, we will be back at it doing exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, esp. of the Bible) and from what the prof tells me we will continue to work on grammar and vocabulary.

Feeling some relief. Now we have six weeks that won’t be consumed by Hebrew.

יְהוָה רֹעִי, לא אֶחְסָר

Psalm 23:1

The Trouble with Hebrew

J says that she is tired of hearing me complain about Hebrew….so I’ll do it here a bit instead.

I posted a couple of months ago that Hebrew was taking over my life, and it was, but I had no idea what that really meant, it has gotten worse!!! (or better depending on your perspective) Yes I realize that we are doing the work that normally would happen over eight months in three and a half, but I think the biggest problem is that I am over fifty and have never actually shown a real propensity for languages other than English.

I have to say, the prof that I am working with has been great.  So far he has patiently told me the same things (I think) over and over again as they go in one ear and leak continuously out the other. The one on one teaching has been beneficial, but has the disadvantage that you cannot just hide in class.  When it is time for a student to read, I don’t even get to put up my hand to volunteer.

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. D introduced me to Weingreen’s classic grammar text-book. Since then I have been valiantly doing exercises, wearing out pencil after pencil, never feeling like I’ve done enough, banging my head against the desk trying to figure out why the word that I knew just moments ago is now a complete, but familiar, stranger.

I keep needing to look back at the imaginary stake that I put in the ground back in April to realize that, yes, I have made progress. Dr. D reminded me today that it takes something like 10,000 hours to actually master a skill.  I don’t think I have 10,000 hours to spend on this project, but maybe a working knowledge can be achieved in less time.

It’s a little like going on a trip to a much-anticipated place.  It always seems like the journey there is longer than the journey home. The desire to “be there” makes the trip seem longer and progress seem slower.

A few more weeks and we will see if I am ready to go on to Hebrew Exegesis (your new word for the day: a critical interpretation or explication, especially of biblical and other religious texts.) I’m not sure that I will feel ready, so we will leave that for the experts to decide.

See…that wasn’t such bad complaining.