If the begats don’t get you…

May 28, 2011

As I think I mentioned a few posts ago, I have decided to begin another thorough cover-to-cover reading of the Bible. So maybe I should keep posting on it – progress reports, reflections, whatever. My first attempt to read the great Book was at the age of nine, with a King James (which was the only version I knew), and like many people of all ages who attempt the thing unsupervised, I quickly got bogged down in the “begats” and didn’t get much further. Finally though, freshman year in college, I got hold of a Jerusalem Bible, kept it on my desk and looked at a bit at least every day, and got through it for the first time.

I started my present reading on Friday the 20th, the day I brought home from the bookstore a new ultra-portable (it’s called “Thinline”) printing of the NRSV. I’ve been trying to do at least 10 pages a day (of a total of around 1200), and have generally managed more than that, so I am already well into Numbers.

Mind you, as my friends and regular readers well know, I am in no way a religious believer; for me the Bible is literature, and a valued part of our common cultural heritage. Applying it to our lives today has always seemed to me a risky proposition at best. Way back on my 49th birthday, I happened to attend an Episcopalian morning prayer service, at which one of the readings was from Leviticus 25, discussing the Year of the Jubilee:

8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.

Since my 50th year was beginning that very day, I found this rather pleasant to contemplate; though it was not convenient to return to my family home at the time, I did enjoy the image of a trumpet being blown throughout the land to celebrate the coincidence… Well, the other day, with my 60th birthday looming, I was back in Leviticus, and found this:

27: 1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When a person makes an explicit vow to the Lord concerning the equivalent for a human being, 3 the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. 4 If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels. 5 If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. 6 If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a male is five shekels of silver, and for a female the equivalent is three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the equivalent for a male is fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels.

Instant depreciation. Like I say, you have to be careful with these things…

Another nice co-incidence came during my second or third complete daily reading, about 20 years ago. One night I was at a lecture that I could hardly keep awake through – to be fair to the speaker, I must say the room was stuffy, and I was tired to begin with. When I got home I went straight to bed, then remembered I hadn’t done my Bible reading for the day and said “well, let me look at a few verses at least.” I got the NRSV which I was using at the time, opened to the place I had left off (in Acts 20), and behold:

7 On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. 9 A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. 12 Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

Moral: if you bore your audience to death, you’d better be able to resurrect them…

To be continued!

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