Bible Reading Update

July 7, 2011

I’m now around halfway through Ezekiel, and am thinking that maybe when I get to the end of the Hebrew Scriptures – maybe sometime next week – I won’t go immediately on to the New Testament after all, or the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books which my edition of NRSV has in a little section by themselves between the “Testaments,” but rather take some more time to re-read and mull over the parts of the Bible I really like: the historical books and the Prophets. For one thing they’re less familiar than the NT; most of Gospels and Epistles I’ve not only read, but heard read out repeatedly in one or another of the churches I belonged to over the years. Not that I have a clear picture of who Jesus really was or what Paul really meant, but I’ve a good idea of what the parameters of the evidence are. In Kings and Chronicles and Isaiah and Jeremiah I’m always running into things that are not part of anyone’s sense of baseline religious literacy in our culture. Quirky things, beautiful things. The other day I was reading the various laments for Moab –  Isaiah 16:7 “Weep for the raisin cakes of Kir-Hareseth” had stuck in my mind from the last time I read it, years ago, but this time I noticed a parallel passage in Jeremiah that has “the men of Kir-Heres,” and when I did a bit more digging it just got stranger and stranger; the Hebrew word usually but not always rendered as “raisin cakes” is similar to the word for “men,” seems to be the wrong gender to be the word known elsewhere for “raisin cakes,” one translation turns them into “prosperous farmers,” the Vulgate has “those who celebrate upon the brick walls” and the Septuagint “you will have concern for the dwellers in Seth [or Deseth].” And in Jeremiah the Septuagint has the chapters in a different order from the Hebrew.

Amusements of this sort aside, I can’t help but have a sense that this historical period – from the rise of the Omrid dynasty in the North to the good kings Hezekiah and Josiah in Jerusalem – is the first in the whole history of the Biblical traditions that we can actually make some kind of sense of; we have the first clear synchronisms between the Biblical texts, the Babylonian sources, and the evidence of archeology, and what is known of material conditions and international affairs at the time fits very nicely with what the prophets were recorded as complaining about. There is no reason to think that we have any sort of accurate picture of a “historical Moses,” most archeologists don’t seem to think the story of the Exodus fits very well with any external evidence, but a “historical Isaiah” or “historical Jeremiah” seems quite plausible.

And then there’s Ezekiel. If the first chapter of Ezekiel isn’t an account of first contact with extraterrestrial invaders, I don’t know what it is…


2 Responses to “Bible Reading Update”

  1. Claude Tusk Says:

    Woe unto them who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin–as it were–with a cartrope! Also, “Shibboleth!” “Sibboleth!” “Synthema!” and, of course, “Say something to God and die”.

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