Tag: Old Testament

120. The Old Testament. The Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations.

120. The Old Testament. The Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations.

Plot: God calls Jeremiah to be His prophet, and warns him that one of the nations from the north (Babylon or Egypt) will invade Jerusalem, and act as God’s agent to bring His judgment on the people of Israel and Judah, to punish his chosen people as they still do not act as He has decreed, paying only lip service to His words, and persisting in wrongdoing and the worship of other gods and false idols. Jeremiah repeatedly warns the King, the priests and false prophets, but his words are ignored, the written warnings burnt, and finally Jeremiah is imprisoned.  Jerusalem will be destroyed, and those who are not slain, or killed by famine or pestilence will be enslaved by the invaders. But later generations of those taken away will be restored to the Promised Land and a new Covenant made with them, and Babylon will fall in its turn. The Book of Jeremiah ends with the actual sack of Jerusalem, the death of King Zedekiah, and the enslavement of the peoples of Judah as prophesised.

Lamentations, originally believed to be authored by Jeremiah hence its placement, poetically expresses the grief and suffering from the destruction of Jerusalem. In particular, the first chapter which personifies the city as a woman whose lovers and children have been killed or taken captive, and the sufferings of the prophet (?) in the third chapter, are quite moving.

Reading from the Authorised King James Version (Collins, 1934)

My thoughts: The Book of Jeremiah seems more historically grounded than Isaiah, with dates based on the years of reign of the kings of Judah.

Again, God uses Babylon (as he did Egypt in Moses’ day) to punish the Israelites, then in turn wreaks havoc on these peoples who carried out his wishes, indeed the desolation prophesised for Babylon seems a hundredfold more violent than that which destroys Jerusalem and Judah.

His anger and threats to both the Israelites and the Babylonians recorded in these  chapters must have provided much fodder for the sermons of old-school hellfire preachers.

Favourite lines/passages:
“Gird up thy loins, and arise…” Jeremiah 1:17
“thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins” Jeremiah 12:5
“…they shall be an execration, and an astonishment, and a curse and a reproach” Jeremiah 44:12
(I’ll try to remember that the next time another driver cuts in front of me. “YOU BLOODY ASTONISHMENT!!!” I’ll cry at them and wave my fist)

Personal rating: Too much repetition of the central theme. A modern publisher would edit it heavily, which would be a blessing or a curse depending on your religious viewpoint. A 3.

The sanity in between: The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cornwell’s first volume in the series, and a long standing resident of my TBR shelves. Perhaps not as great as his Sharpe books, but I am sucker for a good series and this will provide some painless history lessons amongst the battles and intrigues. Also my monthly hit of obscure Wodehouse – Big Money sees two impoverished young English gentlemen resolve their individual problems of true love and financial happiness with the usual Wodehousian complications. I was too busy chortling (that seems the most apt verb) to take down any quotes. Two very different but excellent reads.

Next : Some of the speeches of Demosthenes (384-322 BC)

118. The Old Testament. The Book of Isaiah.

118. The Old Testament. The Book of Isaiah.

First of the Major Prophets, The Book of Isaiah deals with the upcoming judgment and punishment of nations, and the eventual restoration of Judah and Jerusalem. It also foreshadows the coming of Jesus.

Again I am surprised by the numerous times the Israelites turned away from the Lord and worshipped idols in the Old Testament, and God’s wrath in placing them under the yoke of other nations, only to forgive and raise them up, and smite their enemies. And finally now we have the possibility of inclusion of other nations and peoples under God’s hand, after they have been suitably ‘humbled’ as had the Israelites before them.

Favourite lines/passages: Some very well known verses here, and despite the predominant themes of punishment, the ones which resonate are to do with peace

“… and he shall judge amongst the nations, and shall rebuke many people, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”      Isaiah 2:4

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them”  Isaiah 11:6

which leads me to the foretelling of the coming of Christ

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign ; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”                             Isaiah 7:14

Diversions and digressions: This read was a diversion in itself from the dry works of Aristotle, but it’s not very satisfactory and I am still hanging out for a work of dramatic  literature. I will have to wait until Menander’s comic play Dyskolos (aka Old Cantankerous) which is still about 8 books away.

Personal rating: By no means a work of clarity on first reading – it might improve with study and more personal knowledge of the historical background. 2

Next : Back to Aristotle and his work on Metaphysics. Yikes!

87. The Old Testament. The Song of Solomon.

87. The Old Testament. The Song of Solomon.

Also called the Song of Songs, or the Canticles, this is the last of the Books of Wisdom in the Protestant Old Testament. It is a three way dialogue between a woman, her lover, and a chorus of her friends. While the chapter headings in my Bible and biblical scholars refer to the two lovers as Christ and the Church, it is hard not to believe that the author is describing the mutual, physical sexual desire between two lovers (Solomon and a shepherdess, possibly his concubine)

This is the first dedicated love poetry I have reached (excluding Sappho, which was mostly unrequited yearnings) and I found it quite sensual and erotic. Lots of natural imagery and symbolism especially gardening.

It is a little hard to tell who is talking when, and what is real or imagined or remembered. The verses breaks do not necessarily tell me when the dialogue switches from woman to man until a pronoun puts it in context again.

Favourite lines/passages:

“Rise up my love, my fair one and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone ; the flowers appear on the earth ; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.  The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise my love, my fair one and come away.”    Song 2:10-13.

(Turtle presumably meaning turtledove, as he calls her his dove in the next verse)

“My beloved is mine, and I am his ; he feedeth among the lilies until the day break, and the shadows flee away …”       Song 2:16-17

“Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of thy neck”   Song 4:9

“Awake, O north wind; and come thou south ; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits”   Song 4:16

“Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm ; for love is strong as death ; jealousy as cruel as the grave ; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it …”     Song 12:6-7

Diversions/digressions:   Mentioned twice in this Book, spikenard is a luxurious perfumed oil obtained from a flower growing in the Himalayas. It’s exoticness not only suggests the special nature of the love between the two, but on a pragmatic level shows trade between two areas rarely connected in my thoughts – a trade route across Asia linking India or China with Israel in the centuries before the Roman Empire?

Personal rating:   The most literary and ‘non-Bible’ chapter of the Bible so far. Definitely a 6.

Next :  Back to me old mate Plato, and his post-Socratic dialogue Gorgias

86. The Old Testament. Ecclesiastes.

86. The Old Testament. Ecclesiastes.

I found I enjoyed Ecclesiastes more than the previous books of the Old Testament. It starts with a great feeling of the disillusionment of the old wise King (Solomon?) as he realises that all he has achieved – his great works and wealth, his happiness and wIsdom  –  is all vanity, and will not survive after this death ; that death comes to both the wise and the foolish, the righteous and the sinners. There is injustice, evil and danger in the world, so we may as well enjoy life and our own works for now as they will not last.

There are so many well-known sayings in this small book that I lost count of them. “All is vanity and vexation” is repeated in almost every chapter.

Favourite lines/passages: As I say above, there are many familiar lines, and the ones that appeal most will differ depending on the reader and their mood. I recommend you read the book itself (it’s only 7 pages or 12 ‘chapters’) to find what speaks to you best. Of course, any child of the Sixties will savour  Chapter 3 : 1-8

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,

A time to be born, and a time to die ; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted,

A time to kill, and a time to heal ; a time to break down and a time to build up

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance …..

A time to love and a time to hate, a time of war and a time of peace”

but there are other gems such as

“Better a living dog than a dead lion”  Ecclesiastes 9:4

“A man hath no better thing under the Sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry”  Ecclesiastes 8:15

Personal rating:  A high 5 for this.

Next : The next book in the Old Testament : The Song of Solomon.

85. The Old Testament. The Book of Proverbs.

As the name suggests, this chapter of the Old Testament comprises largely a collection of proverbs on human virtues and vices, mostly ascribed to Solomon, with the fear of the Lord seen as the beginning of wisdom a recurring theme.

My thoughts: I won’t try to analyze the meanings of the more obscure and even contradictory proverbs – there are hundreds of bible study sites on the net which would do a far better job than I could. I will simply share the highlights I enjoyed.

Wisdom is personified in some of the Proverbs, which immediately brought to mind some of Plato’s Socratic dialogues which I had just been reading.

Favourite lines/passages:

Some of the Proverbs have survived as proverbs in common English usage.

A soft answer turneth away wrath   Proverbs 15:1
Pride goeth before destruction  Proverbs 16:18
Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise  Proverbs 17:28
Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord  Proverbs 18:22

Others I particularly enjoyed were less familiar

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise; which having no guide, overseer or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8
For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired,  are not to be compared to it  Proverbs 8:11
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind   Proverbs 11:29
It is better to dwell in a corner of the house-top, than with a brawling woman in a wide house Proverbs 21:9
As a  dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly   Proverbs 26:11
Hell and destruction are never full ; so the eyes of man are never satisfied   Proverbs 27:20

Diversions and digressions:   I discovered a new word from this read : frowardness, which is used a lot in this Book, which I think means perversity of nature, compared to following the way of the Lord. Not something I will probably use in everyday conversation much.

Personal rating:  For the gems I discovered, this was an enjoyable read, but there was a lot of repetition of virtue and vice pairs which soon became wearisome from a literature point of view. A 4 overall.

Kimmy’s rating:   I did ask Kimmy about this vomit thing, and she gave me the slightly embarrassed big-eyes stare which means I should not enquire further.

Next :  The next two Old Testament books are very short, so I will finish those next. Firstly Ecclesiastes (of which I know absolutely nothing) and then The Song of Solomon.

 

47. The Holy Bible : The Old Testament : part 2 : the Historical Books (King James version)

47. The Holy Bible : The Old Testament : part 2 : the Historical Books (King James version)

This section covers the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. For the earlier five books, see post numbered 22.

My thoughts : As said previously, I will not comment on the text as religion, merely my experiences in dealing with the books as literature and evidence of life and customs in the ancient world.

Here there comes a real divergence in structure between the Hebrew, Protestant, Catholic and Eastern orthodox versions of the Old Testament. Some versions have more or less books than those listed above, but I will be sticking with the Protestant canon, and specifically the King James version.

The Book of Joshua starts where the book of Moses finished;  with the recognition of Joshua as Moses’ successor. Joshua leads the invading army of Israelites across the Jordan (when the waters part in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant) to destroy all the peoples already living in the Promised Land, and divides the land between the tribes of Israel.

Not that I am a regular church goer by any stretch, but very little of the people and events in Judges had I ever heard of : Judah, Othniel, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Abimelech, Jotham, or Jephthah, until we finally get to Samson and Delilah (Chapters 14-16).

Likewise in the Books of Samuel,  I was unfamiliar with much about Samuel or Saul until I reached David, and his defeat of Goliath (“whose height was six cubits and a span”, or eleven and a half feet tall!) using his sling and a stone. Eventually David becomes King of Israel, defeating Saul and his sons. (God had turned away and forsaken Saul because he had disobeyed the strict instructions to kill not only all the men, women and children, but also all the livestock, and kept the best sheep and cows to offer as sacrifice to the Lord)

David is the closest person to a modern idea of a Christian (of course, the term Christian has little meaning at this stage when the devout obey God’s law, while the heathen do not) but he shows remorse for his actions (such as having Bethsheba’s husband sent into the front line to be killed so he can have her) and is willing to forgive his enemies. The most heartbreaking section was Absalom turning on his father King David to wrest Israel from him, and despite this treachery, David’s heartache and grief when Absalom is killed (2 Samuel 18)

The two Books of Kings are a long stretch of the history of the Kings of Israel and Judah, many of whom turned away from God, and worshipped idols, causing their peoples’ eventual exile from their land. Notable in this section were the abilities of Elisha which foreshadowed Jesus’ miracles (raising the dead, feeding the multitudes, curing leprosy). The following two Books of Chronicles repeats much of the history content of the Books of Kings, finishing again with the overthrow of the Israelites by King Nebuchadnezzar, and the people being taken captive to Babylon.

The Books of Ezra and Nememiah start with the Lord stirring up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia (who we were introduced to by Herodotus when he spared the life of King Croesus) to rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and release the people to return there. In Ezra (the priest)  and Nememiah (the governor), the text moves in and out of first-person, as if it has been clumsily edited together, which raises the whole issue of exactly how many authors produced the Old Testament – I have heard more than forty suggested. One good editor amongst them wouldn’t have gone amiss!

Different again is the Book of Esther, which reads more like a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm ; not mentioning the Lord or scriptures at all, but describing a Cinderella-like girl who becomes Queen to King Ahasuerus (who ruled the lands from India to Ethiopia) defeating the looming threat of the genocide of the Jews, including her foster parent Mordecai, from the scheming court official Haman, who ends up hanged from the very scaffold he had built to execute Mordecai. But true to Old Testament form, the slaughter is reversed so that the Jews instead kill all their enemies.

Things I learnt from this section of the Old Testament

  • It wasn’t the sound of the trumpets which destroyed the walls of Jericho, but the final shout of the Israelite army after the walls had been circled seven times and the trumpets blown.
  • The continuing and repeated times the Israelites turned away from God and worshipped idols
  • When Samson brings down the building, killing himself and the Philistines within, there were also three thousand Philistines on the roof watching his ridicule, who presumably perished with the rest
  • Saul seeking out a witch to raise the spirit of Samuel to seek advice – ghosts in the Bible?!
  • “For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.” At first I took this to mean that the trees came alive in some way, which seemed reinforced by the way Absalom being caught by the neck and lifted off his mule by the tree branch, but then perhaps I just read too much Tolkien, and it simply refers to the rough terrain impeding the flight of Absalom’s forces (2 Samuel 18 : 8-10)
  • Goliath had four sons, all giants, and all slain by the soldiers of Israel
  • David took a census of the Israelites, which angered God (was this a prideful act on David’s part?) so much that He sent a plague on the Israelites
  • Elisha mocked by little children, turns and curses them, and then two bears come out of the wood and ate them (although some scholars interpret children in this passage to mean uneducated people, which is not much of an improvement!)

The language of the King James version in these histories, particularly the Books of Samuel, was hard to decipher at times, and I just had to keep reading until further events clarified what had happened.

Favourite lines/passages

The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich : he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory, for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and he hath set the world upon them.                                                                                                 1 Samuel 2 : 7-8

For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.                                          1 Chronicles 29 : 15 

Personal rating : I didn’t feel I gained much at all from this reading. Just a 2.

Next :  From the not-quite-sublime to the ridiculous?  The Wasps by Aristophanes

22. The Holy Bible : The Old Testament books 1-5

The Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
covering from the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, to the death of Moses.

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My thoughts : As said previously, I will not comment on the text as religion, merely my experiences in dealing with the books as literature and evidence of life and customs in the ancient world.
I have not read the Bible in detail before, but having grown up in a Christian environment and done my fair share of Sunday School classes, the basic stories were familiar : the Creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Abel and Cain, Noah and his Ark, the Tower of Babel, Lot escaping from Sodom and Gomorrah, and the story of Moses from being found as a babe in the bullrushes beside the Nile, through the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the 40 years in the wilderness.
Reading the complete books was quite laborious with so much repetition (Deuteronomy was almost entirely repetition of earlier sections), family histories, and detail of sacrifices (reminiscent of the offerings to the Gods in Homer’s Iliad). There was quite a long section inserted in the story of Moses to proscribe laws, not a little unlike the Laws of Hammurabi to protect society and provide guidelines for conduct. But I did learn some details to the above stories, at least by my interpretation of the text
• Man was meant to be a vegetarian, but had come to eating meat by the time of Noah
• There were two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve and Adam ate of the latter, and God banished them from the Garden in case they also ate of the Tree of Life and became immortal
• The mark put on Cain was to warn others not to kill him so he would long suffer for his sin
• There were giants in the days of Methuselah
• Noah collected seven pairs of each type of clean (edible) animal and one pair of each type of unclean animal. It rained for 40 days but the flood stayed on the earth for 150 days.
• Esau the hairy man and hunter, and his untrustworthy brother Jacob. Esau reminded me of Enkidu from the Gilgamesh epic. His description here seems too much for coincidence.
• There was a second set of tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed presented to Noah by God after the first were smashed
• The dietary restrictions other than pigs, such as rabbits, swans and seafood
• The Israelites’ forty years wandering in the wilderness was to ensure none of that generation, who had disobeyed and angered God, survived to see the promised land of milk and honey
There were also some things that disturbed me. The severity of God’s punishments, and his favouritism of the Israelites (despite their repeated transgressions) over the Canaanites, the Amorites and other tribes, was difficult to connect with the loving God of the New Testament. Lot offering up his daughters to the mob that visited his house to sodomise his guests. The plagues inflicted on the Egyptians as a result of Pharoah’s refusal to release the Israelites, yet it was God himself who repeatedly hardened Pharoah’s heart so He had reason to continue demonstrating His powers, even to killing the first born of every Egyptian family. The war against the Midianites, where Moses insisted after the battle that his soldiers kill all the women and male children, and enslave the girl children. The God of the Old Testament is indeed a jealous God and one ready to demand love through fear.

The Book of Deuteronomy ends with the Song of Moses, which has some vivid imagery in stark contrast to the tedious repetition of the preceding chapters.

“My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” Deut. 32 : 2

“For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter, their wine is the poison of dragons and the cruel venom of asps.” Deut 32 : 32-33.

Favourite lines/passages : The lines that immediately resonated with me were those that have been quoted so often since, notably “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22) and “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live (Exodus 22 : 18) but my favourite was very reassuring on a personal level in the section about lepers “And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald yet he is clean” (Leviticus 13 : 40) Phew!

Personal rating : As the source of literary themes and background, Genesis and Exodus were worthwhile reading. The other three books were a disagreeable and diminishing experience to read. 3/10

Next : I need a break before tacking more Old Testament, so I will move onto the Odes of Pindar.