Tag: Old Testament

129. The Holy Bible. The Old Testament. The Books of the ‘Minor’ Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

129. The Holy Bible. The Old Testament. The Books of the ‘Minor’ Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

Contents:  The remaining books of the Old Testament, covering briefly the stories and pronouncements of the twelve prophets Hosea through to Malachi. I believe the adjective ‘minor’ is more to do with the length of the books as they are all comparatively brief, and not from any insignificance of the respective personages.

My thoughts:  Firstly overwhelming relief that I have finished the OT, which I found either OTT or duller than dishwater, but had to be endured to have even a small chance of catching biblical references in literature from now on.

Onto the books. I must confess that I didn’t find them easy or straightforward to read and understand at first look – no wonder people organize Bible Study classes to discuss them.

The first few books continue the theme of God’s retribution for His abandonment by the tribes of Israel as they preferred to worship stone and gold idols. In Hosea, they are compared to whores with many lovers who have abandoned their husband, while in Joel, God sends drought and an almighty army of locusts to bring starvation and death.

“A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains ….. the land is as the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them … like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains … like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, … they shall climb the wall like men of war … they shall run to and fro in the city .. they shall enter in the windows like a thief. The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble; the sun and the moon shall be dark and the stars shall withdraw their shining.”                     Joel, 2:2-10

Also the familiar peaceful line from the Book of Isaiah is reversed, not for the better.

“Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears”     Joel, 3:10

Yet worse is in store for the people of Edom, descendants of Esau, in The Book of Obadiah, as they will be wiped out entirely for their violence against their brother’s descendants, the House of Jacob.

Finally, something familiar from Sunday School!   Jonah takes ship to Tarshish to flee from God’s direction to go to Ninevah and prophesy their doom, but a storm threatens to sink the boat. Jonah is reluctantly thrown overboard by the crew (at his own suggestion!) and is swallowed by a great fish and stays in its bowels for three days until he finally repents and is vomited onto the beach. On hearing his words, all the people of Ninevah actually repent, from the king down to the cattle, and Jonah is a bit miffed, until God points out his own inconsistencies. A far more straightforward story that shows a more sensible people and a more merciful God. Yet about one hundred and twenty years later, Ninevah is destroyed by God in the Book of Nahum (c. 625 BC)
I read on through the remainder : Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and lastly, Malachi. I have very little to say, except the “Great Day of the Lord coming” is referenced several times, and full of apocalyptic destruction. The last word of the OT is ‘curse’ and it seems to encapsulate so much of the contents, not the wonder it could have expressed.

Personal rating: These last few books I would have to give a 2, and even that feels generous. Over all the posts I have made on the Old Testament, only the Song of Solomon was pleasant to read, and without it, the rest was on average a 3, but as a whole I would rate the experience as 1/10.

The sanity in between: I also read Anne of Avonlea, the second in the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery, and Doctor Sally, a very short work (adapted from his own stageplay) by the master P. G. Wodehouse (lots of initials this week). Enjoyed both immensely – I left 4 stars and 5 stars on Goodreads respectively. Good ol’ P.G. kept giving me a nudge because he used the phrase “minor prophet” at least three times in his modest 120 pages. I can usually take a hint after only two prompts!

Next : Getting starry eyed with Aratus’ celestial poem The Phaenomena.

126. The Old Testament. The Books of Ezekiel and Daniel.

126. The Old Testament. The Books of Ezekiel and Daniel.

The Book of Ezekiel focuses on the multiple warnings from God to the peoples of Israel through the visions of Ezekiel, to repent from their idolatory, usury, violence and adultery, and follow His statutes, lest He consume them with the fire of His wrath : pestilence, war and famine, with the merest handful surviving to be restored to His favour.

The Book of Daniel describes Daniel’s visions and miracles at the Babylonian court under the reigns of Nebuchanezzar, Belshazzah, and the Persian kings Darius and Cyrus.

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

My thoughts: 

A reminder that my comments and opinions on my reading of the Bible are in terms  of it as a work of literature and a reading experience only. No comment is made on the religious significance or validity of the Books.

Again, the Book of Ezekiel shows a lot of repetition of phrases within and across verses and chapters – the sort of writing which may have acted as an aide memoir for oral retelling . On the written page, this quickly becomes tiresome. Later chapters use parables to describe their fate, which are more interesting (particularly the lioness’ cubs representing the Israelites, captured first by the Egyptians and then the Babylonians) and distressing (the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem as sisters whose lewdness and whoredom with neighbouring countries brings about horrific retributions).

And here I think I realised why this is such an unpleasant book to read : it is not the promise of death and suffering that carries over from Lamentations, but the anger of the Lord for these, His chosen people. Yes, they have blasphemed and transgressed and done all manner of vile things, including sacrificing their own children, but the sheer fury in the messages from an All-Powerful being is equally disturbing, and reinforces the view of the Old Testament God as an extremely  harsh and jealous overlord.

The Book goes on to promise destruction on the surrounding civilisations including Egypt again, before returning to provide future blessings for the remaining Israelites, scoured clean of their sins. God gives Ezekiel a vision of a valley of dry bones which He causes to be made into living people again and states that these are the Israelites brought back to life, which also made me feel a real sense of horror, although I don’t know if that is the intended impact.

Leaving Ezekiel there, I went on to Daniel which is a more linear story  describing the fate of Daniel and his companions at the Babylonian court after the siege of Jerusalem. The first half includes the familiar story of Daniel in the Lions’ den, but then returns to visions and prophecies and soon lost my interest.

Diversions and digressions:  My attention was drawn early on by the description of the Cherubim attending the Lord in Ezekiel’s visions. Not the rosy-cheeked Cupid-like little boys as painted by Rubens, but

“four living creatures … the likeness of a man, … four faces, and everyone had four wings …. The sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot, and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass … the hands of a man under their wings …. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right side, and they four had the face of an oxen on their left side, and they also had the face of an eagle…”                                          Ezekiel 1: 5-10

Personal rating: Lifted to a 3/10 by the stories of the miracles of Daniel and his companions.

Next : The Writings of Mencius, a Chinese philosopher, apparently second only to Confucius.

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.