Monthly Archives: October 2007

Bible Quotes in the Library of Congress

I was at the Library of Congress yesterday–a very impressive place to do research. As I was gazing around the main reading room in the Jefferson Building I noticed quotes on the walls. And it struck me that some of them were from the Bible. I scrawled down the few that I could see from my vantage point and thought I’d post them here for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ACLU sues the government to get rid of the quotes, but I sure hope they stay up there on the walls. It’s reassuring to me to know that previous generations of Americans were more in touch with God than ours is. Here’s the Bible quotes I saw:

“What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” -Micah 6:8 KJV

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” -Ps 19:1 KJV

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Helen Keller Quotes

“For, after all, every one who wishes to gain true knowledge must climb the Hill Difficulty alone and since there is no royal road to the summit, I must zigzag it in my own way. I slip back many times, I fall, I stand still, I run against the edge of hidden obstacles, I lose my temper and find it again and keep it better, I trudge on, I gain a little, I feel encouraged,I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening horizon. Every struggle is a victory. One more effort and I reach the luminous cloud, the blue depths of the sky, the uplands of my desire.” see

“But how shall I speak of the glories I have since discovered in the Bible? For years I have read it with an ever broadening sense of joy and inspiration and I love it as I love no other book. see

Excerpted from The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller

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The Hunt for Souls

I have thought about the spiritual life as a battle before. It’s God v. Satan and your soul is the battleground. It makes perfect sense.

But I never thought of the spiritual life as a hunt. (Ok, well, John of the Cross does talk about Christ as the stag that the soul keeps hunting for, but that’s not the same.) In Ezekiel I found this passage where the prophet is prophesying against people who make cultic objects for the worship of false gods and he mentions “the hunt for souls” (Ezek 13:18). Through Ezekiel, God asks these people, “Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive?” Then two verses later he accuses them “You hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds.”

There are a couple other biblical mentions of the hunting metaphor that I can think of. Ps 91:3 says, “He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and the deadly pestilence.” (ESV) A “fowler” for all of us without enormous vocabularies is a dude who hunts birds. In Ps 91, he’s hunting with traps. One last hunting reference is 1 Pet 5:8 ESV, “Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

In all of these biblical pictures of the hunt for souls, the “hunter” is always the enemy of God and of the soul. God is always rescuing the “quarry” from the clutches of the hunter. But these images remind me of the famous poem by Francis Thompson “The Hound of Heaven.” In the poem, God is hunter, chasing the soul “down the arches of the years.”

I guess the important thing to grasp from all of these hunting metaphors in the Bible is that we are being sought after. Human beings are being chased by the world, the flesh and the Devil AND we are being “chased” by God. It is a competitive hunt and we are the quarry. It’s like an ad-campaign for a specific demographic. We are the human demographic and our souls are being sought for good or for ill. As the quarry, we must flee from temptation and sin (1 Tim 6:11), and then we must run toward our loving “Hunter,” because he is the God who loves us.

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LibriVox!

Hey, I found this great website which has free public domain audiobooks. Yes, just when you thought you could never listen to another audiobook from the library because you don’t have a tape player anymore…LibriVox to the rescue! I happily stumbled across this site while I was looking for an audio version of Hellen Keller’s Story of My Life. And, well, I found it on LibriVox. I am very happy people are coming up with such wonderful projects to make the Internet a worthwhile endeavor. I hope you can take advantage of LibriVox as I have. I also downloaded Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey. Maybe I’ll even read a book for LibriVox at some point. Hmmm…maybe the New Testament in Greek. We’ll see. They do have a copy of the ASV Bible in audio. Hey, it’s better than nothing. Here’s the link to LibriVox.

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Is There a Mechanism for Ancient Redaction?

Form critics and redaction critics often talk about “material” in the Old Testament. They mention the reordering of material, the change of material, the insertion of material and the deletion of material. Often a “later hand” is mentioned as having redacted, edited, rearranged and removed sections of the so-called “original” text of whatever author or prophet that is under discussion. While I think there are problems with this type of biblical criticism on presuppositional/philosophical grounds and on literary grounds in general, I have a very simple question for these critics: What mechanism would ancient scribes use to perform such re-arrangements?

If our scribes in question lived in the Ancient Near East and wrote on papyrus scrolls and often lived under threat of war, poverty and political unrest…then how could they make the removals, reorderings and other such things necessitated by redaction criticism? Papyrus was expensive, very expensive. I can’t imagine a scribe taking an old scroll and going through trying to copy down the material in a different order than was written on the old scroll. I can imagine pieces of papyri getting out order, but I can’t imagine an intentional rearrangement of a text for theological or hermeneutical purposes. Perhaps I need someone to explain how this process could work in the ancient world.

If I were a scribe, I can imagine making mistakes or even leaving things out that I didn’t like, but excising passages and inserting them elsewhere and then remembering that I had done that so I don’t repeat the passage later seems almost impossible. I would have to literally cut up the old scroll and arrange it like a jigsaw puzzle which would be unthinkable! Or I would have to keep a detailed list of passages that I was “rearranging” without the convenience of verse and chapter numbers. I just don’t get it. It seems a near impossible activity for an ancient scribe.

I can imagine doing such an activity on Microsoft Word. I could just highlight, cut and paste. But that’s a far cry from a beat up scroll, a limited amount of very expensive paper, a feather pen, an ink jar and a candle.

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My Inspirations #2: St. Thomas Aquinas

Life: 1225-1274
Profession: Friar, Theologian, Philosopher

St. Thomas was prolific to say the least. His most important work is the very famous Summa Theologica which attempts to sum up all of Christian theology concisely. I mean, it’s only five thick volumes. That’s not too bad, right?

The reason I enjoy Thomas is that he is a very systematic and honest thinker. He makes no bones about impressing people. He simply writes and argues through every bit of truth. He forces himself to honestly answer the toughest challenges to his own arguments. I wouldn’t say that most of his work is terribly enjoyable to read, but it certainly is profound. He goes over all sorts of questions and topics, but he approaches everything from within his whole system of thought. He doesn’t leave anything hanging.

I have read a decent amount of Thomas, but no one can read enough and few, if any, have ever read everything. His theology has become the gold standard of Catholic theology for the ages. While there are parts of his system that many contemporary thinkers have taken issue with, Pope Leo XIII encouraged Catholics to look to Thomas’ philosophy and theology in Aeterni Patris (1879).

There are some fun stories about Thomas Aquinas. I will relate a couple to you.

1.) One time a brother friar of his came into the place where Thomas was praying and found him levitating and looking intently at a crucifix. The corpus on the cross came to life and asked Thomas if there was anything he wanted in all the world in return for his theological work. And the saint replied simply, “Just more of you.” (I have not source-checked this story. So if anyone has any sources for it, please comment below.)

2.) It is said that St. Thomas was so fat that a half-circle had to be cut out of the table where he normally ate. (Also, not checked)

3.) Thomas was of a noble family and his family members were none too happy when he announced he wanted to be a Dominican friar, so they locked him in a tower and sent in a prostitute to steal away his purity. (This is the stuff of legend.) Supposedly, Thomas chased her out of his room with a hot poker from the fireplace and was later lowered from the tower in a basket.

A few little factoids about St. Thomas: He studied in Sicily where he met people from across the Mediterranean, including Muslims. He was good friends with St. Bonaventure and received his doctorate at the same ceremony as Bonaventure. He died in transit to the Fifth Lateran Council in 1274–the same year Bonaventure died. He was tall and large and quiet so he got the nickname “Dumb Ox.” He taught at the University of Paris. He wrote the “Panis Angelicus,” sung as a sequence for the feast of Corpus Christi.

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Books about St. Thomas Aquinas that I have read:
St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton
-This book is a short introduction to Thomas’ life and thought. I found it fun to get into the spirit of his thought, but it does not give a lot of the biographical details you expect from a biography. It’s not really a biography, but a portrait. I also find Chesterton’s prose to be rather laborious sometimes.

Knowing the Love of Christ by Matthew Levering and Michael Dauphinais.
-This short book is a helpful introduction to the Summa Theologica. It presents Thomas’ thought as a unity and tries to outline the content to orient the new reader before he dives in and gets lost in the labyrinth of the Summa.
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Websites about St. Thomas Aquinas:
The Wikipedia Article
A Bibliography of Aquinas’ works in English
Complete Works of St. Thomas Aquinas in Latin
Works by Aquinas on CCEL

Updated! 12-3-2007
Aquinas Bible Commentaries
Texts by and about Aquinas at archive.org
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Many books have been written about his thought–too many. In fact there are whole schools of thought and journals just about “Thomistic” thought. So be careful. Don’t get lost in the shuffle. Thomas is good to read, but you have to take it slow and use easy introductory material to prevent you from getting lost!

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A Painting

I came across a painting of “The Prodigal Son” by contemporary artist, John Hrehov, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Take a look at it.
I like how the Prodigal Son is looking at the feed with a vacuous desire. He almost looks like one of the pigs, just staring hungrily. The little piglet in his shadow seems to function as the Prodigal Son himself, expressing his hungry desire for the filth that the pigs eat. The moment seems to fall right after he has thrown down the contents of his slop bucket, but right before the pigs have begun eating it. Even the pigs are staring! The painting makes you wonder what’s cooking at the back of the Prodigal’s mind. He’s asking himself those all-important questions, “What am I doing here? How did I get here and how do I get out? What have I done wrong? What is my life all about anyway?” Perhaps right after this little scene, he throws up his hands, drops his slop bucket and runs home.

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Ten Commandments Animated Movie


Ten Commandments Movie 2007 TrailerThe most amazing home videos are here

Promenade Pictures is coming out with a new animated film called The Ten Commandments. I hope you enjoy the trailer for it. Christian Slater does the voice of Moses. It is done in 3D animation, but the characters don’t look like they are textured quite right. They seem smooth like action figures rather than like real people. I dunno, judge for yourself. It is certainly encouraging to see Bible-based movies still coming out. But it seems funny to me that we would get another Exodus movie (anyone remember Prince of Egypt?) rather than a movie that tells a different great Bible story. I mean, how many movies are out there about Abraham or Jeremiah or even Job? But I’m still going to watch The Ten Commandments. It looks visually impressive and well-presented. Let me know what you think of it!

(Make sure to notice the consonantal Hebrew on the tablets in the trailer. Not bad for Hollywood. Though any written Hebrew in Moses time would be written with a much different script…whatever.)

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Bible Commentaries: What for?

Walter Brueggemann has some sharp comments about Bible commentaries in his article “Recent Scholarship: Intense Criticism, Thin Interpretation,” in Like Fire in the Bones: Listening for the Prophetic Word in Jeremiah, Augsburg Fortress, 2006. (The article is from 1988.)

But he mentions Bernhard Anderson’s criteria for a good commentary, which I found extremely helpful in terms of planning my own writing about the Bible and in evaluating the writing of others.

According to Anderson, a good commentary should:
1. Be reflective of and responsive to the history of interpretation.
2. Be reflective of a “double loyalty” to the scholarly community and the community of faith.
3. Provide necessary information “without becoming tediously detailed or burdensomely lengthy.”
4. Take a firm stand on current hermeneutical debate.
5. Draw the reader into the world of the text without being didactic or moralistic. (Brueggemann, Recent Scholarship, 33)

I think these criteria deserve discussion and adherence!

Later in his essay, Brueggemann offers his own “prophetic word” in reference to his generation of Bible scholars he says, “In the very long run, one wonders if a verdict will be given about us, that we let the text have its powerful say in ways that mediated faithful human options in our time; or if we will be judged to have kept the text at such a distance that the larger questions from these texts were not permitted and the daring hints of resolution were not made available.” (40)

His musing touches the nerve of literary criticism in general. Do people who spend their lives studying and writing books about books magnify the power of the original literature or dampen its effect? Do Bible scholars help the Bible speak to people or inhibit its message? I think the temptation to many scholars is to see the vastness of the Bible–the most important book in history–and despair that no one can really get the message of the Bible unless he is an expert. While there is something to be said for expertise, the Bible has a transformative power that transcends human expertise. The Bible is not just a book, it is God’s Word and it changes people’s lives.

I think scholars can assist the Bible’s voice by providing fresh translations, readable commentaries and critical insight on tough questions. But it is very easy for scholars to slide into cataloging scholarly opinions, amassing data, getting lost in minute details and totally missing the fact that the Bible has a powerful message which people urgently need to hear.

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