Tag Archives: Joshua

Revisiting Jericho

I don’t get out from the office much. As those who commute to New York City will readily tell you, there is a constant anxiety about getting to and from the city that keeps you in the office (cubicle) as long as possible. Just yesterday my bus broke down on halfway there. I seldom take lunch away from my desk, and even more rarely get out to see what’s actually in Manhattan. Besides work. Earlier this week I wrote a post about the Berlin Wall. Wanting a picture that wasn’t somebody else’s work, I decided to visit the famous slab of the wall in Paley Park. Like many parks in Midtown, this is a mere pocket in the shadow of a high-rise, but a large slab of the Berlin Wall had been there for years, drawing tour guides and history buffs alike. It is only 19 blocks from my office. I’m a fast walker, and I made it all the way catching only three red lights. Since the anniversary of the wall’s Jericho moment had been twenty-five years and a day before, I expected crowds. Instead, no Berlin Wall was to be found. Businessmen smoking away their lives and lunch hours, but no oppressive wall. I double-checked my location. Triple-checked, with GPS. Then I walked 19 blocks back.

Photo credit: Gaurav1146, WikiMedia Commons

Photo credit: Gaurav1146, WikiMedia Commons

Visiting the comments on one of the wall’s websites, I saw that it had been, perhaps unintentionally symbolically, removed. After standing in this pocket park for nearly a quarter of a century, the slab had been absconded mere weeks before the anniversary when I, and given the number of cameras I saw, not I alone, had gone to see and to reflect. Where does one put the Berlin Wall? There was another piece, I read, at the United Nations gardens. You only had to pay 18 dollars to get in. Although it is close to my old office at Routledge, it is a lengthy walk from where I now find myself. Once I arrived home I searched for answers. The wall had been removed for restoration. A wall that had been sufficient to divide a city, scrawled with graffiti, apparently, required restoration. On the long walk back, I considered my similarly ill-fated trip a couple years back to find the closed Gotham Book Mart. Like the wall, have I become useless history?

My Germanic ancestors came to America nearly two centuries ago, and although I never knew that side of the family well, I suspect it was for economic, not religious reasons. It is sometimes easy to think, given all the rhetoric, that Europeans came here to be part of a Christian free-for-all. No doubt, some did. Many others, however, had more mundane motivation. A strong Protestant work ethic that somehow seems genetic, and a belief that somewhere else is better, will help you get along. So I’m told. So the tale goes in the book of Joshua. Israelites, wanting to cross the water to a new home, blowing their trumpets and raising a shout. Yes, the Berlin Wall did come down. Like the fallen wall of Jericho, it’s nowhere to be seen.

A Girl Named Cthulhu

It was only a 25-word blurb in last week’s Time magazine. A Canadian couple decided to let the internet community name their daughter. As of the time of writing the third most popular suggestion was Cthulhu. WWLD? The internet has brought Lovecraft’s sleeping deity to life. Ironically this evil, belligerent, and fearsome god tends to have more fans than some of the more loving, cuddling varieties of deity around which western culture arose. Children are a parent’s ultimate investment (or should be) and the name we bestow will influence their view of life. I still recall the scandal of when I first showed my Mom a baseball card where the player was named Jesus (Spanish pronunciation, please!). I innocently asked if that was allowed since we’d been taught that although other biblical figures were fair game, the name of God was a retired number. There was only one Jesus, and this baseball card a monument to sinful arrogance.

Cthulhu

Of course, we lacked the biblical training to know that Jesus is only the Greek form of Joshua, a name of fair game to any young lad. Naming after a deity was otherwise verboten. Of course, that has all changed now. Names are up for grabs, and it is getting harder to find unique ones. H. P. Lovecraft, who died in relative obscurity, could find publication only in pulp fiction magazines—the lowbrow literature of his day. The divine fruit of his fertile imagination has now taken on the dimensions of true divinity. How many potential names are out there on the internet? Lovecraft alone gave us many gods. All the Dianas, Thors, Carmans and Dylans out there are in good company. Why not name a child after a god?

Names do effect a child’s view of life. Growing up in a biblically literate family, I often thought of the Stephen of the New Testament. The first Christian martyr, he died with a vision of heaven in his eyes, earning the meaning of his name, “crowned.” I aspired to live a selfless life, in as far as such a thing was possible in the twentieth century. It was my name—it was my destiny. There are no other “Steves” in my family, and when I was old enough to comprehend that many children bear family names, I asked my Mom whence mine had come. It turns out that I was named not after a family member or even a saint, but after a cartoon character. Touché, Cthulhu! Long may those of us with unorthodox namesakes stick together. The world is our myth.

In Touch with History

A friend recently sent me a package with a Roman jar handle from Caesarea Maritima. It’s not everyday that I receive 2000 year-old artifacts in the mail. Holding that ancient jar handle reminded me of my short stint as a wannabe archaeologist, not far from Caesarea at the site of Tel Dor. There’s no thrill like unearthing an artifact that has been buried for millennia, knowing that you are touching something a fellow human being dropped for the last time back in the days of the early Roman Empire. It is a humbling experience. In all probability the final touch was a heave into the dump, since clay jars are easily broken. But as I finger this ancient piece of useless junk, I can plainly make out how fingers like mine twisted the clay and pressed it on the jar body, much as I once did in art class, decades ago. I am connected with a stranger over the millennia by this simple bit of clay. We are united in an ancient family.

IMG_0555

Archaeology began as a biblical venture. Anyone who watches Raiders of the Lost Ark with archaeological sensibilities, after rolling their eyes (yes, it’s deserved) can’t help but realize a kernel of truth is buried here. Archaeologists don’t search for the ark, but it was religion that gave them the idea in the first place. Travel to the Middle East and begin digging up the places mentioned in the Bible. Those early archaeologists wanted to prove that the Bible story happened just as it was laid out. Only it didn’t. Archaeology soon began to reveal a more complicated picture. Jericho was uninhabited in Joshua’s day. And was there even a historical Joshua? What began as a charge to demonstrate that the Book of Books never gets it wrong transformed into a science with its immutable commitment to objectivity. And objects.

The desire for historical proof meets a deep need in people. We want to know what really happened. This simple jar handle before me tells a mute story of a person like most of us—never famous, never noticed in the noise of first century Palestine. Just some Jane or Joe throwing out the trash. That is the story of archaeology. That is the story of human life.

Every once in a while I ponder how insignificant we are. The vast majority of us will be remembered only a few years or decades beyond our demise. What will our artifacts say about us? One of the relics that will be found in the rubble of my life will be a Roman jar handle from an even earlier age. Long ago deemed junk by a person so different, but not so very different, from me. It was discarded two millennia ago. When it was found in the twentieth century it was a treasure. Thanks, Susan, for putting me in touch with history.

Six Red Flags

Answers in Genesis’ biblical theme park with its life-sized ark was back in the news yesterday. Journalists just seem to be fascinated that people really do believe in their religious convictions. Having grown up in a religious family, I understand where they’re coming from. The version of the Bible they offer to the public, however, is much too tame. I spent the day dreaming about a literalist Bible theme park that would put Evangelical Christianity back on the map. I’m thinking it should be in Rick Perry’s Texas and we could call it the Literalist Six Red Flags.

The first attraction would be the Garden of Eden—sans clothes. If we’re going for the full Bible experience we should go all the way. The full Methuselah. For those who are worried that this might lead to morality concerns, I would assure them that experience belies that. From the few nude beaches I’ve stumbled upon—who would’ve thought there’d be one in New Jersey? New Jersey!—it is my guess that this might be the most effective way to scare kids into religion. Why pass up an evangelical opportunity like that?

Station number two would be the Egyptian Late-Term Abortion Clinic. By this I mean Exodus chapter 1, with a nice tie-in to Leviticus 20 and Psalm 137. The pro-lifers could leave a little green but very self-righteous after seeing what the Bible prescribes for uppity children.

Our third flag could be the battle of Jericho. Especially interesting for the kids would be the visit of Joshua’s spies to the prostitute who betrayed her city. Children could blow on ram’s horns, carry a plastic ark with authentic death-rays emanating from it, and shout while the Styrofoam walls come tumbling down. If they wanted to be really literal, however, they’d have to explain that archaeology demonstrates that Jericho had been abandoned for a century before Joshua showed up, but who wants to dampen all that youthful, Christian bloodlust?

Flag four could be the story of Samson. After leaving his first wife to visit a prostitute, kids could watch in fascination as Samson heaves the city gates of Gaza from their place, showing that the Lord approves. Since he’s a muscleman who likes to have affairs, maybe we could check to see if Arnold Schwarzenegger is too busy to take on the role of God’s version of Hercules. I’m sure that Delilahs would not be too difficult to recruit. Perhaps this could be an audience participation event.

Attraction five has to be the Story of David. This would be a good opportunity for parents distraught after the previous stations to take out some aggression with the sling. I’m sure my friend Deane could come up with some giants for them to practice on. Otherwise, maybe something could be worked out with the NBA. After killing a few giants, the station could lead to the palace roof with a view to Bathsheba’s bathroom. Since David didn’t want to send her to the clinic (see station number two), he decided to have her husband killed instead. Maybe we could have a side exhibit: Uriah’s Last Ice Cream Stand. (He was only a Hittite, after all.)

Our sixth red flag would be the Lion’s Den. Here we could offer Tea Partiers and NeoCons the opportunity to prove their faith by spending a night in a den of hungry lions. They like to claim loudly that their faith is being castigated, just like Daniel’s was—here would be the opportunity to prove it! Somehow I believe that the lion’s den would remain empty and crickets could be heard chirping throughout our Literalist Six Red Flags even before it opened its festively decorated gates.

"Oh please let Rick Perry be nominated!"

What’s in a Name?

Two of my readers sent me an article yesterday about Lord Jesus Christ, the Massachusetts man who was hit by a car. Lord Jesus survived the brush with death this time. Clearly the angle on this story is the human interest aspect instead of the courtroom precedent or the political scope of its ramifications. In our minds, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that we’ve already come up with a profile for a man named “Lord Jesus Christ.” We’ve already judged him and determined his motives in legally taking such a name. This is a book to be judged by its cover.

From a purely semantic point of view, the victim’s name would probably have more impact with the definite article: The Lord Jesus Christ. As it is, the name differs only in degree from the thousands of Chrises out there, of either gender, or the many Hispanic men named Jesus, or those Anglos with the surname Lord. Not to mention all those Joshuas. Our names are the labels that others immediately use to prejudge us, although mostly our names come from our parents, or sometimes spouses. We are known through life by tags branded on us by parents who have no idea who we will become. As the non-adopted step-son of a second father I changed my name and I know the baggage that goes with such a change. The burden became so great that I reverted to my birth-name after college. I felt like I had been living a lie for much of my youth. What’s in a name?

Our injured man with the newsworthy name has not yet become the savior of the world. Some religious folk are offended by his appellation, yet most of us would be flattered by someone naming their child after us. Why not aim high when it comes to names? If we are to be judged by our verbal moniker, why not select one that states our point of view? With religiously motivated terrorism on the ascendant, however, it gives me pause to think about Lord Jesus Christ being run down. A man was injured here, while crossing the street. It could have been anyone. If it hadn’t been for his epithet, the story would not be national news. More than anything else, this may reveal the significance of the name.

A message from on high?

The End of the World as We Know It

Well, that may be a bit dramatic, but my whole family is scratching its collective head over the news that our time on this planet has been foreshortened by the Chilean earthquake. Yes, scientists from NASA announced yesterday that Saturday’s 8.8 magnitude earthquake actually shook the earth three inches off its axis and has led to a loss of 1.26 milliseconds of time. Even for the gods this seems to be playing against the rules!

I wonder what the Fundamentalists are thinking about it? I do know that some extremely conservative types mess with time when trying to explain how the 4.5 billion-year-old world could have been manufactured in just 6 days — they call it the “day-age theory.” Or that the globe stopped spinning for 24 hours to give Joshua and his invaders more time to kill the Canaanites. I’ve even had students tell me that this latter case was scientifically proven. Time, however, ticks on despite our concerns with it.

It was my daughter who suggested the title for this post. After she said it, however, she noted, “Well, actually the world as we know it ended with the earthquake.” The world as we knew it. Radical changes have taken place with stunning rapidity on this old globe we call home, and some days the whole world changes. In 1815 the eruption of Mount Tambora led to the “year without a summer.” Wayward space rocks sometimes wipe out over 90 percent of all species on the planet. We live in a constantly changing environment. And it is my hunch that when that final disaster comes, those who’ve spent all their energy climbing the money mountain in the company of financial wizards, bank presidents, insurance profiteers, and oil company gods will come running to those who’ve spent their lives learning about religion seeking comfort in the face of the inevitable. We know we live in a temporary world; the wise spend their time contemplating the implications of that fact.

A little more to the left...

A Walk Around the Watchtower

The Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by yesterday. I never pretend not to be home, and when I’m less stressed out I like to engage them in terms of biblical exegesis — religion is all about conflict. Yesterday I was still recovering from the disappointment of not getting a job I really wanted, so I simply answered their questions and accepted their Watchtower magazine. Thumbing through it, I ran into some hermeneutical obstacles — an occupational hazard for those of us who’ve spent a little too much time with the Bible, I suppose. A story about Joshua informed me that “Jehovah wants you to succeed.” It tasted a little too much like prosperity gospel and not much like life in the present. So I flipped a few more pages.

An article on Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year, as it is traditionally called), warned against Christians celebrating it, in part because of ancestor veneration. The Watchtower declares, “the Bible show that the ‘ghosts’ and deceased ‘spirits’ are really wicked spirit creatures pretending to be the deceased. For what purpose? To mislead people and bring them under their evil control!” Now, I admit to being drawn into the Ghost Hunter fan-base, but I do recall the story of Saul summoning Samuel from the dead. The Bible doesn’t indicate that he’s evil; in fact, it is Samuel himself! If ghosts want to deceive then they need to show up a little more clearly and give more direct messages.

I then learned about King David’s remarkable musical prowess in the story about music in the Bible. It is truly amazing what can be extrapolated from a literal reading of the Psalms. The magazine informs us that King Sennacherib, emperor of Assyria, demanded male and female musicians from Hezekiah. “It seems that they were first-class performers.” This seemed a little too much like the stereotype of Jewish entertainers, and since it was extra-biblical I couldn’t accept it. The story concludes by indicating that music is not a human invention. “The Bible describes music and singing in the heavens themselves, where spirit creatures play figurative harps and sing praises around Jehovah’s throne.” As I pondered what a figurative harp would sound like, I could swear I heard the sound of one hand clapping.

Being that time of year, the issue has an Epiphany story. Well, most Christians associate the wise men with Christmas, so I’ll call it a Christmas story. Eager to be honest, the author notes that the wise men were really foreign astrologers. And although they were into witchcraft, the angel announced Jesus’ birth to them to lead them away from this abhorrent practice. Then a divine revelation came to them in a dream in order that they could avoid Herod and his wicked plan. So the astrology that led them to Jesus was bad, but the end result was good.

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses ask me if I know about the Bible, I look at my feet and kick at an invisible speck of mud on the floor as I admit that I have taught Bible for nearly twenty years. But when they ask what I believe about the Bible I tell them the same thing I tell my students — what I believe is personal and I choose not to share it. I don’t begrudge any person of their religion. I even share the Jehovah Witnesses’ hope that the future may be brighter than the present. If you want to convert a religion professor, even an adjunct one, however, it will take more than a Watchtower to do it.