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December 19, 2007

Startling revelations

While the books about the Bible reviewed by Jerome Segal in this past weekend's Washington Post Book World aren't on my Christmas wish list, I appreciated his opening lines:

Surely the Bible can teach and inspire. But has it lost the ability to startle? To make us gasp? In our society, where 90 percent of households possess a Bible and more than a third of American adults say they've read from it in the past week, it's hard to see the text with fresh eyes.

I recently picked up a copy of the Literary Study Bible in an effort to do just that, to see the text with fresh eyes. Reading Scripture with my brain attuned to patterns and story and character is helping me stay focused and aware as I read passages that have become so familiar over time.

But Scripture can still startle me. Just this past Sunday, I was following along in my pocket King James Version while my pastor read a passage from Jeremiah 24. He was using a different translation, but I had to suppress my laughter as I read the Shakespearean prose in front of me:

The LORD shewed me, and, behold, two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the LORD, after that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.

What made the figs so very naughty? Were they insolent, hitting one another, passing notes during class? My mind wandered down all sorts of silly paths, imagining the shenanigans happening in the basket of very naughty figs.

Now it's your turn. What have you seen in the Bible lately that has made you stop and re-read the text, just to be sure you read it correctly? What tickled your funny bone or made you stop to think, "Huh?" or exclaim, "Wow!" In what ways did the familiar become the brand new?

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Comments

Derek

Thank you for making me laugh pretty hard. "Naughty figs;" I can almost see some sort of product being developed from that. I am currently startled by reading the first few chapters in Luke, and realizing the faith Mary had in God and in her own son. I was also more shocked to realize that engagement at that time was binding, unlike today, so her pregnancy would be all the more shocking to Joseph. Wow.

Jason Taylor

They were naughty because the orchard keeper didn't raise them properly. Or because no one at the bazaar would ever love them and they remained unloved until they became naughty.

John A. Taylor

That's why Jesus cursed the fig tree. Those "naughty" figs were still hanging around.

After the way they behaved in the Old Testament, he wasn't about to let that happen in the New.

LeeQuod

(Oops, I incorrectly attributed this thread to Diane. Sorry, Kristine.)

I've repeatedly praised Gayle Erwin ( http://www.servant.org ) for his teaching style that focuses on insights just like this, bundled with a huge amount of humor. Peter, sitting at the end of the table at the Last Supper, fuming "This is no place for the Pope!" The disciples arguing with each other and with Jesus more frequently than any other recorded activity. Adam and Eve putting on fig leaves, with the insight that fig leaves *itch*.

LeeQuod

Other insights not necessarily from Gayle: David picked up 5 stones; Goliath had four brothers. Saul was the tallest in Israel, David one of the shortest. (Think Clint Eastwood versus Tom Cruise.) Priests like Zechariah (Elizabeth's husband, John the Baptist's dad) wearing bells on his robe and a rope around his ankle so if he was unworthy and God killed him while in the Sanctum Sanctorium he could be dragged out by those who weren't authorized to enter - and therefore doing a little dance before the Lord to keep the bells ringing. Calculating how many nights Mary and Joseph would have to stop between Nazareth and Bethlehem. Calculating how far the Magi traveled, and wondering why the scholars who educated Herod were too scholarly to go see the prophecy fulfilled. Envisioning Paul the Chihuahua going after Peter the St. Bernard over the issue of how to treat goyim in church. Wondering if 1 Thess. 4:16c ("the dead in Christ will rise first") refers to nominal Christians. Thinking 1 Cor. 4:11 ("and are buffeted") refers to stopping at the all-you-can-eat restaurant after church.

And wondering if 1 Cor. 3:1 ("babes in Christ") aptly fits The Point's distaff personnel.

OK, I'd better go hide for a while...

LeeQuod

... except that I forgot one, and it's pertinent to the season: In Luke 1:57-66 Elizabeth has just given birth, and they come to circumcise and name the the baby "Zechariah Junior", but Elizabeth insists that his name will be John. Of course, she's merely a woman (in that culture), and she's breaking the traditional naming scheme to boot, so they feel they need to check with the dad. They **make signs to him**. At this point I can see Zechariah doing a major eye-roll and thinking "I'm mute, you idiots, not deaf!" But showing remarkable restraint in not gesturing back, he asks for a writing tablet. And you know the rest of the story.

The contrast between John, who was well-known and raised people's expectations literally on Day One, and Jesus, who was obscure except to some shepherds and some foreigners and later the teachers of the law, is striking. I meditate on it when I see televangelists with huge auditoria, and tiny country churches where a pastor can spend his whole life ministering to only a few. Heaven may be filled with some shocking revelations along those lines.

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