A Provocative Look at the Creation Account

One of my former Hebrew instructors has argued that recent translators of the Bible are still too influenced by earlier translations, especially the King James Version, and this negatively affects the rendering in English of many important passages.

A good example comes from Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (KJV). “Earth” in English means two things: The whole planet, or the soil in the ground. In Hebrew, However, the word is eretz and means “land”, look how it’s described in verses 9-10:

“And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth…”

Thus, eretz is distinct from the waters that were gathered together and refers to “land”. And as for heaven:

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven (Gen. 1:7-8).

The Hebrew word is shamayim and means “sky”, or everything above the land and the seas. The waters above the firmament are clouds, and it’s also where the birds fly:

“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven” (Gen. 1:20).

Getting back to Genesis 1:1, professor John Sailhamer, who holds a doctorate in Semitic languages from UCLA, explained that the phrase “Heaven and Earth”, better translated “sky and land”, represents a merism. A merism is an expression in which a combination words expresses a single meaning, the totality of something. “Lock, stock and barrel” has nothing to do with guns, but refers to “the whole of anything that has constituent parts” (Wikipedia). Professor Sailhamer cites an example from Psalm 139:2, “Oh Lord you know my sitting down and my rising up.” The Psalmist is using a merism to affirm that God knows everything about him.

Sky and land together in Hebrew simply means “everything”. There is no word in Hebrew for “universe”, so the totality of everything is expressed by a merism. If you’re at the beach looking at the horizon, you would see the sky above and the sea before you while you stand on land; that was the ancient Hebrew’s universe. The better English translation of Genesis 1:1 then being, “In the beginning God created the universe.”

The Hebrew scholar further argues that “In the beginning” cannot be a single point in time but an undisclosed duration of time. The Hebrew reshit (pronounced “reh-sheet”), “beginning” in the Old Testament is never used any other way. In Genesis 10:10 the word reshit refers to the early period of Nimrod’s kingdom, a block of time that precedes the later expansion of his dominion. The reshit  of King Zedekiah’s reign (Jeremiah 28), for example, includes events that happened years into his reign. Moreover, the author of Genesis had other language tools at his disposal to clearly express a definitive beginning point of something.

Professor Sailhamer thinks this is important for understanding the creation story as it was understood by the Hebrews. He argues that the creation of the universe preceded the actions that followed:

“If, for example, God created the whole universe in the first verse, then what was He doing in the rest of Genesis 1? The very next verse provides the answer. Genesis 1:2 immediately focuses our intention on ‘the land’. Therefore the rest of the creation account (Genesis 1:2-2:4) is about God’s preparing the ‘land'” (Genesis Unbound: A Provocative new look at the Creation Account, p. 57).

He’s preparing it for human habitation and this is more cohesive with the overall message of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), the settlement of the Hebrews in the “Promised Land”, and the Mosaic covenant.

Another possible conclusion the professor’s suggests is that the text of Genesis shows that the creation account is not inconsistent with scientific evidence that today’s universe took billions of years to evolve. It is during this block of time, represented by “In the beginning”, that God created the universe. He calls his interpretation of Genesis “historical creationism” because it analyzes the text in its historical context.

…rjt

A Jerusalem Memory

An experience in Israel I had long forgotten recently resurfaced as I was contemplating the Second Sorrowful Mystery, the flagellation of Christ.

Kishle Station

In 1982 I was in Jerusalem for the first time and while walking through the Jaffa Gate entrance into the Old City and I heard a loud scream coming from the building on the right, the Kishle police station. A man was screaming at the top of his lungs as though he was being beaten, uttering words in Arabic that sounded like pleas. While it was probably the case that he was being forcibly restrained, it sounded more like a beating.

Israel was very tense (and dangerous) in those days; I was there a year learning Hebrew and experienced either a shelter in place, bomb threat, or evacuation at least a dozen times. Any guided tours I participated in included the mandatory guard carrying a loaded M-16 or Uzi.

Online I learned something very interesting about the Kishle Station, built in 1831 and used as a prison by the Ottoman Turks. The many prisoner cells were located behind the structure and were not in use at the time I was there. In the 1990s the adjacent Tower of David Museum took this part of the building over with the intention of expanding into it. During construction, beneath the floor they discovered the remains of foundation walls, and a full excavation of the site followed.

Most archaeologists now accept that it is the location of the palace built by Herod the Great (37 BC-4 BC), and later the site of Jesus’ trial (and scourging). We don’t know exactly how Jesus reacted verbally to such torture, but a Roman whipping was merciless; a handle was connected to three strips of leather at the end of which pieces of sharp metal or bone were attached. For the Imperial Roman Army, flagellation was also a method of execution; if a cohort lost a battle or otherwise disgraced themselves, one out of ten of them would be flogged to death.

Israeli archaeologist Re’em Amit was in charge of the excavations:

Pontius Pilate did not live in Jerusalem but in Caesarea Maritima, and like all the governors of the imperial era, would have resided in a wing of Herod’s Palace during his stays in Jerusalem.

I don’t know if the sadistic Roman soldiers caused Our Lord to scream as His flesh was systematically torn away; if He did His mother would sadly have had to listen to it. The wailing that I heard coming from that building thirty-six years ago now haunts me.

…rjt

Peter Hitchens’ on the Demise of the English Church

The brother of the late author and atheist Christopher Hitchens recently spoke in Copenhagen on immigration and the end of western culture (extremely pessimistic, but very entertaining). Below is a short sample from the long Q&A that follows the speech. He reflects on the Church of England, referring to it as the “enemy of it’s heritage”:

The full speech is below and the Q&A follows, both are worth taking the time to listen to.

…rjt

‘Office of the Angelic Order’: St. Hildegard’s Ode to Priests

The Choirs of the Blessed, Rupertsberg Manuscript

In Book III, Vision 13 from Hildegard’s Scivias (hard ‘c’, and is an abbreviation for Sci vias domini, “Know the Ways of God”), she describes a vision of heavenly choirs, “I heard the praises of the joyous citizens of Heaven”. There is a song for angels, martyrs, Mary, etc. She wrote down the words to the songs and called them the “Symphony of the Blessed”. The following is a hymn to confessors:

O ye who succeed and serve the mighty Lion,
And rule between the temple and the altar,
The angels sing praises and stand to help the peoples,
And so do you in the Lamb’s service careful.

O ye who imitate the Most Exalted,
In His most precious and glorious Sacrament!
How great is your glory, in which the power is given
To loose and bind the indolent and the straying,
to beautify white and black, and lift their burdens.
Yours too is the office of the Angelic order,
And yours is the task of knowing the firm foundations
And where to lay them, and therefore great is your honor.†

This is one of the rare places in the book where Hildegard has something nice to say about priests. By the middle of the twelfth-century the priesthood had been corrupted and was in deep need of reform. Historians generally agree that at the time most priests disregarded celibacy and were either married or supporting a concubine. They also would regard their church and attendant properties as their own personal real estate, using the land to accumulate wealth.

Hildegard would later be authorized by Pope Eugenius III as well as his successors to conduct speaking tours primarily to groups of priests, harshly condemning their behavior. From her correspondence we know that these speeches had a powerful influence and included prophesying, as her reputation as a genuine seer had spread throughout Latin Christendom.

…rjt

†Quotations taken from Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Abbey of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc. Paulist Press, 1990.

Video: The Beauty of the Psalms in Song

“Mizrahi” [hard ‘h’] which in Hebrew means “Eastern”, describes the musical traditions brought by diaspora Jews returning to Palestine from places like Morocco, Iraq, Egypt or other Middle East/North African countries. Few of the new arrivals spoke Hebrew; it had been a dead language since before the time of Christ. It was revived in early 20th-century by a few pioneering families who would only speak to each other and their children in a modern form of classical Hebrew. Mizrahi music and the Hebrew language were a natural match and as the generations have passed has become very popular among young Israelis today.

The interesting thing is that the music of the Mizrahi countries might reflect the music of the land of Israel at the time of Christ, which historians note would have been influenced by the traditional music of both Egypt (the captivity) and Assyria (the Babylonian Exile). In other words, not only have the Jews returned to Israel, but also has her ancient language and music.

The first example below features the guitar-like oud, which was common in both Ancient Egypt and Assyria, flutes and winds were as well.

The second example is a blend of Misrahi and Western rock. By reading the transliteration of the Hebrew text of Psalm 150, which is repeated several times, you will notice how its poetry lends itself to the music style.

The Jews have their ancient homeland back, its language and music, and one day, soon I hope, they will also have their Messiah.

…rjt

A Voice from Hell

[I’ve heard many times that for every person that is received into the Church, six leave. This Easter Sunday, with the churches crammed like sardines, homilies should include a reminder of the aftereffects of dying unforgiven]

Oh, why am I here in this place of unrest
When others have entered the land of the blest?
God’s way of salvation was preached unto men;
I heard it and heard it, again and again.

Why did I not listen and turn from my sin
And open my heart and let Jesus come in?
For vain earthly pleasures my soul did I sell
The way I had chosen has brought me to hell.

I wish I were dreaming, but ah, it is true.
The way to be saved I had heard and I knew;
My time on the earth, oh, so quickly fled by,
How little I thought of the day I would die.

When God’s Holy Spirit was pleading with me,
I hardened my heart and I turned from His plea.
The way that was sinful, the path that was wide,
I chose and I walked till the time that I died.

Eternally now, I must dwell in this place.
If I from my memory could but erase
The thoughts of my past which are haunting me so.
Oh, where is a refuge to which I can go?

This torture and suff’ring, how long can I stand?
For Satan and demons this only was planned.
God’s refuge is Jesus, the One that I spurned;
He offered salvation, but from Him I turned.

My brothers and sisters I wish I could warn.
Far better ‘twould be if I had not been born.
The price I must pay is too horrid to tell
My life without God led directly to Hell.

Oh, soul without Christ, will these words be your cry?
God’s Word so declares it that all men must die.
From hell and its terrors, Oh, flee while you may!
So, come to the Saviour; He’ll save you today!

—Oscar C. Eliason

…rjt

Pope Francis, Scripture, and Universal Brotherhood

When I read the Pope’s homilies (I’ve read hundreds) I noticed that he will carefully draw out spiritual applications from that day’s readings that are simple and usually (not always) consistent with the given passage’s meaning. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said regarding many of his other writings and particularly the encyclicals where he cites biblical passages to support his specific instruction.

In the following examples the Pope appears to be manipulating scripture to deemphasize Christian brotherhood and elevate universal brotherhood.

The context of the following is a lesson that spiritual formation of a Catholic is not solely based on doctrinal instruction. But notice how Francis commingles the love commandments:

“…It has to do with ‘observing’ all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love. Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbour: ‘The one who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the whole law… therefore love of neighbour is the fulfilling of the law'” (Rom 13:8, 10) (Evangelii Gaudium, 161).

Continue reading “Pope Francis, Scripture, and Universal Brotherhood”

St. Hildegard on the Pursuit of Wealth

The Pope appears to regard free-market capitalism as a form of colonialism:

“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor” (link).

“It is a truly pressing duty to use the earth’s resources in such a way that all may be free from hunger. …We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being” (link).

In our concern for improving the lives of the world’s poor, one wonders whether the Church should be putting such a high priority on the eradication of poverty. Continue reading “St. Hildegard on the Pursuit of Wealth”

Understanding the Writings of St. Hildegard

I have recently added a page on the top menu, “Understanding the Writings of St. Hildegard“. It is the first chapter of my book, Liberating Marriage in an Age of Heresy. It is probably the only introduction to Hildegard written from an orthodox Catholic perspective that can be found online (as far as I am aware).

Most of the literature on this Doctor of the Church comes from university women’s and gender studies departments; she quickly became a feminist folk-hero as a result of her remarkable rise to power in the patriarchal world of Latin Christendom during the High Middle Ages. Consequently, her visions and gift of prophecy, which were recognized as authentic by the Church, are generally explained in human terms.

The first complete English translation of Scivias appeared in the 1990s and the secular interest in her exploded. But the resulting literature generally misrepresents this great saint and her devotion to God and His Church.

If you’re interested in Hildegard and her message to today’s Church, kindly take the time to introduce yourself to the remarkable Abbess and prophetess. And please feel free to share the article.

…rjt

St. Hildegard and The Convergence of Feast Days in 2038

A number of Catholic prophecies identify a year in which will mark the reversal of a period of persecution the Church will undergo just prior to the time of the Antichrist. The prophecies suggest that at that time the persecution will have reached an apex, and through divine intervention, the Church will be ultimately liberated. The year isn’t named but will be characterized by the following:

“When the Feast of St. Mark (April 25) shall fall on Easter, the Feast of St. Anthony (June 13) on Pentecost, and that of St. John (June 24th) on Corpus Christi, the whole world shall cry, Woe!” (Ven. Magdalene Porzat, ca. 1850).

This confluence occurred in 1943 and will occur again in 2038, and then not until 2190. What makes this prophecy intriguing is that 2038 will likely be during St. Hildegard’s era of the Grey Wolf, the conclusion of which is represented by the sudden ending of a period of persecution and a glorious new beginning for the Church.

Orval Abbey, founded 1132 AD. Destroyed during the French Revolution, later rebuilt.

A related prophecy appears in a sixteenth-century document known as the Prophecy of Orval. This is not a person but the name of a Cistercian monastery in Belgium which still exists today. A fragment of the anonymous prophecy, discovered in its archives in the mid-nineteenth century, describes the exact length of a period of God’s chastisement of His people which occurs near the time of the Antichrist: Continue reading “St. Hildegard and The Convergence of Feast Days in 2038”