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.


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.


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.


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


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”

September 23, 2017: An Astrological Coronation of The Blessed Virgin Mary

It will not be visible, as it will occur during daylight hours. For most of the day, from about 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM PST the following will occur, beginning in the eastern sky:

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered” (Revelation 12:1-2).

As the sun envelopes the constellation Virgo (a virgin maiden in Greek mythology) the moon will cross beneath her feet. At the same time twelve stars will congregate just above her head, nine from the constellation Leo plus three visiting planets: Mercury, Venus, and Mars.* The planet Jupiter (mythological king), which had entered Virgo’s torso back on Dec. 1, 2016, will have just exited between her legs on Sept. 12th, 9 1/2 months later. (Recall that Jupiter’s entry into the constellation Leo represented the birth of a prince in Babylonian astrology and inspired the journey of the Magi).

Read the rest here.


Review of ‘Liberating Marriage…’

Elena Maria Vidal recently reviewed Liberating Marriage in an Age of Heresy: St. Hildegard of Bingen and Reform in the 12th-Century on her beautiful and popular website Tea at Trianon. She writes:

“The book is short but bursting with fascinating information about medieval views of love and sin. It became clear to me that the doctrines of the Church, as they continued to be clarified by reforming popes, were meant to protect women and children from the abuses of lust as well as those of material and political gain. As we know, the teachings were often ignored in the face of worldly expediency. Nevertheless, St. Hildegard’s voice is one that is as relevant now as it was nine hundred years ago.”

Are Practicing Catholics Becoming Irrelevant in France?

Author Joseph Pearce recently wrote an article with a hopeful title that caught my eye and I’m sure many others, “The Son Rises in the West: France & the Resurrection of the Faith”. It’s based on a piece from the Jesuit magazine America by Pascal-Emmanuel Goby, who cites evidence for what he sees as the early stage of a Catholic renaissance in France. He noticed that his church was getting increasingly crowded on Sundays:

“I have started going to other, random parishes on Sundays, just to see if this is a real trend. And indeed, Sunday high Mass is packed in most parishes in Paris. This is also true in Lyon, the second biggest city in the country.”

Perhaps he’s on to something, but he comes up with the curious notion that since the percentage of practicing Catholics in the country is so small (1.8%), they may be less relevant to this revival than a much larger segment within the 48% who are non-practicing. Continue reading “Are Practicing Catholics Becoming Irrelevant in France?”

The Reform of the Reform of the Reform…

In a recently published interview, Pope Francis was again disparaging those with a preference for the traditional Latin mass, referring to them as nostalgic and marginalizing them and the mass itself. He also quashed the notion of a “reform of the reform” as a restoration of certain elements of traditional liturgy:

“Pope Benedict accomplished a just and magnanimous gesture to reach out to a certain mindset of some groups and persons who felt nostalgia and were distancing themselves. But it is an exception. That is why one speaks of an ‘extraordinary’ rite. The ordinary in the Church is not this. It is necessary to approach with magnanimity those attached to a certain form of prayer. But the ordinary is not this. Vatican II and Sacrosanctum Concilium must go on as they are. To speak of a ‘reform of the reform’ is an error.” (trans. by Rorate-Caeli)

The following is an excerpt from a post I wrote about a year ago. Bishop Floyd Begin of Oakland, California (1962-1977) had attended every session of the Second Vatican Council and had even claimed to be the author of Council documents. When it ended in 1964, he returned determined to renovate the cathedral, built in 1893. If anyone knew what the intention of Sacrosanctum Concilium was, it would have been Bishop Begin:


St. Francis de Sales became known as the “…first cathedral in the United States to be completely remodeled according to the liturgical spirit of the Second Vatican Council”. (All quotations herein are from: Jeffrey M. Burns and Mary Carmen Bautista, We are the Church: A History of the Diocese of Oakland. Strasbourg: Editions du Singe, 2001). The enthusiastic bishop had a bold plan for remodeling the Cathedral:

“With the priest now facing the people, the bishop found the venerable stained glass windows behind the alter distracting. ‘The rather colorful windows in the sanctuary impeded the vision of the service, just like the headlights of an oncoming car do.’ The stained glass windows were covered over by redwood paneling. The interior was whitewashed and the exterior was painted in a creme color [it was red brick]. The alter rail was removed as were all the statues, except for that of Jesus. In sum, the remodeled building followed Vatican II directives and created ‘…an atmosphere conducive to participation, worship, and prayer.'”

The Cathedral interior before the renovation:


The Cathedral interior after the renovation:

st francis4

The new altar:

st francis6


Since the inspiration for these changes was “…the liturgical spirit of the Second Vatican Council”, by 1969 the Cathedral’s liturgical spirit had incorporated elements from contemporary arts:

Neil Armstrong

“Dance, slide presentations, photography, innovative preaching [?], all became regular features in the Cathedral liturgies. …In late 1969, the Cathedral featured an Advent series entitled ‘We Hold a Strange Hope’ to explore how to maintain hope in the midst of the social chaos that was engulfing the United States. The first week featured four blown-up portraits hanging in the sanctuary — Che Guevara, Joan Baez, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Neil Armstrong” (p.52).

The historians report that the organ was replaced by an ensemble of strings, brass, piano, and various musicians (p.51). The liturgical innovations attracted national attention:

“In May, 1971, Time Magazine observed, ‘twice each Sunday, the music runs the scale between such unlikely extremes as Gregorian chant and rock. On one recent Sunday, the mixture embraced both Bach’s Aire for the G-String and Amazing Grace. On another, included a Hayden trio, Bob Dylan’s The Times They are A Changin’ and Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is our God.'”

The historians recount that in 1971, during one of the themed liturgies, a song was performed that was composed especially for the occasion, “A Traditionalist’s Lament”. It mocked anyone still attached to the traditional form of the mass. It was sung to the tune of a song from the film Mary Poppins, “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious”:


Introibo. Tantum. Ergo. Kyrie Eleison.

Give me back my pamphlet rack and surplices with lace on.

If Catholic means rock-and-roll I’d rather be a Mason.

Introibo. Tantum. Ergo. Kyrie Eleison.

You can read the rest of the post here. The Cathedral was destroyed in an earthquake some years later, reminding me that in too many cases the vernacularization of the liturgy brings to mind the Tower of Babel rather than Pentecost.


St. Teresa of Calcutta and the Priest of Kali

The Kalighat Home for the Dying

A middle-aged priest from Calcutta was celebrating mass at my church several years ago. His homily centered on a short story about Mother Teresa with whom he seemed to be close. I remember the homily because it deeply moved me.

Calcutta is named after the important Hindu goddess Kali and means “the city of Kali”. She is worshipped as the “Mother of the Universe”. The priest recounted that when Mother Teresa began her service to the poor she and her few sisters had very little money or resources. Every day they would go to a nearby temple of Kali and serve the sick and dying on its doorsteps; it was where they congregated. The head priest of the temple resented the Christian nuns and stirred up the anger of the locals to the point that they would throw rocks. But the numbers of the sick kept growing so the Kali priest complained to authorities. Teresa, however, was able to convince them to give her the old abandoned temple that was on the same grounds; they knew that her work was badly needed by the people of Calcutta. She called it the Kalighat Home For the Dying. Continue reading “St. Teresa of Calcutta and the Priest of Kali”