On a Limb

In Galatians 4: 21 – 31, Paul raises this issue: who is a child of Abraham? If you read this passage quickly, at a surface glance he is comparing the free child and a slave child to someone born according to promise and someone born “according to the flesh.” Two mothers, two different covenants. In other words, Sarah is good, Hagar is bad.

Looking at this passage carefully, I am not so sure this contrast between Sarah and Hagar, and their children, is what Paul is getting at. I’ve read this passage dozens of times, and I thought I understood the general thrust of Paul’s point.

But here’s the problem: Scripture gets you like that. It’s like a cut fastball in baseball, which looks like it is coming straight at you, but then breaks at the end.

The problem here, for me at least, is that I checked up on Paul’s reference in 4.29. Go back to Genesis, to which this verse refers, and see if the two match up. They don’t. Genesis 21. 9 – 12 does not deal with a child persecuting another child. So, was Paul reading something in the Bible that isn’t there, was he making something up, or have we just been dealt a cut fastball?

I’ll go out on a limb here, I admit, and try to make sense of this passage.

First, a recap. As we saw in Whose Story is It? Ishmael is conceived and born according to the manipulations of Sarah. She has Abraham be with her slave-girl Hagar to produce a child. She attempts to hijack God’s plan and control it. Ishmael is the child born out of this attempt.

Isaac’s conception comes from God, but to to be clear, he is not the result of Abraham and Sarah’s efforts. He is born to Sarah, and is acknowledged as Abraham’s son because he was promised by God and because he was born into Abraham’s house. God’s purpose is still fulfilled, in spite of Sarah’s efforts.

Yes, both children were born into Abraham’s house, and they are both his.

In Genesis 21. 9 – 12, we encounter a situation where Ishmael, the biological son of Hagar and Abraham, is playing with Isaac, the child of promise. All Genesis says is that Ishmael was playing. That’s it. There is nothing there about persecution.

Sarah wants Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael, because she is jealous of Ishmael and wants her son Isaac to be “the one.” She gets her way; God intervenes and calls on Abraham to listen to the voice of his wife. Hagar and Ishmael leave the home, but they never leave the household of Abraham.

What just happened?

Well, Ishmael’s descendants, too, can become children of Abraham, whether or not they physically live in the same home. Ishmael’s descendants will eventually become part of the nations who will be called to become precisely those children. In this way, God’s purpose is fulfilled, regardless of what Sarah wants.

But why does Paul mention persecution in Galatians 4. 29 when this isn’t mentioned at all in Genesis? It’s just two boys playing.

I think what is happening is that Paul is drawing our attention to Sarah as the constant in both these births. It is her manipulations that led to Ishamel’s birth and exile, but it is also her failure that showed how God’s will cannot be thwarted by humans.

So, it is Sarah who is the one doing the persecuting. She persecutes Hagar and Ishmael. It is also Sarah who, without realizing it, shows how God’s will and purpose will prosper no matter the will of man.

Sarah is, therefore, a metaphor in many ways. She can be the one who persecutes; she can be the one tries to outdo God and control Hill. As the master of a slave woman, she can be cruel to another human being.

The free woman to which Paul refers in 4.23 is therefore not Sarah. He does not name Sarah at all in Galatians 4. 21 – 31. The free woman of Galatians is the New Jerusalem, out of which the Spirit comes.

Therefore, the path between the will of the flesh (i.e., our will) and that of God wholly resides with us. What direction will our life take? I think this is part of what Saint Paul was getting at. I also think he is saying that even the children of slavery can become free children, full members of the household of God. Your path is not predetermined. All it takes is to be born according to the Spirit, whoever you are, whatever your social status, and wherever you may live.

Who Reveals Whom?

Does God reveal the Bible?

This is one of the greatest classical theological chicken and egg dilemmas that, . . . . No, wait. Stop. Just kidding. This was never really a dilemma.

Although, this idea was treated like a scientific truth for centuries and more. You know, the idea that God, in the heavens above, revealed the text of the Bible we have. Simple as that.

It is hard for people to wrap their minds around the notion that God did not “reveal the Bible.” Saying he does would imply we have a God in our minds who we know exists, who has certain characteristics we mentally assign to him, and who then reveals a text about Himself we call the Bible. Again, not to be beat on the same drum, but what is this if not Platonism and its eternal perfect Idea with copies of said Idea(s) here on earth (i.e., the Bible).

The consequences of this line of thinking is that, in practice, one group of people may choose to follow this Bible on their own terms, while another may draw the conclusion they can bypass the Bible and just appeal directly to God. So, the theoretical height, weight, depth, and “character traits” of the eternal God can be anything we wish them to be, again a priori, in theory.

Rather than the above, we should appreciate that it is the Bible that reveals God. Let’s repeat. The Bible reveals God, the real God, not the one set in our minds through which filter we selectively read or listen to the Bible.

One of the solutions to all of these mental gymnastics, of course, is to recognize that the Bible addresses issues outside of our conceptions of God. For example, the Scriptures address issues such as racism, war and violence, as well as the difference in social classes.

Let’s look at how racism is addressed in the Bible. It’s not done explicitly, you have to see it in how the story is told.

Of course, person A will tell you that racism is “bad,” while person B will inform you that God made humanity “in His image,” so there is really only one race, the human race. With this last point we are getting closer to understanding the mechanism of how the Scriptures functions. It’s far more powerful to say, “hey, look, there’s only one race on this pale blue dot, and that’s all of us included,” than to just label something.

Here’s an experiment: ask yourself what racism is, and how you would recognize it. Now, read this passage, ask yourself the same question and answer it again.

We are looking at a passage mentioned in a previous post. We have king David, who is fresh from using his power to seduce and appropriate another man’s wife, Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite. How often have we allowed our own assumptions in hearing or reading the Bible to cover up for us that David is a racist and not just an adulterer?

Uriah was one of the kingdom’s honorable warriors, but he was a foreigner (i..e, a Hittite). David is lounging and enjoying himself as he sent men to die in battle for his wars. This is seen by the use of the words, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem (v. 1). That is, these were casual wars of choice, and like a coward David stays behind as people die.

When David learns that Bathsheba is pregnant, he calls Uriah back from the war, hoping Uriah would take the time home to go be with his wife. But Uriah is an honorable man, unlike David, and he refuses to even see his wife. Why not? “When they told David, ‘Uriah did not go down to his house,’ David said to Uriah, ‘You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?’ Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Honorable men are dying on the front lines, and you want me to have a romantic evening?

So, David concocts the plan to send Uriah to the front lines, where he will surely die, and does (vv. 14 -18).

It’s all so horrible, all of it. What makes it even worse is that Uriah is a foreigner, and so he was expendable. He had no established family in the kingdom, and no children. There was no social group David might have considered that would have deterred him before he seduced Bathsheba. David explicitly inquired who Bathsheba was, and when he learned her husband was a Hittite, he called for her (vv. 2-3). This horrible story is one way the Bible paints racism for us. It is a different definition than the one we are used to today, where racism is a form of a priori hate, but nonetheless this story involves the abuse of power over a minority.

Here we have it: racism as appropriating and stealing from someone or a group because you consider them expendable.

Such is the language of Scripture.

Baseline

This post concludes the series devoted to the congruence of philosophy and the West, and the implication this had had on the study of the Bible and its place in peoples’ lives

In the previous post (Consult the Book of Armaments!), we examined the difficulties of biblical interpretation. Historically, much ink was used within Christendom in defending one “school” over another, but in any event, we ended up in the 20th and 21st centuries with a tendency to use the Bible as a manual of sorts, especially as a map to the end-times.

So, what is a good place to begin in getting back to the roots, that is, the field of vision? Well, this word Christendom is a great starting point.

In his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, the late political scientist Samuel Huntington presented a series of maps showing the influence of the West throughout history. Guess what? The maps show the influence of the West (the book was written in the 1990s) waning. Yes, by the late 1990s the influence was smaller and smaller, which was odd considering how far and wide the reach of the West has been.

After all, ever since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the West claimed ideological lineage with the ancient societies of Greece and Rome. Classical studies abounded. Archeology, the nexus between academia and a civilization’s physical historical memory, also came out of the West.

And with all this came cultural appropriation through war and colonialism (honest question — how many of the items in the British Museum were actually made in England?).

But, alas, in a more recent time, March 2003, the same historical mechanism was at work. The Fall of Baghdad to American forces led to an event that occupied, interestingly, the news cycle for several days — the looting of the Baghdad Museum, and with it, the disappearance from Mesopotamia, of the historical cultural artifacts thousands of years old. See here for a reality check.

The Scriptures, which are Semitic documents, also became a part of the Western intellectual tradition by cultural appropriation as well. It is not so much that original manuscripts disappeared — there are not many to be found! — but that the Bible came to be seen as western document. Its interpretation in the modern world (post 1500) was done primarily by Western scholars; the publication of the Bible into different languages by the West; and as Christendom approached non-Christian peoples, the Bible was always “there.”

So, a work of literature can still be stolen if it is appropriated as a cultural weapon of sorts, as if one culture or civilization claims exclusive rights to it.

So what is the solution to this? Well, we need to establish a baseline. For one, the people of the Middle East are perfectly capable of preserving their own artifacts. The second, relative to Scripture, is that we need to recognize the Bible as an ancient Near Eastern/eastern Mediterranean literature. It is not the cultural property of anyone outside the region that produced it.

The Bible ought to be restored to where it belongs, and from where it grew, the Middle East. It doesn’t belong to us. It is given to us so that we learn not to appropriate its riches. And it is a message for every culture, civilization, and peoples to walk hearing the voice of the Scriptural God. Blessed are those civilizations that come to see the Scriptures in this way.

Consult the Book of Armaments!

In the history of biblical interpretation, for a very long time there were two “schools” of thought on the matter. These views were named after the cities where this kind of early research, if you will, was concentrated, namely Antioch and Alexandria.

The group in Antioch took a kind of “matter of fact” view, that the Bible should be read “as is,” without a tendency to speculate about deeper meanings. This school of bible study also led to some dedicated attempts to understand the languages of the Bible (i.e., Lucian of Antioch).

The speculative aspect is what the group out of Alexandra, Egypt did, which made sense since they were disciples of neo-Platonism, and speculation is the name of the game with philosophy. So, under this scenario, the Bible has a plain meaning, but also deeper “spiritual” meanings that spiritual people can unlock. For example, the crossing of the Red Sea is a metaphor for knowing God.

Of course, either system also has its extremes. The Antiochian school can tend towards fundamentalism, while the Alexandrian tends towards mysticism and guru-like devotion (“tell me, Master, what does it mean?!”).

With all the ink spilled in battles over which way is the best of reading the Bible, have you ever wondered if there is, well, a clearly wrong way of reading the Bible? I present to you this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Behold, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!

Was this a comedic critique of how the Middle Ages used the Scriptures (“Consult the Book of Armaments!”) or how we do it today?

More importantly, what does this scene also say about how we use the Bible as a justification to wage war on our enemies? That is, when the Bible is a weapon itself. What does this say about how we engage in false piety? The king lowered his head as the reading took place from “the Book of Armaments,” heard the directions, and still counted wrong (i.e., he was not listening).

And of this focus on seeing the Bible as a handbook for war, or as a text that needs to be “consulted.” Yes, the Bible (especially the Old Testament) is filled with battles, and presents the hearers with God as Warrior and record title holder. But the purpose of all those scenes is to tire out even the most die-hard warrior, and to show how war is ultimately a futile act. Better the silence of the cave at Horeb than the tumult of battlefield victory (1 Kings 18-19).

The other aspect of “how not to” involves the tendency to use the Bible as a generic handbook or manual. Chapters and verses become verbal weapons in our arguments with ideological Philistines. This mindset has even penetrated to the popular level, as people “see,” especially in end-times books like Revelation, which country represents which enemy of God.

How did we get here? Well, only a modern industrialized society, used to putting things together (like a new cabinet or TV stand), could have created the “Bible as Manual for Living” school of popular Bible studies. In this way of reading, the Bible becomes no different than a map for “making it to heaven.”

If we want to see the Bible for what it “really is,” and listen to what it actually says, then we need to pay attention to how we are hearing and reading it. Begin with the “how” over the “what.” The Bible has its own field of vision. We are to see what “it” sees. And that begins by foregoing the inclination to think we control the text. You can do it! It’s not too late!

Plato’s March of Folly, Round Two — Jesus Avoids the Trap

In an earlier post (Plato’s March of Folly), we looked at the sad state of affairs humanity has had to endure, courtesy of Plato and his descendants. The beguiling aspect of philosophy is such that, were one to be fully and entirely devoted to it, the practical aspects of living would disappear.

Not convinced?

In his Republic, Plato introduces us to the image of a person living in a dark cave and then, when liberated from the darkness, that human being slowly begins to see as their eyes adjust to the light. Obviously, the cave is a metaphor for knowledge, and of course, you would have to assume the person trapped in the cave is living in a nice climate, since when they leave the cave they automatically encounter sunlight. So, clearly, this metaphor applies nicely to warm weather environments like Athens, but would not really work in, say, Seattle.

Of course, there are other logistical issues with all of this. Like, how did the person in the cave get their food? Who raised them? Who protected them? Sure, they had no sight, but their hearing would have been attenuated — what would they have heard in their many years growing up?

The logistical aspects of philosophy, clearly fail. The “what if” aspect is enticing and beguiling, and, well, it is just that — beguiling. But it is not realistic in this world. This world.

In Genesis 3, we encounter a situation where Eve is presented with a beguiling offer — to know good and evil, like God. In standard Socratic method fashion, the crafty serpent entices Eve with a question by which she is won over. To have the power of God, well who wouldn’t want that?

Is the serpent a salesman? Yes, definitely. But what is he selling? For one, a road out of the garden. How does he do it? With a question, much like the Socratic method (see Tarazi, The Rise of Scripture, p. 59).

The beguiling aspect of the Socratic method is that it puts the receiver in a disadvantageous position, as a passive participant in someone else’s line of thinking. The end result is a form of control over a person or situation, precisely because it appears to the one being questioned that they are gaining something, in Adam and Eve’s case, knowledge and power. But they gain nothing, losing even time in productive labor.

The consequence of what happened in the garden is that Adam and Eve, who were entrusted with tending the garden (“you had one job, just one!”) left their duties to go into hiding, become idle, and thereby lose their commission. So, instead of tending the garden, they and their descendants came to work the land in toil and labor (a second best option, as an act of divine mercy; Gen. 3. 17 – 19).

So, is there a way out of this?

In Luke, we have several instances where Jesus is approached with a question. In all of these cases, instead of answering the question, He responds with His own. For example, the Parable of the Good Samaritan opens this way:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” (Luke 10. 25 – 26)

At the end of Luke, Jesus is approached by the elders, scribes, and Pharisees and is asked:

One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders  and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?” He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? (Luke 20. 1 – 4)

Jesus makes them work for what they think they know. Productive work is not only good for us, it is part of our calling as free people and children of the Jerusalem above.

As Paul says, let us avoid reckless and useless controversies (2 Tim. 2.23), as well as idleness (2 Thess. 3. 6 – 15). This is pastoral care 101.

In the Same Boat

The Bible, as we have seen in the story of Esau and Jacob (see the post It’s Good to See You, Bro), subverts our expectations. Along this line, as we have said, there are no heroes in the Bible. All our forefathers failed in some manner, with their failures necessitating, if you will, God’s graciousness to bail them out.

While there are many “sacred” idols that are subverted, none is more troubling for us than the Scriptural message that the oppressor and the oppressed are in the same boat.

Accustomed as we are to theology (or theologies), we can miss entirely one of the major concerns of the Bible — power and its abuse. Who has power? How is it wielded? How is authority abused? How is this abuse perpetuated across generations?

So we have religious authority that conspires to sentence the innocent Jesus death, with the religious authorities colluding with the oppressors. We have a proprietor king (David) sending the brave husband (Uriah the Hittite) of the woman he impregnated to a death in a war for which he took no personal responsibility. Worse, Uriah is a foreigner, so wouldn’t that be okay, then?

You see how people can justify all sorts of abuse and oppression. We do it all the time.

So where does the “they’re in the same predicament” come from?

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practised under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. 

This is from Ecclesiastes 4: 1. Notice the concern of the authors with the oppressed. We can agree with this — often, the oppressed have no one to comfort them.

But the real surprise is how the oppressors are viewed — as people under the control and abuse of power, who themselves need to be comforted. The authors of Scripture remind them and us, that oppressors must have learned their control from somewhere. They are living out, as oppressors, a cycle of violence taught to them and likely expected of them.

Can they be freed from this cycle? Yes. What does this look like? Well, we will look at two examples in a future post.

Sufficient for now is to state that human history has shown what happens when the oppressed take up arms against their oppressors. Not only are rivers of blood shed, but should the oppressed succeed in overthrowing their oppressors, they eventually become the new oppressors. The same story continues.

The cycle never ends until both the oppressor and the oppressed can look into one another’s eyes, and walk together. The oppressors, to be freed from the power that rules over them, and for the oppressed to no longer fear their oppressor.

How is this possible? Stay tuned.

Plato’s March of Folly, Round One

It was the British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who said that, “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

The influence of Plato on the Western philosophical tradition cannot be overstated. Whitehead was correct in that Plato’s ruminations led countless generations after him to “play ball” by taking his ideas seriously. Plato led to Aristotle, tutor to Alexander the Great.

In the Middle Ages, philosophy was seen as a “handmaiden to theology,” while in the Byzantine East it provided, through neo-Platonism, the language and terminology for theology. Then with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the western philosophical tradition really took off, often grouped into geographical regions that mirrored the rise of nations and European empires (i..e, British Empiricism, French Rationalism, German Idealism, etc.).

Think of this — is it a coincidence that the last five hundred years of Western history have also involved absolutist inter-state conflict on a large scale, as nations and empires with different philosophical traditions vied for dominance? One worldview fights another.

All this can be traced to Plato and his Republic. Plato’s Republic was not just a pitch for a new model of society. It was a cultural re-programming, so much so that the introduction of Plato to any region would entail, de facto, a re-wiring of a society’s norms and traditions. This re-programming is written into the DNA of philosophy, since the philosopher lives a quest for a newer society. Of course, newer for whom?

The thought of having this power over the society is tempting and beguiling fruit (Genesis 3.1 – 7; The Rise of Scripture, chapter 1), and is a foreign and corrupting practice introduced into the garden of the Earth created by God.

While Plato was even too much for the ancient Greek city-states to handle (as far as we know, no one in the city-states accepted his sales pitch in his lifetime, as each local society had its own traditions they likely wished to preserve), after his death Alexander of Macedon introduced Plato’s writings to the ancient Near East and to a foreign peoples no less who were conquered by him. These people, with a civilization predating the Hellenistic peoples, were on their way to being culturally erased from history.

So, the cultures of the ancient Near east became a kind of “test case” of rule by a philosopher-king (Alexander). As we saw in the previous post Tasks, though, the project was doomed to fail from the beginning.

Interestingly, it is not known whether these writings were introduced to Afghanistan, also a place conquered by the Macedonian armies. There are places, in fact, where Greek is spoken to this day in remote Afghani villages. Had Alexander not actually introduced Plato’s writings there but did so only in the more developed Near East, then this would support the contention that Plato’s march of folly (a term I borrowed from the late historian Barbara Tuchman) is a cultural re-formatting of society.

Yes, this was an attempt at a cultural reformatting of an entire people, of many languages and traditions, from the least to the greatest. While Alexander was the first to accept the challenge, others have followed after him, with even more passion and destruction, and their own special self-affirming brand of philosophy. As conquerors try to create their perfect world (perfect for who?), the beguiling quest and thought remains that, “I just might succeed where others failed.” This is why, in the history of the West, kinetic wars have been fought to advance ideology, thus affecting entire societies.

With Plato, the march of folly clearly has its costs.

Tasks

A good way of helping people read and understand Scripture is to present a hyperbolic task for them to solve. For example, in Genesis 11 we have the story of the Tower of Babel.

The task at hand is to explain what is happening in Genesis 11 and how this relates to modern geopolitics.

A good case can be made that the so-called Old Testament Scriptures were written in the wake of (and as a response to) the Hellenistic conquest of the entire ancient Near East by the armies of Alexander of Macedon (i.e., the Great). This is the thesis of Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi in The Rise of Scripture (OCABS Press, published in 2017). But Alexander would not live long to see his empire survive, as he died young at age thirty three. While scholars are divided as to whether he actually made Babylon his new capital, he was at least on the way to making it so.

In Genesis 11 we have a building being constructed where people would live, speaking the same language. The word language here does not just mean words, syntax, an alphabet so to speak, but also ideas. Speaking the same language, they would have the same ideas.

Instead of migrating throughout the whole earth, to fulfill the command of God to “be fruitful and multiply” over the face of the Earth, the people in Genesis 11 decide to settle and build a capital city (11.4), the visual embodiment of any empire.

God then takes down this construction by sending moisture to wet the brick that is being used to build Babel. Unable to support the weight, Babel collapses (11. 7-8).

Here we can see that original languages are important. As per Fr. Tarazi, modern translations translate בָּלַל as “confuse,” when the word also means “moisten.” Moisten is the antidote to the brick and bitumen of 11.3.

So, what is Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel all about? Simply, it is a message to all emperors and would be emperors that no empire lasts forever. They all fall.

And it so happens, their fall can be imperceptible, from an unforeseen event, recognized only until after it is too late.

So what is the lesson for modern geopolitics? Simple — nations and groups of people ought to learn to live in concord with one another, to forgo empire of any kind. While people have their grand plans, God still controls the rain.

It’s Good to See You, Bro

Suppose you have an older brother. It is just the two of you and your parents. Your brother, as the oldest, is granted certain privileges by society, which you resent, considering you and he are twins and it was just chance that he was born first.

Opportunity presents itself, and you have a once in a lifetime chance to harm your brother. The attention and privileges you crave can now be yours — in abundance! So you frame your brother and eventually have him exiled from the home. He is now homeless, without family, left to fend for himself in this cruel world.

But because you are a schemer, life catches up with you as God has His ways. Your life hasn’t gone as you had hoped; you get stuck in your father in law’s home as, essentially, an indentured servant, with two wives, and broken dreams. You do not have what you planned schemed for, but at least you reach the point when you are free to go home. On the way back you have time to sort things out. As you leave to go back to your ancestral home, with your wives and servants, you hear something — your learn that your brother is over the hills, coming straight at you with an army of over four hundred men!

What would be going through your mind at this point?

This is, of course, an outline of what happened to Jacob, who, jealous of his older brother Esau, connived to have him banished, only to meet him along the way with his army.

People reading the Bible do so going in thinking that Jacob is a hero. After all, he is a patriarch, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel and sort of the two half tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh). Because of our study notes version of the Bible, this is what we get. If he’s a hero, then he’s always in the right, correct?

But there are no heroes in the Bible.

These blinders cause us to miss the actual message, because when Esau sees Jacob again, he (Esau) is overwhelmed with emotion, kisses his brother, and offers to walk with him back home (Genesis 33. 1-17)!

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept (Genesis 33.4).

Sadly, still not trusting, Jacob declines the offer of protection and goes his own way.

This story is about many things. It is about forgiveness; it is about compassion; it is about honor; it is about sharing the Earth.

But is is also so very importantly about not fearing the other. That other may surprise you at the end of the day, mostly because it just might be they who end up doing the will of God, and not you!

Whose View?

The late French philosopher and urban theorist Paul Virillio showed in his incredible book (actually, incredibly hard to read but still awesome) War and Cinema that what we see on television, or in our case now, smartphones and laptops is a development of what were originally military requirements involving field of vision.

We see what the camera shows us. The camera provides us our field of vision. This matter is so important that directors insist on using only a certain type of film, whether 35 or 70 mm, to capture and tell the story. For example, David Lean shot Lawrence of Arabia in panoramic view. This is how the movie is designed to be seen and understood.

While the Bible is not a movie, it is a narrative, and therefore it has a field of vision. That field of vision encompasses not only the entire narrative, but also the names of places, of people, and the literary topography mentioned in the previous post.

Part of literary reality, of course, is that we look at what happens in a story and we relate it to our own lives. The story of the shepherd boy David who became the immoral proprietor king of Judah is a story to which many people can relate. After all, how many people do we know or have heard of who were gentle and kind souls who “lost their way” in the pursuit of wealth and acquisition of power? You do not need to start out as a shepherd and end up as a king for that to resonate.

With the Bible, this goes to another level. The Old Testament was written in a language that is foreign to us. This language has one fantastic characteristic — it has no vowels. It is all consonants. Almost barbaric sounding to ancient ears. To us Indo-Europeans who have such expressive words and phrases, biblical Hebrew is, well, not a cocktail party language of conversation.

But it is the language of Scripture.

And language defines the field of vision. It makes the vision possible.

In biblical Hebrew, names have a meaning. Even words that seem just a part of the sentence also have place value, so to speak. They are put there by the authors of the Bible on purpose and can only be picked up and understood by those who know the original language.

This is why we have to come to terms with and learn as much as we can what the original authors said.