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.

The Literary Topography of the Bible

One of the ways of helping to understand the Bible, especially what is called the Old Testament, is to appreciate what I call its literary topography.

Topography is the science of the layout of the land, so to speak. It’s not just geographical boundaries, or hills, mountains, rivers, and valleys; it is also about human additions. (As an aside, it’s a fun field of study.)

In the Bible, the Old Testament story takes place in a geographic space that extends from Egypt to present day Saudi Arabia and Oman. The literary topography of this area is such that the entire Old Testament narrative takes place there. It is a large area, and in Scripture, this area is a microcosm of the entire world.

In the Book of Jeremiah, we have a detailed description of this place, which is identified as “the nations.” You can find it in Jeremiah 25: 17 – 26. Many of the ancient nations of what we call today’s Middle East are there, with their biblical names — e.g., Egypt, Uz, Babylon.

This area, where the entire narrative beginning with Genesis takes place, functions as the entire planet. It is as if one had a lens and examined this place, along with the human behaviors there. Move the lens to a different part of the globe, and the story is the same.

The literary topography of the Bible, then, is not a historical marker in that we are simply recounting names and places. Its value is that the story we read is a story of us as well.

In the next post, we will look at why you and I cannot change the names and places to make them more contemporary. That is, we will look at why the primary field of vision in this field of activity is the one the Bible gives to us.