How to Read the Bible: Chapter 8, by James Kugel

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The 8th chapter of Kugel’s tome describes the two ways (modern and ancient) to interpret the trials of Abraham, who underwent many hardships in his early days before settling down to become the father of a nation.

Ancient Interpretation

In the eyes of ancient interpreters, the trials of Abraham brought up the question: why would a benevolent creator allow so much hardship. For one thing, Abraham was obedient in everything God told him to do, and he was the founder of God’s Jewish nation. Therefore, God apparently brings hardship to those who he loves most. The ancient interpreters decided that God was testing Abraham, to prove that he was fit to be founder. Instead of a test being proof that God doesn’t love him, it’s proof that God does love him – because it gives Abraham the opportunity to prove his worth.

The most important test that Abraham underwent was when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac in a fiery offering to God. This was horrifying to the Jewish interpreters, who were told later in the Bible never to sacrifice their own children. However, they came up with a good reason. At the time that they were writing their interpretations, they were undergoing a lot of hardships themselves. Many had to become martyrs for their religion. But they asked: is it ok to be a martyr, or is that like suicide, which is forbidden? Thus, they interpreted Isaac as knowing that he was going to be sacrificed – he was therefore the first martyr, and gave implied permission for others to follow suit. For instance, they noted that Abraham, who was over 100 years old at this time, couldn’t have tied up an unwilling 10-12 year old, who could obviously run and struggle. Furthermore, they rationalized using this passage:

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and he put it on his son Isaac, and he took the fire and the knife, and they walked the two of them together. Then Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father?” and he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And they walked the two of them together. Genesis 22:6-8

First of all, the Bible never repeats itself or says anything for emphasis, rationalized the ancient interpreters, therefore the repetition of the words “And they walked the two of them together” must have a hidden meaning. They supposed that, since Hebrew had no word for “is” that the passage meant “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering: my son.” Thus, Abraham did tell Isaac about that he was the offering, and Isaac then walked together with his father in that knowledge.

Modern Interpretation

Modern scholars would not see the story of Abraham as a single unit of stories, but as a group of writings by different people written at different times – the writers J, P, and E (as described in Chapter 1). Therefore, the text doesn’t have a single “Abraham was tested” theme. In fact, some of the hardships that Abraham went through seem to be his own fault. When he lied to the Egyptians by telling them that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife, Pharaoh took Sarah as his concubine. When God punished him for taking Sarah, Pharaoh came back and asked Abraham why he had lied, and sent him on his way. Meanwhile, Abraham had become rich because of his relationship to Pharaoh’s concubine. Modern interpreters would tend to think Pharaoh was the one who was wronged in this situation. In fact, the story may be a way of accounting for Abraham’s great wealth later, rather than a story of a hardship.

As for the story of sacrificing Isaac, modern scholars see it as an etiological explanation for why the Bible and laws later said that nobody should ever sacrifice their child.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

The Age of Henry VIII, Lecture 1

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Next year, I will be reading the Wolf Hall Trilogy, by Hilary Mantel. During this time, I want to learn more about the sociopolitical landscape of the time of Henry VIII, both in England as well as world events that might also shape this vital time in history. I will start by listening to this 24 lecture series about Henry VIII.

Lecture 1

The image of Henry VIII is more recognizable, even to Americans, than any other King. He may not have been well-loved, but his history has a certain allure. Henry VIII reigned for 38 years (1509–1547). There is much popular culture surrounding Henry VIII which started with Shakespeare’s play. The popularity of this play throughout the following centuries give the impression of a powerful, influential king. In the 20th century, King Henry VIII was reimagined yet again: Charles Laughton’s Oscar winning performance in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), Anne of a Thousand Days (1970) with Richard Burton, and the 1972 BBC television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

(The lecture continues as a description of what will occur in the rest of the course.)

Out of my own research, I’d like to note some other things that are going on in the world during and slightly before Henry VIII’s reign. I found this information here.

1501
First black slaves in America brought to Spanish colony of Santo Domingo.
c. 1503
Leonardo da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo sculpts the David (1504).
1506
St. Peter’s Church started in Rome; designed and decorated by such artists and architects as Bramante, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, and Bernini before its completion in 1626.
1509
Henry VIII ascends English throne. Michelangelo paints the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
1513
Balboa becomes the first European to encounter the Pacific Ocean. Machiavelli writes The Prince.
1517
Turks conquer Egypt, control Arabia. Martin Luther posts his 95 theses denouncing church abuses on church door in Wittenberg—start of the Reformation in Germany.
1519
Ulrich Zwingli begins Reformation in Switzerland. Hernando Cortes conquers Mexico for Spain. Charles I of Spain is chosen Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan sets out to circumnavigate the globe.
1520
Luther excommunicated by Pope Leo X. Suleiman I (“the Magnificent”) becomes Sultan of Turkey, invades Hungary (1521), Rhodes (1522), attacks Austria (1529), annexes Hungary (1541), Tripoli (1551), makes peace with Persia (1553), destroys Spanish fleet (1560), dies (1566). Magellan reaches the Pacific, is killed by Philippine natives (1521). One of his ships under Juan Sebastián del Cano continues around the world, reaches Spain (1522).
1524
Verrazano, sailing under the French flag, explores the New England coast and New York Bay.
1527
Troops of the Holy Roman Empire attack Rome, imprison Pope Clement VII—the end of the Italian Renaissance. Castiglione writes The Courtier. The Medici family expelled from Florence.
1532
Pizarro marches from Panama to Peru, kills the Inca chieftain, Atahualpa, of Peru (1533). Machiavelli’s The Prince published posthumously.
1535
Reformation begins as Henry VIII makes himself head of English Church after being excommunicated by Pope. Sir Thomas More executed as traitor for refusal to acknowledge king’s religious authority. Jacques Cartier sails up the St. Lawrence River, basis of French claims to Canada.
1536
Henry VIII executes second wife, Anne Boleyn. John Calvin establishes Reformed and Presbyterian form of Protestantism in Switzerland, writes Institutes of the Christian Religion. Danish and Norwegian Reformations. Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.
1541
John Knox leads Reformation in Scotland, establishes Presbyterian church there (1560).
1543
Publication of On the Revolution of Heavenly Bodies by Polish scholar Nicolaus Copernicus—giving his theory that the earth revolves around the sun.
1545
Council of Trent to meet intermittently until 1563 to define Catholic dogma and doctrine, reiterate papal authority.
1547
Ivan IV (“the Terrible”) crowned as czar of Russia, begins conquest of Astrakhan and Kazan (1552), battles nobles (boyars) for power (1564), kills his son (1580), dies, and is succeeded by his weak and feeble-minded son, Fyodor I.

 

History Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2020

History Challenge

Hi All! After scouring the archives of challenges in the past, I discovered a paucity of history challenges. I plan on reading a lot of history next year, and think it would be interesting to see what others are reading too. I will post a linky on the first day of every month so you can include any nonfiction history books you’re reading. The rules are not strict – if you consider the book to be history, then go ahead and post it.

Personally, I will be reading a bunch of books about the world history (mostly English) around the time of Henry VIII. This is because the third book of the Wolf Hall trilogy will be coming out, and I want to understand the sociopolitical background of the book while I’m reading it. Incidentally, you’re welcome to join me for a readalong of that trilogy. 🙂

nonfiction

I’m starting reading the books now, so I’ll just start the challenge on December 1st 2019.

 

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Update November 15, 2020

Another uneventful week. And another picture taken for the sole purpose of having one for the blog. That’s a picture of Aaron reading the second Percy Jackson book to the kids. They’re enjoying the series. It’s blurry because I took it from far away, where I couldn’t be seen by D. Whenever I take a picture of one kid, the other kid demands one be taken of him or her. lol But really, it was meant to be a picture of Aaron reading – not one of M in particular. 🙂

Why do I even bother folding clothes?! (Again, the blurry zoom-in.)

This week we worked on painting D’s room pink and purple. It looks surprisingly good. 😁 Hopefully this weekend we’ll get her new loft bed and desk (also pink and purple) assembled. Then she’ll be set to do homework away from distractions. So far, she hasn’t had much homework, though. On Sunday, we’ll be taking pictures of the kids with their biological mom so that we can frame them hang them on their walls. It’s my birthday / half birthday present to them. They’re both pretty excited about that. We’ll also get a family photo, since we don’t have any with all of us. I’ll hopefully be able to share them with you next week.

Ooh! I found out that my library carries digital copies of Economist and New Scientist! I don’t have to pay for them!

This is the time of year when I start searching for reading challenges that fit my goals for next year. I couldn’t find one, so I started a Social Justice Nonfiction Challenge. I’m going to focus some of my reading time on social justice books next year, and hope people will add links to their own reviews on my blog so I can see what they’re reading and learn about new books.

Books Completed

Completed

Currently Reading

Currently Reading

I’m getting to the point where I’m reading too many books at once again, lol. I have Economist and New Scientist checked out from the library and hope to get them finished up by this weekend. I restarted my Bible-reading project, and will be posting updates about that a couple times a week. I’m doing a study of the sociopolitical landscape around the time of Henry VIII in anticipation of my reading of Wolf Hall trilogy next year (feel free to join me in a buddy / group read! I’ll be reading about 50 pages a week). I hope to post notes on one lesson a week for 24 weeks.

How to Read the Bible: Chapter 7, by James Kugel

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You may remember from long ago that I was working on a long-term project to read the Bible along with a lot of supplementary reading. I have read the Bible a few times, and this time I really want to study it. One of the supplementary works that I have been reading on and off is How to Read the Bible, by James L. Kugel. If you want to read my summaries of earlier chapters:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7 is a short chapter in which Kugel describes to aspects of the Bible: the two ways of conceiving God, and the perception of angels in the Old Testament.

Modern readers of the Bible tend to view god as omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. That is the later model of God in the Bible. In earlier texts, God is not everywhere simultaneously. As an example, during the Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11:1-9), God has to go down to earth to see what was going on.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. Genesis 11:5

If he omnipresent and omniscient, he wouldn’t have to go make this trip. He would simply be there and know. Furthermore, God walks in the garden of Eden, as well as appearing in other places in the early texts as a human-like figure. This is against the currently common conception of God.

As for angels: it is common for men and women in the bible to mistake angels for men at first. One example is when an angel comes to Manoah and his wife in Judges 13:2-24.

God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!” Judges 13:9-10

As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. Judges 13:20-21

This general confusion is a theme throughout the Old Testament. It isn’t entirely clear why people are so confused about whom they are talking with.

They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei

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Many of you know who George Takei is, but in case you don’t he’s a social activist who acted as Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek series. In this touching graphic memoir, Takei chronicles his time in a Japanese internment camp in America during WWII. The story is tragic and uplifting at the same time (uplifting in the fact that as a child, he didn’t really realize what was going on, and although it certainly colored his view of the world later, it did not crush his soul). This is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in Takei, or in Japanese internment camps, or simply likes graphic nonfiction.

Social Justice Nonfiction Challenge 2020

Social Justice Challenge

Hi! I plan on focusing a good deal of my nonfiction reading on social justice issues next year (and the end of this year). I have been unable to find such a challenge in the past, so decided to host one this coming year. I will have a post each month on the first day for people to link up their reviews, starting in December 2019. Feel free to read as many or as few books as you desire. I will be aiming for about one book a month. Books that I plan on reading:

nonfiction

Please say in the comments if you would be interested in joining with your own selection of social justice books, so I can watch your blog.

 

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