There are a whole lot of Friends who don't think the Bible matters much, one way or another. There are a great many who consider it vitally important, but figure it has a simple meaning which they accept and others reject. And by the American Assumption, anyone who doesn't know must be sure that the truth lies somewhere "in the middle"? My position is: None of the above.

I've been laboriously neglecting this Bible blog I blundered into ( and ended up asking Friends here for input, whereupon I found myself posting bits from John & Genesis. I thought I knew how the blog ought to work; but it didn't work that way, and now (I thought) I'd arrived at two utterly unrelated passages: John's mixture of Greek philosophical mysticism with an out-of-context use of John the Baptist--and the story of the Tower of Babel.

Alan Lew (a Jewish Buddhist whose meditation practice motivated him to study Judaism & become a Conservative Rabbi) has a nice take on that Babel story. We tend to think that God confuses people's languages as a hostile act, a punishment or at best a defense against our wish to get to His place on our own power, after which, Who knows what we might do to the rugs? Well, no, Alan says, we are living in this perfectly harmonious world; but we aren't satisfied; we are trying to take our fate into our own hands instead, so God (for our sake) makes us cease to understand each other's words.

Joan of Arc has always seemed a paradoxical figure, a Medieval woman who impressed Mark Twain with her devout intelligence--a saint inextricably bound up with violence. Did God care whether France wins a few battles; did God want a great many Englishmen (and Frenchmen) killed to secure to keep France... not "free" (It wasn't!) but at least independent? Well, everyone who fought in those battles is now gone from this Earth, and we still have a world broken into nations, and we still have French cooking, and that perverse sort of French intellectual writing, but we don't have the sort of tyranny a completely-unified Europe might have presented. We don't need to be violent; but if people are going to be that way, God can make use of the fact.

We've got John, saying that John the Baptist has pointed Jesus out to a couple of disciples, one of whom tells his brother: " 'We have found the Messiah!' (which is the Hebrew for 'Christ'.) "

Well, no, it isn't. 'Messiah' == 'Christ' was a profoundly goyish misunderstanding of the contemporary Jewish concept. Both meant someone who had had oil poured on him, but this was culturally just puzzling to contemporary Romans, while it was equivalent to being a crowned King (or perhaps a High Priest) to a Jewish audience. It certainly was not the same as being a Hellenistic demigod, or a pagan sacrifice for the people's sins, or the avatar of Holy Wisdom.

People didn't understand each other. The result has been considerable confusion, and a rich development of sometimes-illuminating ways to misunderstand what's going on.

We keep trying to fix the world... or clinging to the even more bizarre hope that we can keep living in it, in our accustomed ways, without cataclysmic destruction and suffering. We keep trying to figure out ways to carry out these peculiar programs--and meanwhile: "The Kingdom of God is spread out over the world, but men do not see it."

I thought I understood both passages, and that they had nothing to do with each other. I don't know, but fully expect, that someone may add a comment that will tie both of them to something 'unrelated' in a way that will astonish me!

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