Posts Tagged ‘Biblical Study’

There’s a new book out by Israeli professor of engineering at Ben Gurion University, Haim Shore, called “Coincidences in the Bible and in Biblical Hebrew” that I think I’m going to see if I can get a digital download for my reader. In it Shore examines a number of remarkable instances of ancient Jewish sages contemplating notions passed down through their scriptures and traditions that lead them to some remarkably accurate scientific conclusions. And they did it all without experimentation or even clinical observation hundreds and even thousands of years before scientific discipline caught up with them.

Author Adam Jacobs give an intriguing review of the book in the following article for The Algemeiner. You can check out Jacobs’ review at the following link…

The Scientific Foreknowledge of the Jewish Sages.

My thanks to Dr. Claude Mariottini for bringing the article to my attention.

I was going to comment on this case as well, but I can’t say it any better than the good Doctor here. Check it out.

Honor Your Mother | Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament.

Lot and His Daughters

Posted: August 19, 2011 in Spirituality

Every year on the 1st of August I start a new Bible Reading plan; a schedule of prescribed readings for each day designed to keep me in the scriptures.  This year I’m using the M’Cheyne Reading Plan designed by the 19th century scholar Robert Murray M’Cheyne.  It will take me through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice by this time next year.  I say all this to set up the intriguing coincidence that I encountered yesterday.

The morning reading on the plan (there are 4 per day) included Genesis 19:30-38, the story of Lot and his daughters living in the cave near Zoar.  It is a controversial passage in that Lot’s daughters, possibly afraid that the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah may not be a local phenomenon, decide to get their old man drunk and have sex with him so that the family line will continue.  The scriptures do not condemn the act, in fact no comment is made other than the fact the plan results in the Moabites and the Ammonites, two tribes of people who will play into the story of Israel time and time again.

Now I’ve read the passage before and didn’t give it much thought until later in the day when I was reading a post by Dr. Claude Mariotinni, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary.  It referenced this very passage and linked to a paper that discussed the moral nature of the act in the context of the times.  Turned out to be a good read (if you’re into Biblical commentary).

My reading that particular passage yesterday and Dr. Mariotini’s article would seem to be equally random acts, and yet they tie together beautifully.  I’m always intrigued when this kind of thing happens and thought I might bring this one to your attention.

You can read the paper on Lot and his daughters here.

You’ll find Dr. Claude’s article here.


Samson in the 24th 1/2 Century?

Posted: January 28, 2009 in Media

This just in…

Variety reports that Warner Bros. is planning a futuristic retelling of the story of Samson & Delilah. The full article can be read here.

I have mentioned before that I enjoy looking at the gospel and the stories of the Bible from different perspectives because it causes you to take a fresh look at things you might be taking for granted. So in some regards this project intrigues me. It has a strong director, Francis Lawrence (I am Legend), and a good writer, Scott Silver (8 Mile, X-Men:Origins), so as a movie it likely won’t be a complete disaster. The question is; how well will the original point of the story come across? Or if you like; how much will the sub-plots created to support the Sci-Fi environment get in the way?

Biblical movies, or movies inspired by Biblical stories are usually a mixed blessing. As I said, while they can provide a fresh vision of the story allowing us to rethink some of our preconceived notions, they can also, and this happens a lot, get so caught up in the subplots design to make a “better story” out of it that the real purpose of the tale is lost in translation.

Cecil B. DeMille’sTen Commandments‘ is a good example. So much time is spent on the love triangle story involving Moses (Charlton Heston) and the Egyptian princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) and Rameses (Yul Brynner) that the 40 years wandering in the desert is reduced to a single line of dialog in the last moments of the film. Despite this drawback however, I must give DeMille his due. He doesn’t mess with the basic Biblical story, he either had to much respect for the Scriptures to do that or he knew he’d have the combined wrath of Christian and Jewish clergy to deal with if he did. He did however, love to embellish the story with as much extra material as he could get away with; after all, nothing sells a movie like a good love triangle.

He did the same thing seven years earlier when he made ‘Samson and Delilah‘ starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lemarr. It’s done in true DeMille style, great costumes, lavish sets, lots of special effects, and excellent casting. Though to be fair Mature was not his first choice, but Burt Lancaster and Steve Reeves both turned the part down. Even so, it still stands today as the most watched cinematic treatment of the story.

Over all Demille did a great job of telling the stories of the Bible in ways that captured peoples imaginations and, more often than not, respected the integrity of the Biblical narrative. And I think that is why they succeeded as well as they did. Yes, all star casts and lots of pomp and slendor helped, but respect for the story itself I think is the most important aspect of his approach. When you look at his additions to the narrative most of them are completely in keeping with the times and do not contradict the biblical narrative. Just because the Bible doesn’t mention a romantic connect for Moses in Egypt doesn’t mean he was celebate, it just means it didn’t affect the story God wanted in the scriptures.

There is one other movie version of the story from the book of Judges that I know about but haven’t seen as of yet. Part of a late 1990s Bible Movie Collection produced in Germany (which also contains films about Moses, Abraham and Jeremiah) it starred Eric Thall and Elizabeth Hurley as Samson and Delilah (respectively – wouldn’t want any confusion. lol). From the reviews I’ve read it appears to do a more than reasonable job of presenting the Biblical story with culturally accurate additions to fill out the three hours of film. I’m told it takes a few shortcuts on the special effects, but I guess they didn’t have DeMille’s budget. It sounds like one I’d like to see and add to my collection. On a purely movie fan note, another reason I want to see this film is it also contains performances by Dennis Hopper and Diana Rigg.

A sci-fi version of the Samson story could indeed provide some insights, especially if Lawrence and Silver protect the integrity of the Biblical narrative. And this doesn’t mean that Samson has to spout dialog straight from the book of Judges, I’ll be happy if he acknowledges the source of his power is God, or at least a higher power outside of himself. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, if any of you know of other worthwhile examples of how to do a biblical movie right I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line in the comments section. Likewise ,if you know of a classic example of just how bad it can get drop me a line in the comments about that as well.

Until next time… Shalom.

And pass the popcorn.


Torah is Life

Posted: January 20, 2009 in Spirituality
Tags: ,

One of the blogs I enjoy following is that of Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary. He provides a well educated commentary on a wide range of subjects. This morning he drew my attention to this video and so I present it to you.

It was interesting to me to hear people discussing Torah the same way Christians talk about the New Testament. What struck me about it is that when they talk about Torah they are referring to the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – what Christian scholars call the Pentateuch. For many Christians however, the Old Testament is considered dry and uninspiring, and so they focus mostly on the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. And yet here we have people discussing Leviticus in the same manner we talk about say, the gospel of John. I would suggest there are two things (at least) that we can learn from this observation.

First, the fact that two culturally diverse peoples can gain the same wisdom and learning from both the Old and New Testaments speaks to the universality of God. He is indeed the same yesterday, today and forever. He does not change and those who seek Him will find Him, no matter where they look. Or rather, if I may be so bold, those who seek Him will be found by Him, for He seeks us more fervently than we seek Him.

Second, we need to make sure we don’t neglect the Old Testament in our study of scripture. Many Christians do read the Old Testament, but as a background to the New Testament not necessarily as a guide to living in itself. This is often because there are many who perceive the teachings of Jesus as a replacement for the Old Testament. But this was never the case. Jesus said himself that he had not come to replace the law but to fulfill it. (Matt. 5:17)

So how then can we do this? I have a suggestion. Much Jewish study of the scriptures takes place in conjunction with the Talmud. The Talmud is not a different scripture as many non-Jews assume, rather it is a collection of commentaries that have been made by various rabbis of note down through the centuries. And so it is customary to read the Torah with the aid of these commentaries. Not unlike what Christians do in their Bible studies.

Here’s my suggestion then. Read the Torah, Genesis through Deuteronomy, using the teachings of Jesus, the gospels, as a commentary. That is, as you read the Old Testament, cross reference the teachings of Jesus as they pertain to each passage of scripture. Most good study Bibles will provide the cross references for you. As you read ask yourself these questions: How does Jesus’ teaching shape your reading of the Old Testament passage? How does the Torah passage retain it’s meaning in the light of Jesus’ teaching?

It’s not that profound an idea, I’ll admit, but this video caused me to wonder – we are quick to read the Bible with the aid of a modern teacher’s commentary, but how many of us have read it following the commentary of the greatest teacher of all time?

Until next time…


This past Sunday (Dec 28, 2008) I presented a monologue to my home church that examined the nativity from the perspective of Joseph. If you haven’t heard it you can visit my home church’s website or listen to it using the link below.

081228 Joseph’s story – Dennis gray – 10am.mp3

After the service, as expected, a number of people challenged me on the premise of my presentation. For a few hundred years now western Christianity has had this idea that Joseph was a young man and that Mary was his first wife. The image has been presented for so long that it is hard for us to consider other possibilities. As one woman in the congregation put it, “You’re a heretic aren’t you?

But such has not always been the case, and indeed even today there are branches of Christianity that find the idea of an older, more mature Joseph quite acceptable. These ideas largely stem from what are known as the apocryphal writings, a number of documents which for one reason or another were not included in the Bible. The most common reason for their exclusion was “that many things are found in them corrupt and against the true faith handed down by the elders…” Origen .

That there are questionable contents in these books is without question (pun intended) but does that mean that everything in them is in error? The gospels are so devoid of information about Joseph that if we are to be completely honest, anything that we imagine regarding the man is, in truth, speculation. So I would ask you, gentle reader, to speculate with me and consider that, at least in part, there may be some validity to some of these ideas about the surrogate father of Jesus Christ.

Joseph – A biography…

Basically the story of Joseph as presented by the apocrypha goes something like this.

Joseph’s first wife was a woman called Melcha or Escha or Salome, depending on which apocryphal book you read. They lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James, Jesus’ brother. A year after his wife’s death, the priests announce throughout Judea that they wished to find a good man of the tribe of Judah to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up with the other candidates and by the manifestation of a miracle (this varies) God selected Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place.

Now, let me repeat, these accounts have no definitive authority whatsoever; however, over the years they have acquired some popularity, even inspiring many artists in their depictions of the events. This is especially true of the Coptic Church who were among the first to venerate Joseph. Coptic commentators point out that there are some good reasons to believe that Joseph was an older man, (though many will admit that the age of ninety is likely an attempt to associate him with Abraham and Moses).

Consider this: a younger man would likely have gone ballistic when he heard that his betrothed was pregnant and knew full well it wasn’t his doing. An older man might have been more disposed to protecting the reputation of her family as the Bible suggests. There’s also an argument to be made that an older man would be more likely to accept the spiritual reality of the dream rather than just excuse it as being influenced by Mary’s story. In a similar light, an older man is more likely to be able to restrain himself from relations with Mary while awaiting the birth of the child, though admittedly fear of harming the Holy Child makes for powerful motivation even for an amorous young Jew.

Now might suggest that this was created to re-enforce the idea that Joseph was the “protector of virgins”, and I have to agree it looks that way. However, I find it interesting to note that the stories can be traced to the late 2nd/early 3rd century, while the veneration of Joseph only traces back to the 4th century. Is it possible the story inspired the elevation of Joseph to sainthood?

Now, none of this is conclusive but then our speculation doesn’t stop there. My monologue also contained another interesting idea.

Dual Genealogies Explained

Another dimension to this is that many of the same authors, including one Julius Africanus, also expounded an interesting explanation for the fact that the lineage of Jesus (by his father Joseph of course) is different in the Gospel of Luke from the one presented in the Gospel of Matthew. In the book of Matthew Joseph’s father is listed as being a man named Jacob, whereas Luke says Joseph’s father was Heli.

Julius did some 3rd century Google-ing (that is actual back and forth footwork) and determined that Jacob and Heli were, in fact, half-brothers; their mother having remarried after the death of her first husband. This led Julius to some interesting speculation. Yes, I know, more speculation, but most explanations of the two genealogies are no more than that. The question is, is one man’s speculation more feasible than another’s?

Julius looked at the fact the two men were brothers and was reminded of the Levitate requirement that if a man were to die without a male heir, then his brother should marry his widow to sire an heir for the deceased husband. (Deut. 25:5-6) What if that were the case with Jacob and Heli? Africanus suggests that Heli dies without an heir, so his widow, who is identified as a woman named Eisha, marries her husband’s half brother Jacob. By Jacob, Eisha gives birth to a boy named Joseph, who would grow up to marry Mary. Biologically the boy is the son of Jacob, but because of the Levitate edict, that the brother sires an heir “for his brother”, the child would be legally considered to be the son of Heli!

Since Matthew is one of the disciples, and we know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, spends at least some time with the company that followed the Lord; it is not unreasonable to suggest that Matthew would know about the circumstances of Joseph’s birth and the connection to Jacob. So Matthew records Jesus’ blood lineage.

Luke, on the other hand, is a companion of Paul’s, but is apparently not around prior to the crucifixion. For his account it would not be unreasonable to suggest he relied on the official records and therefore counted Heli as being the earthly grandfather of Jesus, so his account is the legal lineage.

Since this scenario is entirely plausible, it means that both genealogies could well be valid lines of succession, through Joseph, for the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.

IMHO (In My Humble Opinion)

Personally, I like this explanation. So apparently did early scholars such as Aristotle, who rejected all other ideas once he heard this one. As speculations go, it has cultural validity, is based on sound Biblical concepts, and is in many respects more plausible than the idea that Luke’s lineage is somehow that of Mary. But again, it is all speculation; baring a major archaeological discovery, we will never truly know the truth this side of the next life.

But even having said that, such speculation is not without value. It is important that we, from time to time, consider the validity of our assumptions. Many old ideas have been rejected not because of any valid argument, but just because they are old ideas. In some cases personal grudges and/ or bigotry are involved. In like manner, many new ideas are also rejected for no reason other than they are new.

And so, gentle reader, I present to you some food for thought. Not to be taken as gospel, or even as a great likelihood, but simply to be considered as grist for the mill in our continuing effort to understand the reality that is the story of our Lord Jesus.


The Not-So-Savage Curtain

Posted: February 7, 2006 in Spirituality

Like a lot of people in this world, I am a fan of the Star Trek franchise. Now, before those of you who aren’t hit the Back button, this article is not about Star Trek per se, so please bear with me.

One of the episodes that stands out in my mind, is an original series episode called The Savage Curtain. In it the crew of the Enterprise travel to a planet called Excalbia. The unique thing about the living rocks that inhabit Excalbia is their culture has no experience with the concepts of “Good” and “Evil.” In an effort to understand this concept, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock find themselves on the planet’s surface along with an assortment of characters extracted from kirk and Spock memories including Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan. They are divided into the “good guys” and the “bad guys” and forced to battle it out to the death. A few skirmishes and much philosophizing later, Kirk and company emerge victorious and the Excalbians come to the following conclusion…

“It would seem that evil retreats when forcibly confronted. However, you have failed to demonstrate to me… any other difference between your philosophies.”

After a few more philosophical observations and a memorable quote from Abraham Lincoln (There is no honourable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war except its ending.) everyone survives and the crew moves on to its next assignment.

So… why the trip down Trekkie memory lane? Well, what always stuck in my mind about this episode was not the debate over the classic battle between good and evil but the aliens involved. The Excalbian spokesman makes the claim that the very concept of good and evil is unknown to them. This seems nearly impossible. Could a society with no concept of good and evil, or right and wrong actually survive? Would they not at the very least come to the conclusion; harm me = evil and help me = good? Could such a society exist?

Well actually, we are supposed to be just such a society. At least that’s what Juan de Valdes suggests. I wrote about Valdes a few weeks ago. Those who haven’t read the article will find it here. This morning, over coffee, I was reading a book of excerpts from Valdes’ One Hundred and Ten Considerations. Check out consideration number 106 where he talks about man(kind) in the spiritual sense:

He was placed in the garden called the earthly paradise. But after he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he lost the image of the likeness of God. He was expelled from the earthly paradise and retains the knowledge of both good and evil. I understand it is unnatural to man and foreign to his first creation to remain excluded from the earthly paradise. Likewise I understand it is unnatural for him to possess ‘the knowledge of good and evil.’ By what I experience in man’s restoration, in his regeneration, and in his being made a new creature, I realize that he does recover the image and likeness of God.

Think about that for a moment; it is unnatural for him to possess ‘the knowledge of good and evil.’ The scriptures seem to re-enforce Valdes’ interpretation as God asks Adam how it is he knows that he is naked (Gen 3:11). The knowledge of this simple fact indicates to God that Adam has transgressed, as it is knowledge Adam would not have if he had remained obedient.

It is an interesting notion that if everything had not gone awry in the Garden of Eden, then the human race today would, just like the fictitious Excalbians, have absolutely no concept of good and evil. Morality plays would not exist and neither, I imagine, would the entire arena of philosophy. (A good thing perhaps?)

I will confess that this idea is entirely beyond my comprehension. I find I cannot adequately imagine a culture that is devoid of these most basic of concepts. I realize I am being repetitive here, but really, to think that if everything had gone according to God’s original intent then we would exists in such a pure state of innocence that terms like “good” and “evil”, “right” and “wrong” would be completely meaningless and serve no useful purpose in our lives.

If Valdes is right then in the next world we will be restored to this state of innocence. It is no wonder that scripture is so lacking in details of the next life. It will obviously be beyond our comprehension. I can hardly wait!