11 April 2016

Tediously hawing about some ancient scriptures

Dear diary,

Here are three Hebrew words: Torah; Nevi’im; Kethuvim. The first letter of each of these words forms the acronym TNK, which can be spelled as one might pronounce it: Tanakh. This acronym is used as the title of the collection of ancient Hebrew writings that countless readers consider to be sacred. The collection is divided into three parts, corresponding to those Hebrew words above. Torah means something like “teaching”—this section of the Tanakh contains the so-called “five scrolls of Moses.” Nevi’im means something like “prophets”—this section contains the works that concern the deific spokespersons. Kethuvim means something like “writings”—a catch-all term under which is gathered the rest of the Hebrew writings that, for whatever reason, were not included in the other two sections. I regret that this opening paragraph is so dry; I only wanted to express my love for certain parts of this huge anthology, but then I thought that it would be good to explain all these names first, in case some readers find them unfamiliar. From the Torah, I love Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers—at least the story portions. I love a lot of the books contained in Nevi’im—for one reason or another, I find almost all of them fascinating—but I specially love Samuel, Isaiah, Amos and Jonah. From the remaining writings (Kethuvim), I love a lot of the Psalms, and my absolute favorite texts are The Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and (most of all) Job. The concluding verses of that last-listed book’s divine mismatch (42:5-6; right before the smarmy epilogue) are translated as follows by Jack Miles, in chapter “Fiend” of his interesting God: a biography. Job says to the LORD:

Word of you had reached my ears,
But now that my eyes have seen you,
I shudder with sorrow for mortal clay.

In the past, I’ve said some bad things about the assemblage of Greek writings known as The New Testament; but I’ve learned to love this small collection as well. I no longer despise all of those churches’ propaganda. Although I disagree with the idea that their sheaf actually constitutes a new testament (let alone The New Testament), I admire the audacity of whoever chose to title it that way. Imagine the nerve it took to label the Tanakh, that grand and sacred monu­ment of the Hebrew language, OLD—as if the church’s slim add-on rendered those masterworks outdated. To be honest, I wish I myself had thought of doing that. Now I wonder: Would it provoke any reaction, if I were to attach my own homemade religious scriptures, say, to The Book of Mormon, while renaming that volume “The EX American Testament” and calling mine “The BEST American Testament”? …But back to my praise of the Bible’s belated addition. I like The New Testament. Or, as I said, I even love it—at least some parts of it. I think I’ve listed my favorite books before; but, since all I do is repeat myself in this blog, I’ll list them here again: I love Mark’s gospel the most; I also really love the epistle of James. Here are a few choice words from that latter letter (5:1 & 5:4 NRSV), forewarning America’s wealthiest 1%:

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you… Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

The Qur’an is a book that I’ve read and re-read with great interest—I love it, too—I wish that I had spent as much time with it as I have with the Tanakh and the New Testament; I need to study it more, in order to improve my understanding. I don’t know it well enough to list my favorite parts. Apparently the word itself (Qur’an) means “recitation”; the entire book is spoken to us directly by GOD—the same cannot be said of Tanakh or The New Testament. I first read Al-Qur’an when I was in my twenties and working at a factory that applied antireflective coating to eyeglass lenses. My coworker was a young man from Somalia; although I never learned how to spell his name, he told me to pronounce it “LEE-bun.” He and I got along well; and, since I’m interested in the varieties of religious experience, I often asked about his beliefs. When I told him that I had read an English translation of Al-Qur’an by Ahmed Ali, my coworker told me that the only way to read Al-Qur’an is in the original. But I can’t yet understand Arabic, so I hope it’s OK if I give a short quotation from that same translation that I just mentioned. Sura 10 (“Jonah”) verse 37:

This Qur’an is not such (a writ) as could be composed
by anyone but God.
It confirms what has been revealed before,
and is an exposition of (Heaven’s) law.
Without any doubt it’s from the Lord of all the worlds.


Between copying that last quotation and writing this postscript, I took a break to ride my bike around the suburbs. There was a very strong wind that was blowing straight at me during the first half of my trip, and then the wind was at my back during the second half. What I learned from this experience is this: It is better to ride with the wind than against it. And it “bloweth where it listeth” (John 3:8).


In yesterday’s entry, I listed the books that my sweetheart and I are currently reading together. I didn’t mention the latest book that I’m reading alone (certain books seem better to read quietly by oneself)—recently I watched the series of television documentaries called Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, and I enjoyed it so much that I sought out the book by Stone and Peter Kuznick which is, according to its foreword, “inspired by and based upon” yet also “in many ways independent” of those films.


Today I recorded myself reading a well-loved poem:

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