Got any favorite books of the Bible?

My As Light Is Sown blog is running a weekly commentary on my experience and thoughts arising in reading the Bible straight-through, from Genesis to Revelation. It’s a wildly varied collection of writings.

But if I’d have to pick my top ten books? Here’s a stab.

  1. Gospel of John: I’m intrigued by a counterargument running through the text that identifies Christ as the Holy Spirit more than Jesus. You’ll have to wait for the post to see my reasoning. The book is also called the “Quaker gospel,” giving me an extra interest.
  2. Genesis: It’s a bang-bang-bang way to begin the chronology, with human desires and conflicts at the fore, even that far back in antiquity. Much of the book would make a great soap opera, but for me, it’s more primal and fundamental than that. Although it often seems to be a telling of patriarchy, keep an eye on the women. And don’t blame Eve when the ball starts rolling.
  3. The Psalms: This collection of heartfelt poems, many of them written anonymously in the guise of King David, span a range of deep emotion. They’re rich enough that the Eastern Orthodox read six in their entirety each Sunday – the same six.
  4. Ruth: The whole story explodes into fullness on a single word – Moabite. But what an incredible love story.
  5. Song of Songs: This is an incredible poem of illicit love. Forget the argument about it’s being an allegory about divine concern and all that. What is religion without passion? Leave it at that.
  6. Esther: Again, a complex soap opera is unleashed here. The bad guys don’t get any worse. By the way, “chamberlains” in the King James translation masks a bigger meaning – they’re eunuchs, who play a surprisingly big role throughout the Hebrew Bible.
  7. Revelation: Read this as poetry, not dystopian doom or a blueprint for human destruction.
  8. Ezekiel: I was surprised by how psychedelic this book is. Whoa!
  9. Tobit: The Apocrypha, not included in most Protestant or Hebrew Bibles, has some lovely stories. This is one. Like Susannah, also from the collection, it tells of injustice, suffering, and ultimate redemption.
  10. Epistle of James: The epistles, most of them attributed to Paul, are a specialty unto themselves. As the brother of Jesus and a leader of the Essenes, though, James has special authority.

~*~

What would you add to the list?

Found in translation

Now on the sixth day:
bulls eight, rams two

– Numbers 29:29
Everett Fox translation

Sounds like a National Football League forecast, apart from the improbability of the score itself. Besides, it’s set for a Saturday, not Sunday.

Still I was amused when that line popped out at me from the page.

Now, for a little perspective, here’s how Robert Alter renders the text:

And on the sixth day eight bulls, two rams, and fourteen unblemished yearling lambs.

It’s all part of a series of proscribed daily sacrificial burnt offerings.

Any Chicago or Los Angeles fans out there?

Joyously, then

From a wonderful book by Czeslaw Milosz, poet: “To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.” And, he quotes from Renee le Senne: “For me the principal proof of the existence of God is the joy I experience any time I think that God is.” Quoting from Milosz: “To wait for faith in order to pray is to put the cart before the horse. Our way leads from the physical to the spiritual.” And himself: “My friend Father J.S. did not believe in God. But he believed God, the revelation of God, and he always stressed the difference.”

A definitely wrong spirit of Christmas

As they pulled up at home after a jaunt to the grocery, another car scuttled out the other end of their driveway.

They didn’t recognize the vehicle or the figures who had hopped in a split-second earlier, but the action certainly was suspicious.

Then they found one Christmas wreath on the ground beside the barn and another, still hanging on the white clapboards, with its wires quite bent.

Yes, two people were trying to steal the Christmas wreaths from the siding!

Kinda puts a damper on that “goodwill to men,” doesn’t it? Though the phrase is, more accurately, “to men of good will.”

We’re still baffled that some people have so little conscience that they’ll resort to this, but maybe they’re desperate to veil themselves in images foreign to their real nature.

Um, look around, though, and it’s far more universal than I want to think.

This points toward the hard work of changing hearts and actions – literally, repentance – that the life of Jesus embodies.

Well, I won’t go off on that sermon just now. But we are still saddened by the audacity of ill will.

Ten special diets

These days it seems everyone’s on a restricted diet.

Here are ten of them.

  1. Kosher. This means the historic Jewish restrictions. You know, no ham. But that’s just for starters. And even the plates must be blessed.
  2. Halal. The Muslim equivalent of dietary laws. By the way, Ramadan still sounds like cheating. I mean, what’s the hardship of refraining during the day if you can eat like a pig, uh, beast all night?
  3. Eastern Orthodox fasting.  Food’s allowed, but the options are highly limited. No olive oil, for instance, and no meat. It can be tricky.
  4. Caffeine-free. The Mormon church recently lifted this restriction from carbonated drinks, though it still holds for hot coffee or tea. Some other disciplines, including yogis, also ban it.
  5. Vegan. Or its less restrictive vegetarian alternatives.
  6. Gluten-free or lactose-free or peanut-free. Based on a medical diagnosis, OK?
  7. Healthy Heart. A little broader, largely to reduce cholesterol levels.
  8. Weight-loss. Oh, my, these are endless and ever so trendy.
  9. Alcohol-free. Sometimes as a religious tenet, sometimes as a consequence of addiction.
  10. Hindu. No beef. Those cows are sacred … and sources of milk.

Are you observing any dietary restrictions?