“The Gospel According to Torah”
Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
And from www.hereticslikeus.com
Summer Reading 2018
‘IN THE BEGINNING #1 - PLANNING A READING’
On Trinity Sunday May 27 2018, I posted an invitation outline, online and onsite at ‘Trinity on Church’ in Kitchener. Join me, and join us, in a summer reading: Genesis (in June and July) and Romans (in August). Here’s 1000 words more.
A handful of us just completed a reading of Joshua and Judges through Easter season. In Lent a few more had enjoyed a reading of Mark. Those actively engaged were ready to keep going, but wanted me to invite more company.
I provide audio of my voice reading a daily portion, on CD, thumb drive, and online at my websites and www.trinityunitedkw.ca. At weekly gatherings, we listen to other voices reading other translations, to begin lively discussions.
“Don’t call it ‘Bible Study’’, they said. “I’ve never laughed this much in ‘bible study’”, they said. “Don’t try this alone at home”, they said. Join us at ‘the Garret’, over the Apollo Cinema in Kitchener – or suggest other times or places.
Only in the past 500 years did we reimagine ‘reading’ as something one person does alone with a book, let alone from an electronic device. Orality and aurality, reading aloud with others, is necessary, if not sufficient, to ‘read’ our bible.
Unschooled people can ‘read’ people, and ‘read’ situations well. ‘Literacy’, celebrated by ‘The Gospel in Solentiname’ of Ernesto Cardenale, and Paulo Freiere’s work in ‘conscientization’, is more than decoding marks on a page.
Readers enjoy being provoked to new questions and answers about people and the world, as we construe our world. ‘Hermeneutics’ is the fancy word for patterns how we interpret experience and observation to one another.
Join this reading. We need you reading with us, to reshape our reading. Sure, we have read lots of Genesis before, but we have since changed, as has our context and our community – including you! Change the sound of our chorus!
Reading aloud slows us down on those proper nouns, names of people and places, over which our eye may conveniently skip, but our tongue will trip. We notice in study groups that a map is indispensible in reading, and that most bibles have good maps, if we use them.
Decades (6, so far) of hearing the bible read aloud in worship and in study have changed what I echo. Though I may just sound like any old white guy to you, people in my subculture will hear regional accents and emphases. I read surrounded by a host of witnesses. So do you.
My virtual congregation or ‘bible study group’, and my voice, join a chorus, trying to harmonize or offer a countermelody, not always singing the melody line in unison. I can hear in my head various unique voices over the years. So can you.
The bible is not the word of God in my tradition. It contains the word of God. As a record of human experiences of the divine and of human nature and destiny, culled and restated over millennia, it’s a chorus of voices. No one voice can capture or convey the layered harmonies and countermelodies. Would you read differently, to more faithfully echo the original voices? Join our chorus!
The publisher Schocken in New York commissioned Everett Fox in 1971 to start this Torah translation. He’s an academic, husband of a rabbi, father of kids, so it took him awhile, till 1995. In 2014, they completed the Early Prophets.
Their approach is based on that of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig in their ‘B-R’ German translation of the Hebrew Bible. ‘B-R’ began publication begun in Germany in 1925, completed by Buber in Jerusalem in 1962. Fox uses their approach and method in English, using the German “B-R”, but attending to the sound of oral reading in English.
As this approach to making the Hebrew bible ‘speak in a German voice’ was developed and applied, Rosenzweig died in 1929, Buber resigned his academic posts in 1933 in protest, as Hitler came to power. After 5 years of Jewish popular education outside the academies, Buber moved to Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1938, while it was within Mandate Palestine, governed by the UK. Buber’s own ‘generation’ spans decades before, during, and after the Holocaust, and the establishment of the state of Israel.
Fox summarizes this approach to translation in part as:
… I have sought here primarily to echo the style of the original, believing that the Bible is best approached, at least at the beginning, on its own terms. So I have presented the text in English dress but with a Hebraic voice…. guided by the principle that the Hebrew Bible, like much of the literature of antiquity, was meant to be read aloud, and that consequently it must be translated with careful attention to rhythm and sound. The translation therefore tries to mimic the particular rhetoric of the Hebrew whenever possible, preserving such devices as repetition, allusion, alliteration, and wordplay. It is intended to echo the Hebrew, and to lead the reader back to the sound structure and form of the original….
It seems too soon for me to revisit Genesis, since a reading in early 2017 in community in Calgary. However, I’ve just got this one summer in Kitchener, and asked this crowd for half-time pace for the summer, and a rerun is easier for me.
A. I have already offered mp3 audio files on CDs and thumb drives onsite at Trinity on Church, with links at www.hereticslikeus.com and www.billbrucewords.com. I also gave the whole set to the guy who administrates www.trinityunitedkw.ca, Keith Summers.
B. I plan to post weekly, on Sundays, on both ‘billbrucewords’ and ‘hereticslikeus’, a summary note about the preceding and upcoming week, to equip your own reading or conversations, and audio links.
C. I plan to post daily at the ‘hereticslikeus’ site, Monday to Saturday, 250-500 words of comment, a chapter of Genesis, and a link to audio for the day – Keith plans to post the same content at the church site.
D. I plan to welcome folks for 90 minute discussions each Sunday at 7pm, (except Canada Day, Civic Holiday, and Labour Day weekends), and each Tuesday at noon, at ‘the Garret’, above Apollo Cinema, Kitchener – call or email when you arrive outside the theatre lobby at 190 Ontario St!
E. I am open to engaging others’ readings of Genesis, on any one or more Sunday afternoons or Monday afternoons or evenings (except holidays) -get 2 or 3 friends, and sort out your reading, and how I could contribute!
‘IN THE BEGINNING #2 – PATRONIZING PATRIARCHY’
On Trinity Sunday May 27 2018, I posted an invitation outline, online and onsite at ‘Trinity on Church’ in Kitchener. Join me, and join us, in a summer reading: Genesis (in June and July) and Romans (in August). Here’s 1000 words more!
Our reading of Joshua and Judges in Easter season, ‘Settlers or Anarchists’, recognized how that text is associated with the land claims of the current government of the state of Israel, and with the land claims of settlers in Canada and more generally those of European colonial empires of the 19th century CE. Does the bible encourage or justify genocidal imperial ambitions?
Our reading of Genesis faces the same challenges to the use of the text in the modern Middle East, or Canada’s historic treatment of aboriginal peoples, named in the recent TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) report. Even more fundamentally, its account of humanity and environment, gender and collective identity, inform and express our cultural and economic constructions.
Why read Genesis with old WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) like me? Why listen again to the DWEEBs (Dead White Educated European Boys) who ruined the world in the name of ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ or ‘Abrahamic Faith’? Why revisit those Sunday School myths and fables? Perhaps because your own intersectional identity connects with mine!
Most of the way I read Genesis comes from the congregations in which I have read it over the past 60 years, and the world around us, in urban Canada. The ‘semantic field’ of any word is developed from every time I’ve seen or heard it used – and the more I use words in this context, the more the meaning changes. Your voice, your semantic field for any word, can change mine – as we read.
Some of the way I read Genesis comes from feminist, gay and lesbian colleagues and friends in our United Church over the past 40 years. As one friend puts it ‘I’d rather be a one-issue person than a no-issue person’! Semantics is not limited to diction, and our ‘hermeneutics’ or habits and patterns of interpretation, reveal endless variations at unexpected levels. I’m not done.
The modern attempts to ‘rise above’ the text, or subject it to empirical sceptical scrutiny of its historicity, have been corrosive of its meaning and purpose, and of our own. This summer’s ‘vocative’ reading intends to burn some basic neural pathways, so we recognize the narrative as ‘my story, our story, God’s story’ which is true in a broader sense than facticity. We read parochially, not academically or bureaucratically – something unfamiliar to the over-schooled!
The myths of Genesis 1-11, from the first 2 creation stories to the saga of Noah, flood, and Ark, may surprise you with their familiarity and strangeness, when read in the summer of 2018 in our company! What does it mean to say ‘I am a child of Adam, like all humans’, or ‘I am a child of Noah, like all humans’? Where were you in the first city, or in Babel, and after? How do you fit in creation, ‘in the image of God’? How do you construe human nature and destiny?
The transitional saga of Genesis 12-25, from mouth of the Tigris Euphrates north through Syria and Turkey then down through Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Arabia, Egypt and back, may feel stranger still, as you relearn the proper nouns used for places and peoples. What does it mean to say ‘I am a child of Avram’ – Jewish, Christian, or Muslim? Do we identify with Ishmael, or Yitzaak, or with Avram’s own choice to ‘get up and go’ and choose an identity beyond his father’s roots? How does gender and fertility relate to our individual and communal humanity, in the figures of Sarai, Hagar?
The cycle of stories in Genesis 25-36, the twins Yaakov and Esav, invite us to build our community of discourse at the individual literary level, and as representative of a story of peoples. The ‘us and them’ conversation is raised to the domestic politics and civil wars of siblings and cousins, a powerful 20th century CE narrative. Who is the good guy, and what’s your measure of Rivkah the matriarch? Can you sort out the stories of Rachel and Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, as the mothers of 12 tribes, not only in the frame of Handmaids’ Tale?
The legendary epic from Genesis 37 may seem deceptively familiar as it was Disney-fied into heroic musical theatre. What might you discern in context and balance with this summer’s reading of the whole of Genesis? How does the rhythm of sibling rivalry get repeated over millennia? What’s the message to generations serving their own Pharaohs, or identifying with their own economic migrant relatives? How will you read the rhetoric of reconciliation, and the ‘happily ever after’ foreshadowing of the sequels we all anticipate?
Is Genesis, and Christian reading of Genesis, unavoidably patriarchal, and thus necessarily misogynist, genocidal, and violent? Is there a resistant or contrarian reading available? What assumptions are operating in the dismissal of such ancient traditions, or reduction of these texts to narrow ‘literal’ readings? Can you really have a constructive conversation with your secular, or evangelical, or Jewish or Muslim neighbours, if you haven’t practised with us glib liberal locals?
‘IN THE BEGINNING #3 – READING ABOUT READING’
On Trinity Sunday May 27 2018, I posted an invitation outline, online and onsite at ‘Trinity on Church’ in Kitchener. Join me, and join us, in a summer reading: Genesis (in June and July) and Romans (in August).
I do give weight to written words, and I enjoy books, so here are a few close to hand as we begin this project together. I acknowledge that they date me as a guy trained in the early 80’s, though I hope I kept learning since. What are the books in the room with you, as you read or listen?
Translations and Editions of Genesis
I rely on a ‘proverbial stack of bibles’ in ‘the Garret’ where I stay during this transitional appointment in Kitchener, and invite groups to discuss this reading. People who start to read this stuff soon ask about translations and editions. Experts often have strong opinions of what is ‘best’, and judge each other by this choice. We will be pulling these off the shelf on Sundays and Tuesdays:
1. At the bottom of the bookshelf, a gift in 1979 from a young adult church group in London Ontario, and regularly pulled out for over 37 years in bible studies and sermon preparation, is “The Holy Bible in Four Translations”, 1972 edition, with preface by Billy Graham, commending it to ‘every committed Christian’ as ‘four outstanding versions for significant reasons:
a) The King James Version (KJV) of 1611 – for elegant, if archaic, English that shaped our language and literature
b) The New American Standard Bible (NAS) 1970 – for evangelical modern American English, with ‘dignity and original intent’
c) The New English Bible (NEB) 1970 – modern British English, with style of paragraphs and poetry typeset as unrhymed verse
d) The Jerusalem Bible (JB) 1966 – Roman Catholic sponsored English translation, styled for easy reading, clarity, and liturgical use
2. At the top of my pile, The Schocken Bible – Everett Fox, 1997 edition of 1995 translation – with Fox’s notes on the left page, and the text on the right page, big print layout. I defended my choice to prioritize this translation earlier, above, for this purpose.
3. Next in my pile, The Message – Eugene Peterson, 2006 edition of 2002 translation, which I used more with Exodus recently, and will use with Matthew in Lent. The edition close to hand, with the New International Version (NIV) of 1984 from the International Bible Society printed parallel down the left side of each page, which enjoys lots of academic Protestant support.
4. A frequently used volume always near if I try to preach or teach a Torah text, is The Torah – Jewish Publication Society (JPS) 1981 W. Gunther Plaut edition with commentary of 1967 JPS translation, from a prominent Toronto rabbi, often seen and shared at synagogues and gifted at bar and bat mitzvahs.
5. The Jewish Study Bible, 2004 Oxford edition of 1999 JPS translation, with extensive study aids edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, is handy for the current JPS version and test for where my Christian bias comes out in reading.
6. The Harper Collins Study Bible, 2006 revised edition of New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 1989 translation, edited by Harold W. Attridge, is my daily and weekly use bible for worship preparation and study, the version often adopted in the United Church. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) of my childhood was the update of KJV authorized by ‘mainline Protestant’ denominations and scholars between world wars, finally published in 1953, and updated, most notably for modest gender-inclusivity, in 1989.
7. The Interlinear Bible, a 1986 edition using A Literal Translation of the Bible © 1985 to show the order of Hebrew and correlation with Strong’s concordance, helps non-scholars like me see some of the origins of variants among English translations.
Anybody that has read this far down in this post may still be trying to second-guess my biases. What kind of heretic am I? Why would heretics like me? Which other heretics are like me? Here are some of the ‘secondary sources’ on my Garret bookshelf, to inform our conversations this summer:
1. Jewish Interpreters: In addition to my JPS translations, with their introductions and notes, (2, 4, 5 in the translations above), I keep a number of other texts close to hand since an introduction in 1999 to Talmud studies with Rabbi Robert Daum at Vancouver School of Theology summer school gave me some entry into a dialogue between Jewish readers of Tanakh and Talmud, and Christian readers of Hebrew bible and Christian scriptures, though I have only the Bavli on my e-reader, and on the shelf books like these:
a) Midrash Rabbah, Soncino Press 1939 edition (1961 printing impression) Volume I, II Genesis translated by Rabbi Dr S. M. Lehrman. I do routinely look at this ‘haggadic’ or ‘midrashic’ medieval commentary. Because it is organized by the Torah text, it is more accessible to my literacy than is Talmud, and when I am ‘stuck’ and culturally captive in my liberal modern world, it provokes me to think again what the chorus of a host of witnesses is saying, including those who suffered Shoah, the Holocaust.
b) Heavenly Torah, 2007 edition of an English translation and commentary of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1965 “Torah min Hashamayim” (TMH), 800 pages from a giant of the 20th century, occasionally accessible to my literacy despite my lack of Hebrew and Talmudic skills in rabbinic reasoning, about how a deeply traditional reader might engage Genesis. It is dedicated by the editors with a quote from R. Isaiah de-Trani:
If you were to place the dwarf on the neck of the giant, who would see for a greater distance? Evidently, the dwarf would, since now the eyes of the dwarf are higher than the eyes of the giant. So do we dwarves ride on the necks of the giants, for we are aware of their erudition, and we delve into it, and are empowered by their wisdom.
c) The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah, 1998 paperback edition of 1996 work by Ellen Frankel. Adopting the forms of Talmudic commentary, this book has been a welcome corrective to disrupt my own thoughts and our own parochial consensus, as have the two previous books though I’ve only enjoyed it for a year.
d) Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, 2009 New York University anthology of Jewish writers identifying their own perspective as ‘queer’ or ‘bent lenses’ of gender and sexual orientation, identity or expression.
2. Christian Commentaries: Beyond the helpful introductions, footnotes, and articles in each edition of the bible noted above, I see a half-dozen volumes of more detailed commentary on Genesis on my shelf:
a) Genesis (Calvin’s Comentaries Vol 1) 1984 Baker Book reprint of an 1843 edition of a 1578 English translation of Calvin’s 1543 commentary in French on a Latin text, a volume I’ve enjoyed since 1985
b) Genesis (Anchor Bible) 1964 work by E.A.Speiser, published by Doubleday, the volume I’ve had since school in 1980 Vancouver
c) Understanding Genesis, 1966 work, 1970 paperback from Schocken, Nahum M. Sarna, from school days in Vancouver
d) On Genesis: A New Reading 1974 work by Bruce Vawter, another long-time companion book from Manitoba days
e) In The Beginning, 1996, Knopf/Borzoi, by Karen Armstrong, who started to hook me on her popularizing perspective late last century
f) The IVP Bible Background Commentary (1997) InterVarsity Press, by J Walton and V Matthews, used cheap from Crux at Wycliffe UofT
g) International Biblical Commentary (2000), by John Hartley, picked up new for the first of these detailed readings
3. Materialist Interpreters: As I noted back at Thanksgiving, starting Exodus, anybody who has read this far and is still asking ‘where’s he coming from’ deserves a usable hint, so here it is: I see 5 more battered paperbacks from Orbis (Maryknoll) in the 1980’s, still on a shelf close beside me:
a) Materialist Approaches to the Bible, Michel Clévenot 1976, English translation 1985, as an introduction to source critical political reading of Torah from its origins and successive editing cycles
b) Correct Ideas Don’t Fall From the Skies, Georges Casalis, 1977, English translation 1984, title a Mao quote to justify ‘inductive’ theology that assumes material conditions form ideas, as Marx argued
c) A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark, Fernando Belo, 1974, English translation 1981, applying the apparatus in a full commentary. Despite the complex discipline of learning to read differently, Belo wryly dedicated the book by quoting a poem ending:
But greater than all this
is Jesus Christ,
who knew nothing of finances,
nor are we told he had a library.
d) Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom, Orlando E. Costas, 1982, outline of the emergent liberation voice including Paulo Freiere’s ‘conscientization’ approach to literacy in Latin Americ, and Ernesto Cardenale’s ‘Gospel in Solentiname’, copies now lost, but still followed weekly in study groups (and must replace on my shelf)!
e) God of the Lowly: Socio-Historical Interpretations of the Bible, 1979, English translation 1984, W. Schottroff, W. Stegemann – examples of German scholars applying materialist interpretation…
The newest stuff that is making me think is Catherine Keller, not often enough in these notes, and in relation to Genesis, her ‘Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming’. I set aside process theology and John Cobb about 35 years ago, dismissively sniffing that ‘you can’t ask people to understand the logical positivism of Russell and Whitehead before they could love Jesus’. Keller brings me back into that circle of discourse with the agility of her connections – don’t miss her most recent collections of essays Intercarnations
We’ll also be pulling out my old copy of The Glorious Quran in the edition I’ve used from 1979, published by the Muslim World League-Rabita with text and explanatory translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall. This summer The Study Quran, issued in 2015 with Seyyed Hossein Nasr as Editor-in-Chief for Harper One will provide more extensive cross-referencing to the Genesis texts.
This was a confession for a few people I know who read this site shaking their heads and saying ‘where did he get that’? These blogs began defensively, on one hand responding to lay members offended by what I preached or taught from a ‘pre-critical naivete’, and on the other from listening to academics deriding clergy like me for having stopped learning on the day we graduated from school. I’m an old white guy with only a basic training as clergy, coordinating a community reading of Genesis that is parochial, neither academic nor bureaucratic. You should join us, and help us!
Who, or what, do you think I should be reading next?
God knows I need advice!