Old Testament


Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854

Image via Wikipedia

A friend’s Facebook status reminded me that today is Easter’s infamous vigil. It’s the Christian equvilant of the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva”, which is the mourning period for the dead. Instead of a person, however, Christians today mourn/anticipatory celebrate Jesus’s death and descent into hell.

I am not versed in how this day goes in any other religion except my natal one, Catholicism. My friend is of the Eastern persuasion, and her recollections on Easter differ from my own as they spin Holy Week in a more positive way than the gore, guilt and unworthiness focus of my Catholic youth.

But as I remember the lesson from my Catholic schoolgirl days, Jesus died on Good Friday and descended into hell. There, he rallied the souls of the faithful departed and led them to heaven. It’s a zombie version of The Rapture. The gates of heaven were locked against humanity after some snit God had in the Old Testament. Christianity, as a whole, makes a lot less sense when the Old Testament is examined too closely, and the nonsensical idea that God is anything other than capricious and scary as … um … hell, can be found all over the bible’s earliest books.

I bring this up because of a conversation I overheard Dee having with a friend who stayed over the other night.

Her little friend is Catholic and Dee herself was baptized in the faith back when I still entertained ideas of leaving her belief system up to the tutelage of others. I didn’t catch the opener but as I walked by her bedroom, I heard an audible gasp and then,

“But you have to believe in Jesus!”

I cracked the door a bit and observed Dee’s friend staring at her as though she was possessed and spewing green bile.

“I don’t believe in Jesus,” Dee assured her with a calm and determination that made me proud and a bit awestruck.

Later as we were driving the friend home, I caught a whispered conversation as the little girl tried to convince Dee of the consequences of not believing.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, there is this place you go to after you die that’s not nice,” she said, quite earnest and clearly concerned for Dee’s afterlife.

“I don’t believe in this,” Dee said, again with an assurance that seemed a bit too large for her tiny 8 year old self. “I believe that when we die, we go to the underworld and our souls are weighed with the feather of truth.” (she did not add the part about the hippodoodel that eats the wicked who wasted their lives and then try to lie about it – and it’s interesting to note the Egyptian that has crept into her Greek mythology).

“How does she square this with her idea that her grandfather and Daddy Will are in heaven?” Rob asked me as I related the story to him later.

“I have no clue,” I said, “but it’s not any worse spin than most Christians employ trying to reconcile the inconsistencies in their beliefs.”

There is a tiny residual bit of Catholic in me that worries about what I have wrought, but mostly, I was really proud of her. She wasn’t the least bit worried about what her friend would think of her beliefs. They were her beliefs and she held fast.

Rob and I are doing a far more awesome job than I realized with this raising a kid thing.


Mary Magdalene

Image via Wikipedia

When I was about seven or eight, I had a coloring book that retold stories from the Old Testament.

I know what you are thinking.

Huh?

I am fairly certain it arrived in my Easter basket along with a Skip-It, a new box of Crayolas and some chalk. The Easter Bunny was flush that year.

One of the stories was from the Book of Ruth, and as that is my mother’s name, it caught my eye. The drawings depicted a woman who also reminded me a lot of my mother physically though her obedient behavior and willingness to be a follower was not something I have ever associated with Mom, no matter what she may say about her demeanor back then.

Dad thought the story of Ruth‘s betrothal and marriage to a man named Boaz was a hoot because Boaz essentially seals the engagement by offering one of his sandals to Ruth’s kinsmen. He shared the story with all of his friends and some of them loved it so much that he was forever after known as “Boaz” in particular circles.

But I have told this story before.

What is interesting enough to prompt me to bring it up again springs from a couple of book reviews on two works soon to be published on biblical interpretation.

Fascinating stuff? More than you know.

In the days of the Protestant Reformation, one of the big deals the reformers sought – and the Catholic Church fought against – was printing the Bible in common language instead of Latin. Reformers believed that even the lowest rungs of society would benefit from being able to read the word of God for themselves. Rome cringed and declared that ordinary folk weren’t capable of interpreting scripture correctly. They would inevitably read the Bible wrong and heaven only knew what would come of that.

Ironically, the old school Catholic Church was correct to be concerned. The Bible is probably one of the most poorly understood and badly interpreted texts ever.

The authors of the new books want to set a few language and interpretation issues straight because they feel that the Christian right and the political right in the United States are deliberately promoting non-ideas and values based on faulty knowledge of the Bible.

Which brings me back to feet – Boaz’s – and Ruth.

In the story of Ruth, she pretty much puts the moves on Boaz at the insistence of her mother-in-law, Naomi.  Naomi’s late son was Ruth’s husband and Ruth had left her own tribe to be with him. Upon his death, custom dictated that Ruth could/should return to her own people but Naomi had no one immediate to help her and Ruth felt obligated to stay.

But when Boaz showed up on the scene, the wise Naomi pushed her daughter-in-law to move along. She knew that a second marriage for the childless widow was a better long-term plan for Ruth than staying with her.

My favorite “revelation” from the review talks about how sex is hidden in the Bible.

Basically there is sex on every page, but only if you know where to look for it.

As an eight year old, I had no idea that people had sex beyond kissing, and my Catholic school training certainly never covered Bible porn. Still, I knew there was more to Mommy and Daddy interactions than what was apparent to my eyes, and when I read that Ruth spent her wedding night sleeping at Boaz’s feet, I was puzzled.

“Why did she sleep at his feet when they were married?” I asked my Dad.

“Because in the old days, women were trained better, ” he quipped.

But according to scholars, there are more than a few places in the Bible where a foot is not a foot at all.

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

My. My.

Now I wonder what the whole sandal thing was really all about.

Naturally this begs a bit of further exploration in terms of the rather famous New Testament incident involving Mary Magdelene washing Jesus’s feet and drying them with her hair.

As I remember, the disciples were quite scandalized and if the feet in question weren’t feet at all – that makes sense – and really sheds a different light on the Saviour.

But sometimes feet are feet. Like a cigar is just a cigar.

I won’t be telling the real story of Ruth’s foot worshipping to my mother, but it’s too bad Dad isn’t still around to hear the tale. That would set his ears to wiggling and earn me a look for sure.