Sunday, 4 December 2016

Eden to Patmos - Week 1.

The road above En Hakkore in the Maniototo
I'm reading the Bible right through, using the Nonesuch edition of the KJV. There are no chapter or verse numbers and while this is quite an old book, the paper is still crisp and white. It's a surprisingly easy read.  It's a long time since I've read the Authorised Version, and the language takes a bit of adjusting to, but the old words have an entertaining sort of quaintness about them - Begat, wherefor, bakemeats, Earing (ploughing); ouches (sockets for jewels); pilled (stripped off).

I have a bit of trouble turning off the inner Biblical critic. Reading Genesis and half of Exodus in a week means the overall pattern and structure of the text is very plain to see: the seams in the joining of the sources in the story of Joseph are pretty obvious, as are the puzzles of timing - Isaac is more than 21 years on his deathbed, for example, and Ishmael is about 14 years old when his mother abandons him under a bush to die. Abraham tries to pass his wife off as his sister twice and Isaac tries the same trick once, with a king named Abimilech featuring in 2 of the stories. The synchretic nature of the narrative is very obvious with this kind of reading, but that's not what I'm here for. Neither is the fairly obvious agenda of the compilers. The Lord of the Creation appears, for example on Mt. Sinai, but instead of letting us all in on the meaning of Life, The Universe and Everything, or giving us a few hints about quantum theory or relativity, gives instead, painstaking detail for the construction of the box in which his souvenirs are to be carried about. He seems to fill an agenda, in other words, laid out by a bunch of priests in post-exilic Babylon; but that is oddly reassuring for its humanity and accessibility. God is present in these human stories and in their human compilers. Rollicking through, I hear the stories as they would once have been told; as folk stories full of repetitions, the rhythm of whose language shines through even in translation. I find myself caught up afresh in the lives of the ancient ones.

There are the two stories of creation and all the ancient oddities which have somehow stumbled into the text and got stuck there before a decent editor happened along - the Nephilim and the Tower of Babel and God trying to kill Moses only a few days after sending him on a journey. There is the flood with all  its variously counted cargo. There is Jacob struggling with his dreams and with God and with himself. Joseph runs naked from his lascivious owner and then, later, weeps to be united with his little brother. Names are filled with meaning, and none more so than the Ground of All Being who is revealed to Moses in an only apparently burning bush and whose name is not a proper noun so much as a state of being and a verb. And then there is the long story of the boy who was raised between two cultures in a time of genocide, and who became a shepherd and then a seer and then a political activist and then a baffled and exhausted leader of his rebellious people. I try to forget the 20th Century question how did these stories arise? and try instead to let them entertain me and inform me. Letting go of all my educated preconceptions of these stories is like any other form of self surrender: a door through which the never absent divine can speak.

1 comment:

Merv said...

Before I noticed that you had labeled this post with 'pilgrimage', I was reminded of the Hikoi you undertook almost 3 years ago.
This time also I see you have a companion on your journey & you have your 'rod & staff', which are your intellect & imagination.
All the best.