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Archive for March, 2008

Gabriel, ‘man of God’, has a busy year in the infancy narratives that represent more than any other material the writer Luke’s determination to set in order the jumbled accounts of Jesus’ life. He is twice sent to announce the unusual conception of Jewish boys. The responsive nature of his embassy as much as his suggestive name indicates that a higher power stands behind the events that begin to unfold promisingly in these lines. Gabriel, clearly, is doing as he is told. (more…)

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Unlike its pious custodians, biblical narrative that revolves around prostitutes and beggars rarely condemns its protagonists. At times they appear almost to be seers, people who glimpse what scowling passersby miss entirely. (more…)

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A young man comes close to swooning at unity’s bliss. It seems a euphoric thing, an unvariegated meeting of minds, the centering of disparate lives around a perfect truth. It is an idea with which he can fall in love, an intoxicating perfection, an abstraction that seems to him worth the whole world. (more…)

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YHWH broods darkly, both in the assessment he delivers to Moses regarding how quickly the nation will decline after its lawgiver’s death and in the song he commissions Moses to write. It is a virtual tour de force of ingratitude.

The main point is not complicated: YHWH did everything for these clueless people. They responded with breathtaking thanklessness and egotism. He will bring his sword down upon them for this. (more…)

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Although the blessings held out to Israel in Moses’ final speeches are heart-warming, the corresponding curses test the mind’s capacity for confronting the white-hot heat of divine anger. The imaginative detail that is bent to articulating the shape of calamity is astonishing. A reader finds himself asking—as Moses was summoning Israel to do in this narrative moment—whether one can live with a God like this one. If the breadth of his mercies seems the only mitigation for our wayward instincts, so the severity of his judgment appears our sure undoing. (more…)

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While living in Costa Rica, my only convenient place to buy classical CDs was a bookstore that was heavy into the Philips Duo package. As a result, I now own many recordings in this series. Nobody beats Philips Duo for producing affordable recordings of venerable performances at the highest artistic and technical standards.

I musici playing all of Bach’s Brandenburg and Violin concerti is no exception. The oldest performances on this double-CD set are a half-century old. Yet they sound as crisp and clear as you’d hear them this evening in the concert hall. That’s simply awesome. (more…)

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You can tell a lot about a person from the company he keeps. The same is true of ethical prescriptions, especially when they occur in a list like the one in Deuteronomy 27. Each item of the list is followed by the people’s ‘Amen!’, pronounced upon a curse that in turn has been declared over the miscreant who has violated one of Israel’s fundamental ethical precepts.

It is helpful to view treatment of the alien among the company that is kept by this particular curse:

Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road. All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice. All the people shall say, ‘Amen!
Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has violated his father’s rights. All the people shall say, ‘Amen!
Cursed be anyone who lies with any animal. All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’

It would be foolish to draw a straight line from this statement to either a strict or a relaxed attitude to the immigrants who find their way to our North American communities today. The matter calls for more sophistication than that.

Yet for those who take biblical ethics seriously, this reading should at least serve as an alert to how seriously the matters at hand must be treated. Whatever ‘justice for the alien’ (and the orphan and widow) means, an Israelite context would call a curse down upon the life of one who deprived the alien of it.

The quest for a biblically informed starting point for the immigration conversation ought to at least linger here and ask whether this is not one component of what it seeks.

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Anglo-Saxons like this writer tend to view law as a given, even as an absolute. Our discussion of controversial issues often begins and ends with reference to the law. One of the many dangers of such a legalistic mindset is the reduction to a code of what in Torah is a far more humane, personalistic, and subtle enterprise. (more…)

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I first heard of the Boostaroo at the Indianapolis Brickyard when I desperately needed more volume from my scanner/headphone setup. But my main use comes when I settle back into a long airplane ride with my Sennheisers strapped over my head, my iPod doing what it does, and the added volume of the Boostaroo turning good music into great.

The volume improvement is substantial but not dramatic. You’ll still want a good set of headphones with some decent capacity. But when you add the AA-battery-powered Boostaroo to that, you get some really fine sound. (more…)

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Abel’s spilt blood cries out and earns YHWH’s attention in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. So effectual is this innocent blood’s clamor for justice that its plea become enshrined in Israel’s legal code. (more…)

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