Archive for November, 2009

Writing his poetry while seated on ash and blood, the writer of the biblical book of Lamentations finds just the syllables for his poignant scream:

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, ‘Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.’

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.

One wonders how many millions of readers—each placed in a moment as real and significant as that of the poet who lamented Zion’s devastation—have found in such stark realism the descriptors of their own loss, the vocabulary of their bereft agony.

This would be enough to justify these poems, for we borrow words most needily when our throat chokes up and the words we thought we knew remain stuck in our lungs. (more…)


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The writer of the New Testament ‘letter’—it is hardly just that—to the Hebrews does what attentive readers of sacred literature instinctively do: he fills in the blanks.

The enigmatic figure of Melchizedek deserves a Guinness Book of World Records category all his own. One would have to define it as ‘most suggestive figure about whom the least is said’. This odd king-priest meets the patriarch Abraham on his way back from a spasm of righteous warfare and receives a tithe of the man’s spoils. Then he’s gone from the record, as quickly and with as little comment as he entered it.

The consequence is that the tradition records widespread speculation regarding his whereabouts, his significance, and what other stunts he might have pulled that landed on the biblical cutting-room floor. Hebrews is one voice in that tradition, a contemplation of Jesus’ priestly role in the light of Melchizedek’s superbly mysterious precedent. (more…)

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