51f38SlZnUL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Across ten chapters organized thematically rather than chronologically, Michael J. LaRosa and German R. Mejía present this fine English-language history of Colombia in accessible prose that only occasionally belies that they were writing or thinking initially in Spanish before making this considerable gift to the English reading public.

The line-up of chapter titles arguably serves as LaRosa’s and Mejía’s first promise that their history will not weep over a fragmented and violent nation, but rather will sketch the contours of a nation seeking unity, nourished by a certain dynamism, and eager—or perhaps more often merely destined—to find its place in the world:

  • ‘Origins’
  • ‘The Colombian Nations’
  • ‘The Dynamics of a Political Community’
  • ‘The Cadence of Unity’
  • ‘Conflict’
  • ‘Economic Unity’
  • ‘A Common Space’
  • ‘Cultural Dynamism’
  • ‘Daily Life’
  • ‘Colombia and the World’

The book’s first chapter (‘Origins’) establishes the case for autonomy and then independence from Spain on the awkward fact that Spanish plans for that European nation’s ‘American’ colonies would always leave the ‘creoles’ at a disadvantage over peninsular interests. The detail that this history begins with post-Columbian political reorganization rather than the pre-Columbian ‘given’ that the Spanish conquerers encountered is perhaps symptomatic of the concise nature of the work. It is also programmatic of history and of this particular narrative that ‘Colombia’ was born in blood and contest, a genesis that wants to extend its hegemony—but in LaRosa’s and Mejía’s telling, does not finally succeed—from the beginning through to the end of the nation’s story. In this North American reader’s opinion, the authors make the eventual Colombian state’s post-Encounter pre-history understandable in broad brush and via analogies with a North American historical experience that is more familiar to the book’s English readership.

‘The Colombian Nations’—the work’s second chapter—clarifies that political wrestling between fair-skinned peninsulares and criollos does not by itself exhaust the Colombian story, neither in its earliest decades not in the present time. On the contrary, the country’s staggering diversity is enriched by vast contributions by its indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations, even when ‘official’ histories and mainstream politics have conspired to push such nations to the barely visible margins. Colombia is a ‘nation of mestizos’ in which a majority self-identifies as white. Yet history, as ever, is more complex than any demographic snapshot of self-identification suggests. In addition, the chasms, evolutions, and migrations between and among rural and urban experience are those of a profoundly regional country, where the sentiments and realia of national unity have been condemned to swing against the strong and persistent currents of regional identity.

In ‘The Dynamics of a Political Community’, (chapter 3), the authors introduce us to the 1830 death of ‘Gran Colombia’ (comprised of today’s Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela) and the de facto birth of the Republic of Colombia, with its political center of gravity never shifting entirely from Bogotá despite the pretensions of elites from the country’s other regions. The hard work of ‘transforming subjects into citizens’ was now to raise myriad questions about what citizenship should mean in this country of comparatively modest dimensions after the collapse of the Bolivarian dream. Here the influence of the French and North American revolutions is felt, with their values duly registered in a sequence of national constitutions that register the enduring conflict between federalist and centralist views of what the nation should become.

LaRosa and Mejía observe that …

… (t)he lesson of Colombia’s nineteenth century was clear: presidentialism/centralism created fertile ground whereby party-led management of the state became the factor that contributed most directly to chronic violence. A monopoly of state offices by one or the other political party was viewed as the most efficacious manner of operating government, and such a monopoly was typically enforced through violence. Triumphs at the ballot box granted political party to one party to the exclusion of the other. The party out of power often determined that violence was the only way to overturn such a situation of exclusion. Although formal civil wars disappeared in the twentieth century, political party violence remained one of the basic characteristics of the Colombian political model: violence was the manner through which control over the Colombian state was ensured.

In the authors’ persuasive telling, this hard-wired impulse towards the exclusive use of power of political party by one party and the reactive deployment of violence to ‘rectify’ the situation by the other led to the political exhaustion that produced the concordist National Front model in the middle decades of the twentieth century. This political agreement established alternating ‘turns’ at national government by, respectively, the Conservative and Liberal parties. It managed to reduce political violence but at great cost:

Politics as an exercise of citizenship was stripped of its virtue, instead favoring the technocrat and punishing the career politician. At the same time, new, dangerous actors, exploded onto the national political scene: the guerrilla fighter, the drug trafficker, the paramilitary, and the corrupt public official. A society that was becoming ever more urbanized increasingly grew politically apathetic, a phenomenon that was made evident by the significant abstention that characterized all elections during the last two decades of the twentieth century.

LaRosa and Mejía seem to place significant hope in the consequences of the 1991 constitution, though faulting the manner in which it nourished the continuance of ‘a weak Congress. This has allowed the executive power to carry out legislative initiatives in the country, either because many of the law projects discussed in Congress have been developed in the offices of the different ministries or because the constitution of 1886 allowed the president to govern by decree …. Also, unfortunately, the parties continue to approach politics in a manner that places a high value on coercive customs associated with political caudillos.’

Still, somehow, the Colombian political reality has with one brief exception managed to avoid the cold grip of dictatorship, no doubt a core plank in any case that can be made for Colombian exceptionalism.

The book’s well-titled fourth chapter (‘The Cadence of Unity’) broaches the remarkable fact that a Colombian state—in multiple forms and with more than one name—existed long before a Colombian nation had come to be:

As the multiple name and territorial changes suggest, the nation (a unifying culture) did not exist when the state first formed. Even today a “Colombian nation” is difficult to identify. What emerges out of the depths of Colombia’s republican h history is a state that constructed the “nation”. By actively producing both governmental and cultural institutions over its territory, Colombia would gain stability and, over time, would consolidate into a unified nation.

The primary creative forces were the two traditional political parties, the Catholic religion, and the Spanish language, not necessarily in that order. Of these, the first (the Liberal and Conservative parties in their undying quests for national hegemony) were the agents of conflict and disunity as well as undeniable unifiers of Colombians who shared similar political sentiment across the regional divides.

This fourth chapter is arguably LaRosa’s and Mejía’s most illuminating and orienting assessment in a book that excels at both. It leads organically into the next, with its awful and too accurate title (Ch. 5, ‘Conflict’). The chapter begins pungently: ‘Colombia’s history has been defined by epic conflicts.’

Organized around four key categories (politics, international relations, social structure, illegal narcotics), the discussion shows that—even here—Colombian history is paradoxical, for …

 … (d)espite endemic conflict, Colombia has held together as a territorial entity, with the exception of the separation of the Province of Panama, which resulted from a myriad of colliding national and international factors. Colombians have been able to resolve conflicts through creative methods and intermediaries.

Alas, these creative methods involved the (arguably ill-fated) National Front in the late 1950s, of which the unintended consequence was that ‘it pushed people who belonged to neither party toward the sociopolitical margins and eventually into armed guerrilla forces’.

Though their tracing of internecine violence from the Spanish evacuation thought to Plan Colombia has no shortage of episodes upon which to alight, the authors insist—again, the paradox is rife and at times the protestation a bit much—that Colombian levels of violence are not unique within Latin America. Indeed the they do not approach the ‘lurid madness’ of the Mexican experience. Sadly, the 2013 date of the book’d most recent edition allows the inclusion of Álvaro Uribe’s mano dura, corazón grande but not the efforts of Uribe’s erstwhile secretary of defense (now president) to achieve a peace deal with the FARC and eventually the ELN. The authors’ efforts to move beyond bare description and on to the lived experience of Colombians is again evident in the chapter’s conclusion:

Colombians have learned to live with great ambiguity and uncertainty. Conflict is part of everyday life, but so too is warmth, generosity, and a spirit of collaboration. Most Colombians try to transcend the daily political and social conflict by spending as much time as possible with family, friends, and visitors—a style of endurance influenced by Colombia’s unique historical and cultural development.

In chapter five (‘Economic Unity’), we learn that Colombia’s ‘modern, diverse, market-driven economy’ maintains itself in the context of ‘one of the most unequal societies in Latin America and the world’, yet another of Colombia’s pluriform paradoxes. The economy of what we today call Colombia would not have been foreseen from the time of the Spanish conquerors, for its land area was modestly endowed when compared to the rich metal deposits to the north and the south. Moreover, it would be impossible to speak of a ‘Colombian’ economy until modern transportation networks allowed production and consumption to escape the country’s marked regionalization.

The authors explore coffee’s role as an economic motor, with due attention to how this and other economic developments in Colombia took place in the shadow of the economic behemoth in the North. LaRosa’s and Mejía’s analysis manifests a center-left suspicion of large corporations, external investment, and industrial agricultural that is more common among Latin American economic historians than among English-language readership. Yet if ideology discernibly contextualizes the authors’ efforts to make sense of their topic, it does not in this reader’s estimation come close to distorting the narrative. The chapter includes a valuable discussion of the drugs cartels from an economic perspective.

The post-independence forging of a shared national community (Chapter six, ’A Common Space’) has been a long journey on a mountainous road. ‘From 1830 until the profound social crises that lasted from about 1960 to 1980, the fundamental objective of governance was to force all populations to cooperate with an ideal that was to be nourished by democratic-liberal institutions and principles, the ideals of capitalist bourgeois thinkers, and the normals and practices of Catholicism’. The authors argue, however, that in the light of today’s multicultural Colombia national unity can only be a political reality.

In working out how this common (political) space has been formed to date, LaRosa and Media survey improvements in transportation systems, the establishment and expansion of mail and communications systems, the growth of regional print media (few of which have commanded a national audience) as means that have served the pursuit of this end (Chapter seven, ‘A Common Space’). A useful chart (‘Table 7.1. Railroad National Network’) nicely illustrates several flurries of railroad  construction as well as the quite limited lengths of each line, owing no doubt to the ever-influential limitations that topography imposes upon any transportation ambition in Colombia. Sadly, this chapter was written too early to allow consideration of Medellín’s recent inventiveness with urban rail (‘metro’) and the city’s transformative ‘metro cable’ system. The latter has linked previously isolated comunas on the sides of the valley the city occupies, to great social and economic effect.

The names ‘Botero’ and ‘García Márquez’ loom large over any discussion of Colombian visual and literary art, yet the authors introduce their readers to the lesser lights of a dynamic culture that, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, has often been veiled by the ‘centrifugal force’ of ‘the enormous vogue of things Mexican’ (Chapter eight, ‘Cultural Dynamism’). In this reader’s opinion, Colombian music has enjoyed less light than the chapter might have thrown upon it, particularly as popular superstars such as Shakira and Juanes have refracted its rhythms and tones to an international public.

LaRosa and Media have a knack for nuanced and illuminating final statements in their chapters, of which Chapter Eight gives us this:

Colombians have been successful at creating literacy works of astonishing originality, such as García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude; at the same time, they have been able to incorporate, adapt, and innovate as only a mestizo nation can. Colombians are comfortable with the hybrid; their culture is not obsessed with pursuits that are purely intellectual, avant-garde, or otherwise divorced from the concerns of daily reality. Colombian culture, shaped by regional realities and restraints and the burdens of history, and conditioned by the serene wisdom of living day to day, is vibrant, often nostalgic, and sometimes uncertain. It is a metaphor for Colombian society.

The authors once again explicit their option of avoiding the ‘catastrophic history’ that characterizes much writing about Colombia (Chapter Nine, ‘Daily Life’): ‘Few textbooks published in English deal with Colombian daily life, preferring to focus on violence, drug trafficking, and other lurid topics that frequently find their way into the Colombian evening news. This chapter seeks to explore the cultural forces that move Colombia and Colombians: for example, religious festivals and Catholic feast days are part of the rhythm of the Colombian calendar.’ The shared celebrations of a ‘decidedly more secular’ Colombia are still apportioned with reference to Catholic saints, though only the most devout can these days link the holiday to the religious figure whose life is memorialized by it.

Colombians have also made their mark internationally in auto racing, golf, tennis, cycling, baseball, and coleo—the latter ‘a sort of Colombian-Venezuelan rodeo’. LaRosa and Mejía also touch on Colombia’s remarkable presence in international beauty pageants, the retaking of the nation’s urban centers, radio and TV (including the famed soap operas), gastronomy, and university life. Yet, even here, national unity is an uphill climb:

A nation as divided as Colombia, by geography, race, social and economic class, political power, education, and apellido (family name) can never come together completely and earnestly, but innovative and intelligent Colombians have worked hard to create infrastructure, parks, programs, transportation systems, and university curricula that help Colombians focus on what unites them as a people and a nation rather than what has historically divided society.

In their tenth chapter (‘Colombia and the World’), LaRosa and Mejía engage Colombia’s place in the wider world to which it belongs.

As independence from Spain became a reality, ‘(t)he new Colombian nation looked—generally—to Great Britain for economic advice, to France for cultural and philosophical principles, and to the United States, begrudgingly, for technical support.’ The word ‘begrudging(ly)’ is a serviceable descriptor in fact for much of nearly two centuries of Colombian interaction with the colossus to the north. Yet paradox continues to play a central role, for the authors note that, Panama and other grievances notwithstanding, ’(c)compared with the United States’ historical relationships with other Latin American nations during the twentieth century, the U.S.-Colombian relationship is actually a model of pragmatism and stability.’

Notice of Eric Hobsbawm’s description of Colombia as ‘long … known for an altogether exceptional proclivity to homicide’ evokes a push-back from the authors in terms of ‘the remarkable set of policies developed by Colombians to stem the violence’. This push-pull of the authors’ recognition of the harshest realia of Colombian history accompanied by an insistence that there is an additional side to the story that is seldom told is a signature facet of LaRosa’s and Mejía’s historiography. The desire to set the record straight by broadening and completing its conclusions is perhaps to be expected in a substantial history like this that is directed to an English-language readership that will almost by definition have missed all but ‘catastrophic’ history-writing on Colombia. In this reader’s objective, it is important that this impulse be called out, but it does not lessen the value of the ‘concise contemporary history’ that our authors have given us. The book’s publication date allows only for a consideration of Presidents Bush and Uribe as ‘brothers in arms’, followed by the briefest recognition of President Santos’ ‘entrance’ as president, though hardly as a national leader of influence since he had served as Uribe’s Secretary of Defense.

The authors ‘Conclusion’ is something of a cri de coeur, a plaintive and to this reader compelling plea that the non-catastrophic history they have given us persuade Colombia watchers that …

… Colombia endures as a nation despite difficulties, challenges, and a history that is tragic and dynamic. Colombians do not hide from their past. Indeed, they have learned to confront and incorporate parts of their history that would be more convenient to forget … Our book has attempted to show that Colombia, despite its complex historical record, endures, and that the focus on political violence, illegal narcotics, and corruption hides a less dramatic but more important story of constitutional procedure, governments that regularly transfer power after elections, and a concern with social rights of the people … While interpretations will vary, we have little doubt that Colombia the nation will endure and that Colombians will continue to face the challenges ahead of them with a sound spirit of skepticism grounded in hope, fortitude, and the dignity that seems to define them as a people. The quest for a better future is the goal of all civiized peoples, and Colombians have been moving toward that goal—not always evenly, but in a systematic, remarkably creative Colombian fashion.

This reviewer has read LaRosa’s and Mejía’s perhaps misnamed brief history alongside Marco Palacio’s Between Legitimacy and Violence. A History of Colombia, 1875-2002. Both books open doors and windows through which Colombia becomes accessible to an appreciative viewer who peers in from outside.  Both require a patient reader, for the complexities of this nation’s story are dense and persistent. LaRosa and Mejía move more satisfyingly beyond Colombia’s economic and political history, which is more a description of their focus than of any deficiency in Palacio’s arguably magisterial work.

I cannot think of a better place for the highly interested reader on Colombia to move beyond or bypass the tendentious tourist guides and dig into Colombian realia. The journey on which these authors take their readers is a sober one, yet the path on which one is led takes in the dramatic, the painful, the violent, and the enchanting aspects of Colombia and Colombians in a measure that corresponds to the lived experience of this nation’s hopeful citizens.

Los días oscuros antes de la destrucción de Israel por el poder de Asiria, dejaron a pocos intactos. Incluso los niños.

Luego el Señor me dijo: «Haz un letrero grande y escribe con claridad el siguiente nombre: Maher-salal-has-baz[a]». Les pedí al sacerdote Urías y a Zacarías, hijo de Jeberequías, ambos conocidos como hombres honrados, que fueran testigos de lo que yo hacía.

Después me acosté con mi esposa y ella quedó embarazada, y dio a luz un hijo. Y el Señor me dijo: «Ponle por nombre Maher-salal-has-baz. Pues antes de que este hijo tenga edad suficiente para decir “papá” o “mamá”, el rey de Asiria se llevará la abundancia de Damasco y las riquezas de Samaria». (Isaías 8:1-4).

Cuando el profeta fija este sobrenombre sombrío a su bebé, él señala la inminente destrucción de los vecinos amenazantes de Israel. El nombre significa  ‘Pronto al saquéo, rápido al botín ’.

Sin embargo, no hay alivio en el relato, porque este mismo excavador asirio raspará la tierra limpia de las diez tribus septentrionales de Israel, las ‘tribus perdidas de Israel’.

El profeta no abandonó su bufete a las 5:00 de la tarde. Se llevó su trabajo a la casa.

Los extremos del legado Isaiano no pueden ser subestimados. Cuando la carga del profeta es sombría, es muy, muy sombría. Cuando es exuberante, los desiertos florecen al son de ella.

En cada caso, el libro aguijonéa a su lector para que salga de su complacencia, instándole a mirar más allá de la cacofonía de los perros de guerra, empujándola para preguntar  ‘¿Qué en el nombre de YHWH está pasando aquí? ’

¿Cuál es su propósito? Lo incómodo de la pregunta no caduca.

Sería erróneo decir que las estructuras y patrones de culto y liturgia, carecen de valor en el legado de un profeta bíblico como en el caso de Isaías. De hecho, algunas de las expresiones más agitadas de parte del profeta respecto a la redención de YHWH de Israel prometen la  impactante integración al culto de los extranjeros y los mutilados, personajes que fueron convencionalmente excluidos.

Sin embargo, en el párrafo final del libro, YHWH parece completamente indiferente a digamos, un templo construido para su reposo. Él podría hacer por sí mismo mil de estos si el capricho lo empujara.

Jehová ha dicho: «El cielo es mi trono y la tierra el estrado de mis pies. ¿Dónde está la casa que me habréis de edificar? ¿Dónde el lugar de mi reposo?Mi mano hizo todas estas cosas, así todas ellas llegaron a ser», dice Jehová. «Pero yo miraré a aquel que es pobre y humilde de espíritu y que tiembla a mi palabra.» (Isaías 66:1–2 RVR95)

Cada vez que Isaías asalta la religión y su observancia litúrgica, lo hace por una de dos razones. O bien el profeta declara inútil el desempeño ritual en ausencia de una ética digna del pueblo de YHWH. O, por el contrario, está elevando algo de  mayor valor que la observancia cultual, por buena que ésta es.

Aquí el énfasis cae en la segunda de estas motivaciones.

Ilimitado e inconmensurable  como YHWH es, su atención enfocada y aguda cae en un pequeño detalle en medio de los  gemelos de la creación y la nación israelita: el que es humilde y contrito en espíritu y tiembla a mi palabra.

Cuando uno retrocede, toma una respiración hermenéutica profunda, y considera la afirmación que se hace aquí, es simplemente asombroso.

Esta persona humilde, este espíritu quebrantado, este oyente tembloroso se puede encontrar dentro del templo de Jerusalén. Pero es al menos tan probable que se apoye dolorosamente contra un muro, hambriento y solo en algún rincón distante de la ciudad. Sea cual sea su localización, la atención de YHWH evita las magnificencias del templo y el culto para tomar esta pequeña figura en su mirada, necesitada de una palabra, su espíritu hecho polvo, no impresionante en todos los sentidos.

Excepto que a YHWH, profundamente fascinado, no le importa otra cosa.

In a political era when scandalously few of the United States’ political leaders have beenshaped by military service, this b51K4gjfgdKLook provides a fascinating look at a formative moment in the career of HR McMaster, who as this reviewer sets pen to paper serves as the country’s National Security Advisor.
The brief survey of an armored battle that takes pride of place in a world that sees few such large-scale engagements of tanks tells as well the satisfying story of the U.S. Military’s improbable feat of transformation from post-Vietnam malaise through to the disciplined, strategically minded force that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s forces in the First Gulf War (1990-91).

Guardia’s Fires of Babylon chronicles the U.S. Army’s pivot from an anti-Soviet blocking mission that had lost its relevance by the time the Berlin Wall crumbled to a highly fluid challenge from operating positions in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and eventually Iraq itself. It was commanders like McMaster (a Captain at the time of 73 Easting) who brought the discipline and savvy that produced overwhelming military success against an Iraqi force that was judged to be capable of kicking butt on the battlefield. In the end, only one butt got kicked in an epic slaughter that could have led to the removal of Saddam but for the political considerations that led the first President Bush to pull up short.

Yet none of this was foreordained. Things might have turned out badly. That they did not is a story that deserves retelling, particularly in the environment I mention in this review’s first paragraph: one where a highly disciplined fighting force enjoys emotional support from a populace that has little real understanding of what it takes to fight.

Guardia performs his narrative duty in a way that puts flesh and blood, face and voice to a limited number of armored warriors who prepared assiduously to face down Iraq and then did so with stunning speed and results. We follow them from Germany to Saudi and then across the berm into Iraq. This reader is struck by how severely intelligence had over-rated the Iraqi troops that waited there, and by how little our armor and infantry could have known of that until contact had been made. The opposite would have been calamitous.

Guardia teases out the humanity of these soldiers, together with a number of other fascinating threads that include the shifts of military technology that were taking place at the time (for example, in armored troop carriers and among the tanks themselves); the critical pivot-point of professional and disciplined small-unit leadership; and the powerful strategy and tactics that were brought to bear on Saddam’s challenge.

Not one of these themes has any element of ‘automatic’ in it. Each is the product of sustained effort in a single direction. Else Saddam might have stood.

This reviewer also appreciates the author’s description of how quickly and savagely the desert can turn from friend to foe, and how such bad turns can effectively incapacitate an otherwise overwhelming force.

A superbly well chosen collection of photos, together with the now obligatory piece (after Band of Brothers) here called ‘After the Storm’ that traces the lives and careers of soldiers come home, rounds out Fires of Babylon.

Four stars for a well informed and nicely told story that both illuminates and teaches, perhaps without the polished writing that would have earned it a fifth.

Isaías no es tanto el heraldo de comienzos poco probables, como él es el profeta de re-ediciones poco prometedoras.

Su interés idiosincrásico no es la historia de los orígenes, pero más bien es la anticipación de las cosas muertas que surgen en silencio a la vida. En el capítulo 11 del libro que lleva su nombre, el profeta asume la destrucción de la monarquía davídica. Habiendo hecho esto, este oráculo convincente se remonta a Isaí, el padre de David, el antecedente pastoral de reyes y reinos. Es como si un nuevo comienzo requiriera una retirada radical al momento antes de que la larga trayectoria de la decepción israelita en sus reyes se hubiera disparado sobre su arco tortuoso.

Y brotará un retoño del tronco de Isaí, y un vástago de sus raíces dará fruto. Y reposará sobre El el Espíritu del Señor, espíritu de sabiduría y de inteligencia, espíritu de consejo y de poder, espíritu de conocimiento y de temor del Señor. Se deleitará en el temor del Señor, y no juzgará por lo que vean sus ojos, ni sentenciará por lo que oigan sus oídos; sino que juzgará al pobre con justicia, y fallará con equidad por los afligidos de la tierra; herirá la tierra con la vara de su boca, y con el soplo de sus labios matará al impío. La justicia será ceñidor de sus lomos, y la fidelidad ceñidor de su cintura. (Isaías 11:1-5 LBLA).


Este vástago sin nombre de la casa de Isaí emerge de un árbol muerto, cortado hasta el  tocón y dejado para pudrirse en medio del bosque de reinos que no funcionaron.

Su intimidad con YHWH es impresionante. En esta relación reside su capacidad. De hecho, está saturado con el Espíritu capacitador de YHWH, que descansa sobre él en la forma en que una densa niebla toma posesión virtual del valle sobre el que desciende. En consecuencia, este nuevo David—si es así como debemos entender el hijo de este Jesse— no se ve afectado por la eventual ceguera y la sordera de Israel. Él ve y escucha más allá de las apariencias, más allá de posturas, más allá de las hipocresías nacionales que hacen afirmaciones a la rectitud ya la inevitabilidad que engañan a todos menos al observador más perceptivo.

Como resultado, la justicia, más que las falsas manipulaciones de los impotentes por los poderosos, toma su lugar generador de vida en el centro de la vida compartida de la nación.

Como tantas veces en este largo libro, nos movemos a un profundo anhelo por tales líneas. Y luego se fue a preguntar en algo cercano a la exasperación interpretativa…

Como usualmente a lo largo de este gran libro extenso, semejantes líneas nos conducen hacia un profundo anhelo. Luego, afligidos por casi una exasperación interpretativa, nos preguntamos …

Pero, ¿quién es … ?

La historia, la genealogía y la confesión pueden ser falsificadas.

En su camino hacia una promesa profundamente conmovedora de  ‘nuevas cosas’ que serán a la vez redentoras y fáciles de recibir, el capítulo 48 del libro de Isaías profundiza en la pretensión de Israel/Judá. Aquí vemos  la lógica de  ‘refinar’  a este pueblo ‘en el horno de la aflicción’, ya que desde la perspectiva de Isaías sólo una nación humilde puede recibir el futuro de YHWH. E Israel no será humilde hasta que sea humillada.

Escuchen esto ustedes, los de la familia de Jacob, descendientes de Judá, que llevan el nombre de Israel; que juran en el nombre del Señor, e invocan al Dios de Israel, pero no con sinceridad ni justicia. Ustedes que se llaman ciudadanos de la ciudad santa  y confían en el Dios de Israel, cuyo nombre es el Señor Todopoderoso. (Isaías 48:1-2).

El pasaje comienza como si caminara hacia una declaración heroica. La identidad histórica de Jacob conduce a la nación a adularse por el nombre de ‘Israel’. Y probablemente debemos imaginar el detalle genealógico de la procreación cuando leemos que Jacob vino ‘de aguas de Judá´. Todo este legado se complementa con las actividades actuales de ‘jurar (juramento), por el nombre de YHWH y confesar (confesando) al Dios de Israel ´.

De repente, la aclamación del profeta, es interrumpida grotescamente.

… pero no con sinceridad ni justicia (v.2).

Es común, esta insistencia de parte de de los  profetas israelitas, que las apariencias y la realidad divergen incluso—tal vez especialmente—cuando una persona  afirma gozar del favor de YHWH.

Siglos después, el apóstol Pablo se consideraría a sí mismo en un terreno polémico y sólido cuando emite la afirmación sorprendente que…

 Ahora bien, no digamos que la Palabra de Dios ha fracasado. Lo que sucede es que no todos los que descienden de Israel son Israel. Tampoco por ser descendientes de Abraham son todos hijos suyos… (Romanos 9:6-7 NVI).

Así como una abundancia de humo insinúa fuertemente la presencia del fuego, afirmaciones tan seguras de favor de YHWH llevan al astuto observador a preguntarse qué realidad está siendo oculta, por quién y por qué razón.

Sin embargo, la característica más sorprendente de Isaías capítulo 48 es que este duro diagnóstico de Israel/Judá no se coloca aquí como una palabra final de denuncia y destitución. Más bien, el profeta está en modo de diagnóstico, porque YHWH tiene a pesar de la obstinación de su pueblo el inquebrantable propósito de darles sanidad y un futuro.

We often think of religious leaders as unable to change. We think they believe they know it all, have the answers already, cannot alter their presumably doctrinaire convictions.

So refreshing, then, this priestly cameo in one of Luke’s summary reports of growth in the early, Jerusalem-based Jesus Movement.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7 ESV)

Luke seems not to be going anywhere with this observation. He has no agenda on this front. There is no subsequent re-take on priestly influence at the core. After this, Jerusalem’s priests are largely left alone to live their lives unobserved.

Luke simply calls this detail as he sees it. Presumably, it brought Luke some cheer to record that those most charged with nurturing the spiritual dynamic of the Jewish heartland in the aftermath of Jesus’ execution and alleged resurrection were able to respond to this great new announcement, this ‘gospel’ of a new but long-awaited kingdom.

Cameos are tips of an iceberg. For a moment, we see a passing figure and we know that there is far more to that life than we are in position to tell or to know just now.

A cameo like this one is a beautiful thing.

Luke knows some things about the persuasive power of his movement’s vigorous new announcement about Jesus being alive again. He has little time for ‘least likely’ categorizations. A great many priests, after all, had come into faith.