We are products of our individual lives, but also of our ancestors, our place, and our time. Let’s stop ignoring this, but understand it, and celebrate it.
Several months ago I waited with my children at the school bus stop. It was a cool, sunny morning and a neighbor and her child walked towards us. She had a Middle Eastern accent and an olive complexion. Having learned some Arabic in Iraq I greeted her with “Sabah al khair” (“Good morning”) and she replied with “Sabah al noor.” Curious, I asked where she came from, expecting the answer to be an Arab country in the Middle East. She replied “Iran”, where the dominant language is Farsi, and I asked if she spoke Arabic as well as Farsi and English. She answered “no, but Farsi has adopted many Arabic words and phrases since they invaded us.” What strange words to American ears, “since they invaded us.” Her explanation was shockingly personal and immediate, as though it had happened to her, even though the invasion of which she spoke was in 636 AD, climaxing in the famous Battle of al-Qadisiyyah. I couldn’t imagine saying of the British “since they invaded us”, as though it happened to me personally, but the history rolled off her tongue as if it was a current event. I asked if that was the invasion that she was referring to and she said “yes”. The centuries that had passed had no bearing on her feelings about it.
Continue reading “A Sense of Time and Place”
When conquerors want to subdue a foe, they crush their armies. If they want to rule a conquered land, however, they must displace the culture of that land. Alexander the Great knew this, and as he wanted an empire that would outlive him, he needed to displace conquered cultures with his own. This was especially urgent to him due to the diversity of his empire, including Assyrians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, Parthians, Armenians, and a host of others. Hellenism is Greek culture, and is the primary weapon, even more than his armies, that Alexander used to influence Middle Eastern and European history for millennia.
Continue reading “Hellenization After Alexander – What was it, and Why Did it Matter?”
Our fundamental biology, assumptions and experiences, passed down through our families and environments, shape us more than we know. By identifying these influences, we can shape them.
In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical the Sound of Music, 17 year old Rolf sings to his beloved 16 year old Liesl about her innocence as she makes the transition into adulthood. Rolf’s song, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, includes the line “your life, little girl, is an empty page, that men will want to write on.”
Though a charming sentiment, it is not really true. None of our lives are an empty page, ready to learn and experience anything that comes our way with complete accuracy and objectivity. We are each preconditioned by a host of factors to see and respond to life in a particular way:
Continue reading “Preunderstandings and Presuppositions”
How do we interpret the Bible? Literally? Allegorically? It depends on how the Author wants each section interpreted.
Hermeneutics, defined as the science of interpretation, is important in every field of endeavor (1). People working in law, philosophy and religion use hermeneutical techniques to interpret communication, whether written, oral or otherwise, but so do friends arranging a party, and even lovers proclaiming their everlasting devotion. Biblical hermeneutics applies the art and science of hermeneutics to gathering meaning in the Bible.
When a book is written and subsequently read, information and emotion are transferred from author to reader, and both have an important role in the process. Things become more complex when the reader is not the reader that the author was writing for, as is the case with the Bible. The role of the author is to assemble his ideas in a coherent fashion and then decide how best to communicate those ideas to his intended audience. He may use different languages, different genres (narrative, poetry, law, prophecy, wisdom, letters, and apocalyptic), different words, and different stories to illustrate his points (2). The author then puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to write his work.
Continue reading “Hermeneutics – The Art and Science of Bible Interpretation”