Out of the mouths of … former vampire novelists

As you did your research, what was your impression of modern biblical scholarship?

As I plunged into modern Bible scholarship, I assumed the skeptics would be right, but I soon discovered that their “late date” theories of gospel creation were flimsy, full of assumptions, and that a dislike of Jesus ran through many of their arrogant and pompous books. The field came across to me as a huge scandal. There were believers and non-believers claiming to be Jesus scholars, and the skeptics, the famous Jesus Seminar, had been throwing out some outrageous nonsense to get the attention of the public. I have never seen sloppier scholarship in any field of study than what I saw in so-called biblical scholarship.

From the Fr Dwight Longenecker First Things interview with novelist Anne Rice.

My regards to my readers!

I greatly delight in the popularity of this blog, and hearing that people find it (and the things on my bombaxo website) useful. I appreciate all the comments and the links and all of the email I’ve received from all of you.

Looking through my statistics for July, I was amazed to see the variety of places that people are checking in from. Below is the list of countries of my readers coming from everthing outside of .com and .edu addresses, in descending order of the number of addresses from each.

Thank you all for reading! Send me a message sometime, if you haven’t already!

United Kingdom
Czech Republic
Russian Federation
Non-Profit Organization
US Government
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Old style Arpanet (arpa)
US Military
New Zealand (Aotearoa)
United States
South Africa
Slovak Republic
Croatia (Hrvatska)
Trinidad and Tobago
Saudi Arabia
Dominican Republic
Korea (South)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Hong Kong
Cayman Islands
Viet Nam
International (int)
United Arab Emirates
Netherlands Antilles
Costa Rica

Playing with shadows

I wish to address my speech to each one of those who attach themselves to the vanity of things present. Tell me, how can you say, “I understand it all, I am mortal, and visible things are a shadow and death comes unexpectedly, the glory of the righteous is eternal and the disgrace of sinners has no end,” and yet you do not renounce evil things? If you really see, how is it that you stumble like a blind man and your whole body and soul are covered with black marks? If you know what is good, how is it that you do evil, as though you did not know? If you know that all visible things are a shadow and all pass away, are you not ashamed of playing with shadows and hoarding transitory things? Like a child you draw water with a bucket full of holes; do you not realize it and take it into account, my dear friend? As though there were nothing more serious than appearance and illusion, as though reality has been taken from them?

St Symeon the New Theologian. Discourse 19 § 5

Who’s got your back?

For the Lord did not draw Ishmael and his sons and his brothers and Esau near to himself, and He did not elect them because they are the sons of Abraham, for He knew them. But He chose Israel that they might be a people for Himself. And He sanctified them and gathered them from all of the sons of man because there are many nations and many people, and they all belong to Him, but over all of them He caused spirits to rule so that they might lead them astray from following Him. But over Israel He did not cause any angel or spirit to rule because He alone is their ruler and He will protect them and He will seek for them them at the hand of His angels and at the hand of His spirits and at the hand of all of His authorities so that He might guard them and bless them and they might be His and He might be theirs henceforth and forever.

Jubilees 15.30–32

The Perfection of Justice

The supreme rite in worshipping God is praise directed to God from the mouth of a just man; for it to be acceptable to God itself, however, there is need of the greatest humility, awe and devotion, in case one should incur a charge of pride and arrogance when behaving in the confidence of one’s integrity and innocence, thereby losing the grace of virtue. In order to be precious to God and free from all stain, a man should beg continually for God’s mercy and should pray only for forgiveness of his sins, even if they be none. If he wants for anything further, it needs no saying to him who knows our wishes: if he has good fortune, he should give thanks, and if bad, he should render satisfaction, and admit that it happened so because of his sins. And yet he should also give thanks in misfortune, and should render satisfaction for good fortune, so that he may be the same at all times, steady, unchangeable and unshaken. Nor should he think that such action is only for the temple; he should act so at home too, and even in his own bed. Let him finally keep God always holy in his heart, since he himself is a temple of God. If he serves God his Father and Lord with this constancy, obedience and devotion, that is the consummation and perfection of justice, and he who maintains such justice is, as we declared above, obedient to God and has satisfied the claims both of religion and of his own duty.

Lactantius, The Divine Institutes Book Six 25.12-16

Saint Maria Skobtsova

Read about the life and work of this recently glorified monastic Saint Maria Skobtsova on the thoroughly enjoyable blog of Fr Alexander Winogradsky, the only Eastern Orthodox priest (that I know of) to regularly celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Hebrew.

Here is a poem from Saint Maria, dated July 1942, titled “Israel”:

Two triangles, a star,
The shield of King David, our forefather.
This is election, not offense.
The great path and not an evil.
Once more in a term fulfilled,
Once more roars the trumpet of the end;
And the fate of a great people
Once more is by the prophet proclaimed.
Thou art persecuted again, O Israel,
But what can human malice mean to thee,
who have heard the thunder from Sinai?

We commemorate Saint Maria Skobstova on 20 July (New Calendar) and 2 August (Old Calendar). Also glorified with her were her companions, Fr Dimitri Klepinin, her son Yuri, and Elie Fondaminsky, a convert from Judaism. Fr Alexander relates this of Fr Dimitri:

As he was asked why he was helping the Jews (“these swines”, sic), Fr. Dimitri Klepinin took his Cross from under his cassock and showed it to the Nazi officer saying: “He is a Jew”.

They were arrested, sent to camps, and murdered for their undaunted assistance in helping refugess, and particularly many Jews, to escape Paris after the German invasion. St Maria died in the camp at Ravensbruck. Saints Dimitri and Yuri died in the camp at Dora. St Elie died in the camp at Auschwitz. They were canonized by His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch in 2004. Both St Maria and St Dimitri are also recognized as Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, for their work in having saved so many Jewish lives.

For more on St Maria Skobtsova’s life, her story is told in more detail in the book by Fr Sergei Hackel, A Pearl of Great Price.

Av Aleksandr ends thus:

The courage we need today is to patiently knit up anew the threads of identity for each community, with full respect of who everyone is, was and would think they can be. God provides when we truly listen to His commandments. But we have also to courageously meet with those who even despise or ignore such or such community or individuals. This has been the sign of contradiction that every believer has the task to assume. Contradiction does not mean “provocation” or swagging around in all kinds of groups. We have no right to mirror ourselves.

We also need believers who would never judge anybody and welcome refugees, divorcees, raped women-men-children, drug-addicted, sick people, dealer of all sorts of killing businesses. We are good at playing the game that we are open-minded. Openness requires self-abandonment that showed Mat’ Mariya.

Mat’ Mariya is a real pearl on the way to a respectful encounter.

So many of God’s holy ones are so surprising. Their lives are as much for each of us, equally, Orthodox Christian or otherwise, to be confronted by their examples, in whatever complacency to which we are accustomed. To do God’s will in every situation, regardless of the consequences, regardless of mood, regardless of how “spiritual” we are “feeling”, such is the life that every human is called to live, not merely the Saints. They, the Saints, stand for us all as signposts along the way, pointing us reliably upon a way that truly exists, certainly a narrow and difficult way, moreso at some times than others, but it is a way leading to a destination full of wonders unimaginable: the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Jews, Julian, Judaizers, John

[T]he expectation of a restoration of Jerusalem also generated a wave of eschatological fervor among judaizing Christians toward the end of the fourth century. The importance of the city and the temple for judaizing Christians during this period can be seen in the interpretation of prophetic texts that speak of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. Commenting on Isaiah 35:10, “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing,” Jerome says that the “Jews and our Judaizers” interpret this text to refer not to the “advent of the Savior” but to the second coming, when the Jews will enter Zion with gladness. Similarly, commenting on Zachariah 14:10–12, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited for there shall be no more curse,” he observes that the Jews and judaizing Christians say that this refers to the building of the city and a time when “circumcision will be practiced, sacrifices offered, all the precepts of the Law observed, so that Jews will no longer become Christians but Christians will become Jews” (Comm. in Zach. 14:10). …

Both the resurgence of judaizing Christianity in the late fourth century and the plan of Julian to restore the city of Jerusalem to the Jews were intimately linked to the existence of vital and visible Jewish communities in the cites of the eastern Mediterranean. Julian’s plan to rebuild the temple is unintelligible unless there were Jewish communities who read the Jewish Scriptures and observed the laws of Moses. Julian’s arguments about the legitimacy of the Law of Moses, as set forth in the Contra Galilaeos, and his claim that Christians had apostasized from the Law of Moses, replacing it with a second law, would have had no force if there were no Jewish communities that did observe the Law of Moses. Unless there was a legitimate inheritor of the patrimony of ancient Israel, it made no sense to argue that Christianity was an illegitimate offshoot, an apostate sect.

In an environment, then, in which Judaism was still very much present, Julian issued his challenge to Christianity. By highlighting the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, Julian attacked Christians at an extremely vulnerable point. His arument was not new. Earlier critics had made a similar point, but what was new was that Julian made it central and supported his religious arguments with the announcement that he would return Jerusalem to the Jews and restore the ancient temple and its sacrifices. And though his efforts were unsuccessful, that such an idea could come so close to realization, that the money, men, and materials to carry out the task were available, and that the work had actually begun on the site of the temple ruins, alarmed Christians. How futile confident appeals to history would appear if the project were successful; what perils lay ahead if the prophecy of Jesus [Matthew 24.2: “Truly, I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.”] could be refuted by the efforts of a Roman emperor, a mere man?

In is attempt to execute this plan, Julian, in the word of John [Chrysostom] had “put the power of Christ on trial” (Pan. Bab. 2.22; [PG] 50.568). The bravado and boasting of Christian writers about Julian’s failure only betrayed how profoundly he had scandalized the Church. This is why John and other Christian writers emphasized the importance of actually seeing the ruins in Jerusalem (Jud. et gent. 16., [PG] 48.834; Jud. 5.11., 901). As late as the middle of the fifth century, Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus north of Antioch and a native of Antioch, traveled to Jerusalem and when he saw the desolation “with his own eyes,” rejoiced in the truth of the prophecies (Affect. 11.71).

Robert Wilken. John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late 4th Century (University of California Press, 1983), pp 146-148.

The Wilken book comes highly recommended. It’s goal is to make sense of a group of eight anti-Judaizing homilies given by St John Chrysostom while a young presbyter in Antioch, in the years 386 and 387. A complete English translation of the homilies with introduction is available in Paul Harkins, Saint John Chrysostom: Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 68 (Catholic University of America Press, 1979). Their original context and import of the homilies is, unsurprisingly, dissimilar to their later usage in medieval times and even into the modern period, when they were entirely improperly used in support of antisemitism. The fourth century was still a pluralistic world: one in which the Christians were by no means certain that the next emperor would be Christian, one in which the old pagan institutions and philosophies still lived, one in which Jewish communities were respected and integrated into the broader culture. In these homilies, Chrysostom utilizes invective, a standard rhetorical format, combined with some not very sophisticated appeals to contemporary Christian understandings of prophecy, in order to convince his listeners to get their Christian “Judaizing” friends and family members to discontinue attending synagogues, celebrating the Jewish festivals, and so on, leading a double religious life.

These sermons do not read at all well today, certainly not as well as Chrysostom’s later, more theologically astute writings and homilies, for which he is justly renowned. Contemporary rhetoric doesn’t care for the over-the-top, no-holds-barred quality of invective that was acceptable and understood in the fourth century, the heyday of the Second Sophistic. Similarly, the appeal to prophecies as understood in the fourth century falls on different ears. These days, it’s much more common among Christians to hear prophecies bandied about to support the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, rather than its perpetual desolation. In that sense, these homilies truly are relics of a lost world. Wilken’s book brings the most important aspects of that lost world back to life, situating the homilies clearly in the context of their original hearing.

Contra thematic and overly confident historiography

[T]he reader will doubtless ask why the writer chose to present this history chronologically rather than thematically. The answer is that I believe the first task of the historian to be the recovery of order and sequence. An interpretive essay may follow, but at the outset of a new inquiry, one needs to find out just what happened, and history is best understood when we see what came first and what came afterward. Nonetheless, I recognize that the reader may not find his task simple. He will find distressingly few final and definitive statements, and a large portion of conjecture, hypothesis, and sheer post facto interpretation. Given the nature of the sources, I do not believe I could have done otherwise. We know, as I have said above, very little. When sources are few, conjecture multiplies, as indeed it must. Furthermore, the reader may find tedious the relatively lengthy presentation of relevant Jewish sources, followed by hypothesis and historical interpretation. I could justify no other form. There are two stages in historical inquiry, as in archaeology. The first is to uncover the site; the second, to restore it. These stages must be kept separate, so that the artifacts may be studied and then brought together again, in a state closer to their original and living condition than that in which they were uncovered. In history also one needs to uncover and examine before one is able to restore and recreate. Here I have begun the first stage. I could not have written indicatively, therefore, when my evidence was doubtful and my interpretation of it conjectural, and hence the recurrent use of the subjunctive mood in its many forms. I have tried to find language appropriate to the level of historical knowledge which I believe to have been reached. There may be better ways, but this is the only one congruent to my understanding of the historian’s craft.

Jacob Neusner. A History of the Jews in Babylonia: I. The Parthian Period (Brill, 1969), from the Preface to the First Printing, pp xiv–xv

The Everlasting Gospel

The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my Visions Greatest Enemy
Thine has a great hook nose like thine
Mine has a snub nose like mine
Thine is the Friend of All Mankind
Mine speaks in parables to the Blind
Thine loves the same world that mine hates
Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates
Socrates taught what Melitus
Loathd as a Nations bitterest Curse
And Caiaphas was in his own Mind
A benefactor of Mankind
Both read the Bible day & night
But thou readst black where I read white

William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel, page 33, lines 1-14 (the end of the work)

I highly recommend the beautiful, if somewhat expensive, new volume The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, edited by David V. Erdman, and with a Foreword and Commentary by Harold Bloom, published by University of California Press, 2008. Actually only Bloom’s Foreword is new (though neither interesting nor enlightening), the rest being identical to the 1982 Revised Edition. Still, it’s a nice hefty volume, the last page of the index numbered 990. Unfortunately, there are no color plates, and very few illustrations at all. But there is much to enjoy in the text, of course. It’s Blake! The Illuminated Blake: William Blake’s Complete Illuminated Works with a Plate-by-Plate Commentary is published by Dover, and quite inexpensive. I don’t have that edition (yet), but have several of the smaller Dover editions, and they’re quite nice, though a bit difficult to read in the size factor they’re printed in. It’s good to read the illuminated works in the form that Blake intended. I highly recommend the online Blake Archive for comparing copies of the existing illuminations, as well as for general information. I find Blake to be something of the Odd Uncle: eccentric, visionary, (perhaps more than) half nuts, but also gifted with those peculiar lightning strikes of brilliance, that elicit a “Whoa!” as in those last two lines of The Everlasting Gospel above.

I picked up my copy of The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake at a lovely little local bookstore, A Great Good Place for Books, in Montclair Village, a few nights ago when a friend was doing a reading from his book. If you’re local, it’s a great place to go for readings. It’s a cozy little bookstore with a regular series of readings, as you can see on their site.


sinful me, clay like dough
puffed up and beaten down
rolled and flattened and kneaded
like Him, to rise again