This is the eve of All Saints Day.  In the middle ages, evidently the belief was that All Saints Day was an especially holy day.  The faithful throughout the world would be honoring the Saints and the Saints would be interceding for the faithful, and the powers of darkness would be banished, at least temporarily.  But what about the night before all the folks start praying?  The eve of All Hallows Day (another way of saying All Saints Day) was the devil’s last chance to prowl.

I grew up celebrating Halloween as a relatively benign holiday; a chance to enjoy a crisp fall evening, to pretend I was someone else, and to enjoy gifts of free candy from my neighbors.  Then over the years bad things started to happen–or at least to be reported: people contaminating candy and doing other mean things.  Pranks got out of hand and became vandalism.  It has been a bad problem it Detroit–people celebrated Devil’s Night by setting the city on fire!

Then there were reports of Satanic cults, and concern that we shouldn’t be honoring the powers of darkness anyway.  I live in a pretty quiet small town.  A few trick-or-treater’s go out before dark with their parents to houses they know.  Otherwise not much goes on.  We don’t get to many costumed kids at our house because, well let’s see: I’ve only lived here seven years and not everybody knows me, and I’ve been putting off fixing my porch light for seven years . . .

So tonight I got on my bike and stuffed some candy in my handlebar bag.  I rode around searching for trick-or-treaters and delivered the goods to them–in plain view of their parents, of course.

I’m glad the kids are able to enjoy a mild form of the holiday.  Of course parents are right to be cautious.  But I’m glad they’re not entirely paranoid.

We are about 4 day away from an important national election.  Of course there is reason to be concerned.  But let’s not become paranoid.  Maybe I’m naive, but I’m always a little suspicious of conspiracy theories.  Vote your conscience.  Vote for the candidate you are convinced will do the most good or the least harm to the country, as the case may be.  We have to remain vigilant always–but we don’t need to be paranoid yet.



Usually Joe is the first to send me new archaeology finds, but this time my daughter Heidi beat him by a few minutes.  They both sent me a report that yesterday archaeologists in Israel reported finding the oldest Hebrew inscription to date, in the valley of Elah where David met Goliath.  (Click on the tab for “JOE’S FINDS” for the link.)

Before yesterday, the oldest Hebrew inscription was believed to be the Gezer Calendar (Uriah Yaniv’s Gallery has a photo).

The inscription in Elah is on a piece of ostraca.  Ostraca (the plural of ostracon) are broken pieces of pottery used for writing.  Ancient people practiced recycling!  Ostraca was a common material for writing letters.  I can imagine a Hebrew family at the dinner table and mom saying,

We need to write a letter to grandma, but we are out of ostraca.  Would one of you kids mind knocking a pitcher off the table?

One of the most interesting collections of ostraca from Israel is the Lachish Letters (See Bible History online).

Lachish Letters
Lachish Letters

In one of the letters a commander complains about a troublesome prophet:

The words of the prophet are not good.  He weakens the hands of the people in the city (more here).

The prophet sounds a whole lot like Jeremiah.  In the 6th century BC, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonian army.  Jeremiah had been preaching to the people of Jerusalem that their only hope was to turn from their sins of injustice and idolatry and trust in the Lord to save them.  Many people thought that since the Lord had chosen Jerusalem as the site of his temple–the place where he made his presence known–the city and the temple could never be harmed.  God would bless and protect his city.

Jeremiah preached a famous sermon in the temple.  He said you can’t rob, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and then come to the sacred place and say “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” and expect to be blessed and saved.

Jeremiah’s message was unpopular.  He was considered unpatriotic.  He “weakened the hands” of the people, an idiom meaning he lowered their morale, undermined there resolve to fight.  The people and leaders wanted him to say, “God will bless his holy temple, God will bless this city.”  Jeremiah said, “No, God will curse this city–unless you repent.”

The Romans had a use for broken pottery.  When they wanted to vote someone “off the island” or out of a club or association, they would have the members write on a piece of ostraca the name of the one they wanted to banish.  Such a person was said to be ostracized.

Jeremiah of Jerusalem was ostracized more than once.  They threw him down into a mud pit once and left him to die, but friends eventually rescued him.  Jeremiah may very well be the prophet mentioned on the piece of ostraca from Lachish.

Sweet Lectures

Soul Tsunami

Soul Tsunami

Leonard Sweet was a guest lecturer on our campus the past two days.  Last night he spoke on facing storms.  He said the only way to survive a “perfect storm” is to head straight into it; ships that hug the harbor get smashed to pieces.

He wrote the book Soul Tsunami, by the way, ten years ago–before most of us had heard of the word Tsunami.  It was before the tragic Tsunami that hit Indonesia the day after Christmas in 2004; he was not trying to capitalize on that tragedy.

Sweet also said during a storm you have to throw excess cargo and baggage overboard.

I’ve been thinking lately about excess baggage, superfluous stuff.  I have stuff that I’ve saved because I might need it, but I can’t use it because I can’t find it among all the other stuff I’ve been saving.

Of course, there are other kinds of baggage besides physical stuff.  There is emotional baggage, there are activities which may be good–but you can only do so many things without crowding out other things.

This is the year I’m trying to lighten my load.

A Little Help from my Friends

Check out this clip on how we can stop Global Warming.  For more info, go to Green Peace.

Meanwhile, here are Garrison Keillor’s thoughts on the current election campaign.

I suspect the extra “Pages” on this site don’t get used often.  This is just a reminder that I have updated the “Friend’s Finds” page.  Check it and “Joe’s Finds” ever once in a while to see what’s new.  Joe keeps us updated on archaeology discoveries, among other things.

Keeping a Perspective

In about a week I will be casting a vote that will influence this boy’s life, one way or another.  What kind of world will he grow up in?  Of course, many other factors will affect the world he grows up in, besides the election.

Hiking on the Konza Prairie

Hiking on the Konza Prairie

I may not post as often as I otherwise would, because I am trying to keep a perspective.  There are many important things in life.  Last weekend we went for a hike with our grandson on one of our favorite places, the Konza Prairie.

Four Rules for Interpreting the Bible

Here are four rules for interpreting the Bible that I teach my students, along with the acronyms that help them remember them.

1.  Do No Harm (DNH).  This is the first rule of any profession, and the Bible itself warns against twisting its words in a way that causes harm.  Judaism taught this principle, based on the teaching of Moses,

[These words] are your life.  By them you will live long . . .

Judaism takes this to mean that the commandments can only be interpreted in a way that enhances life, never in a way that threatens it.  Jesus taught a similar principle: It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, to save life rather than destroy it.

Of course, the Bible has often been misused.  Krister Stendahl said,

There never has been an evil cause in the world that has not become more evil if it has been possible to argue it on biblical grounds.  (Cited here)

2.  Author’s Intended Meaning (AIM). Don’t use the words of the Bible to push your own agenda.  For example, when the Bible talks about oil–it is not referring to barrels of petroleum–it is talking about olive oil.  We have to take the historical setting and the understanding of the human authors seriously.

3.  Author’s Intended Purpose (AIP). The first writers and readers of the Bible lived in a world far different than ours, yet they are trying to reach goals that are relevant to us: reconciliation, love, compassion, justice, for example.  Most of us in North America don’t worry about food offered to idols–but the purpose for the teaching on the subject in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is to teach us to respect cultural and religious differences, to embrace diversity.

4.  Whole Context (WC). This basically means we have to get the big picture, to read every part in light of the whole.  It also means we have to have a concept of progress.  The story of the Bible is the story of God interacting with imperfect people and leading them a step at a time a little closer to where thy need to be.  If we forget this, we will stumble over details along the way, and we may even interpret Scripture in a way that does harm.

The Metaphorically Challenged

Here is a quotation from an atheist, explaining why he decided Christian faith is nothing but superstition:

We now know that our brain is the seat of thinking and of our emotions.  Modern artificial heart transplants now adequately debunk these beliefs, for we can do just fine without our own hearts.  Therefore, it is nonsensical to believe in a “sinful heart” or in asking Jesus “into our hearts.”

Well.  There you have it.  Purge your bookshelves of poetry; tell the Tin Man to quit looking for a heart; and no more country music either: the “achy breaky heart” is just a primitive superstition.

Now here is a quote from radio preacher John McArthur,

Genesis 1 teaches that the earth was created about 6000 years ago in six literal, 24-hour days, exactly as it exists now, with no kind of evolution in any form.  Either you believe it or you don’t.

The problem is that Genesis 1 describes the creation of the sun on day four, after the first three “evenings and mornings.”  So those first three days cannot be exactly the same kind of days that exist now.

What do the atheist and the literalist preacher have in common?  They have no appreciation for literary subtlety, for metaphor.  Genesis 1 is a beautiful and carefully structured account of the creation of the heavens and the earth.  The main theme is that by God’s blessing the earth brings forth life in all its variety, and it’s all good.

The book of Jonah is another beautifully crafted story that literalists–either of the believing or unbelieving variety–fail to appreciate.  They argue over the possibility of a whale, or a “great fish,” swallowing a man; and they miss the main point: God desires peace and reconciliation.  He would rather see a violent and arrogant evil empire repent and turn to the ways of peace than to see it destroyed.

The book of Jonah is full of humor and irony.  Image dressing cattle and chickens in sackcloth and forcing them to fast and pray.  Imagine a prophet becoming depressed over his own success.  Imagine a man who grieves over a whithered vine but who can spare no compassion for 120,000 human beings who do not know their right hand from their left.