There is a celestial violinist playing to us; we need only listen to catch the tune and break free of the cage of ecclesiastical creeds and dogmas.
In Fiddler in the Zoo author and theologian Chrysostom Arangaden reminds us that knowledge is our destiny and that its dissemination offers no barrier. He invites us to explore the traditional beliefs that bind us, as he inspires us to be reborn into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Arangaden's work follows the words of Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali-"Where the mind is without fear ... and where knowledge is free ..."-as the charter for humans everywhere. In the chapter "Bible through the Looking Glass" he journeys beyond the Scriptures as they are written, seeking deeper meaning and interpretation. In "Revelation and Reason," he gently nudges us into a renewed search, not for happiness-as happiness can only be a by-product-but for that elusive something that can encourage us to strive against and triumph over evil, both that within us and that beyond our control.
Today, people in circumstances that are vastly different from ancient Galilee-whether they are fishermen or physicists, artisans or astronomers-are invited to listen to Jesus in joy or sorrow and to learn from Him. Arangaden shares his insight into the beauty of Christianity offering a guide to living and a call to the fullness of life.
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FIDDLER in the Zoo
By Chrysostom Arangaden
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Chrysostom Arangaden
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBIBLE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
The Bible is the best of books, now available to over twelve hundred speech communities worldwide. Newer versions appear, as our understanding of the text in the source languages—Hebrew and Greek—increases and as the receptor languages keep growing in their capacity to communicate both the cognitive and the emotive elements of the text. Linguistics and technology play their own vital roles in this complex process. Archaeological discoveries make the long-dead past come alive in the present. It is no wonder, then, that the Bible continues to be offered as a unique source of spirituality and as that which initiates the uninitiated in the mystery of godliness.
The contemporary phase of human history, however, makes it imperative to ask what does not seem to have been asked before, whether the whole Bible, in whichever canon, in fact qualifies to be so offered, and, by extension, whether all of it qualifies for use in the nurture of children. In the spirit of breaking out of the cage of ecclesiastical creeds and dogmas, peering through the lens of a looking glass into the Bible, let us journey to look beyond the Scriptures as they are written, to seek deeper meaning and interpretation.
I. Myth and Saga
The Bible—that is, the Old Testament compiled in the fourth century BCE, after the return of the Jews from exile—presents us with the creation story, a puzzle of history, since man's understanding of the world and himself has always taken the form of myths in every culture. Myths are what some of the ancient Greek philosophers resorted to, to express the inexpressible.
In Kerygma and Myth (ed. H. W. Bartsch, 1953), we have an elaboration of this: "Mythology is the use of imagery to express the other-worldly in terms of this world and the divine in terms of human life, the other side in terms of this side ... It expresses man's understanding of himself in terms of the world in which he lives."
The Bible has recourse to cosmogonic myths, which are accounts of the creation of the world, a transformation of chaos into cosmos; to anthropological myths that tell the story of the creation of humankind, and of the strained relationship between humans and the Creator; and to eschatological myths, which envision events of the end-time and the reversion of the cosmos to the primal condition.
Myths enable us to image aspects of truth and to transmit these images and also to image falsehood and perpetuate superstition. All myths need to be subjected to rigorous analysis, and wherever they are in error—most of them have been proved to be erroneous—they should be exposed. While humans have been gifted to do so, it is another matter whether or not the bulk of the human race has the will to question and learn, to question again and re-learn.
Archaeological excavations in West Asia nearer our time revealed dependence of Old Testament primeval history on Oriental myths as well as the creative manner in which the compilers of the Old Testament shaped their narratives as the expression of unblemished monotheism.
The clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform script unearthed in Babylonia and Sumeria, as well as the Canaanite traditions recorded in the tablets of Ras Shamra-Ugarit in Syria, shed a flood of light on the creation stories and much else in the Bible.
"In the beginning when God created" or "When God began to create" is how the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) renders the first creation story, as distinct from the King James Version of 1611. Several modern translators are in the same mode, that is, using, in the light of newer understanding of the Hebrew text, a temporal subordinate clause to commence the story, and ending the first act with "then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light."
A formless void and darkness covering the deep, "a mighty wind sweeping over the face of the waters," are the primeval conditions we meet with here. The RSV has rendered "the spirit of God" as a "mighty wind" in the margin, Elohim (God) (cf. Gen 1:2) as indicative of the superlative, and "ruah" (Spirit) in its alternative meaning of wind or breath (Ps 33:6). Chaos—not nothingness—is what was present, and chaos is transformed into cosmos (order) by a divine command, a command and nothing more.
* * *
Sir James Jean, an astrophysicist of the early twentieth century, said, "The whole history of the universe can be summed up in the seven words of the Bible, 'And God said, "Let there be light."'" Of that first dawn, Job chanted, "The morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy" (Job 38:7); and Wisdom reminisced, "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work ... Then I was beside him like a master worker, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race" (Prov 8:22, 30–31).
The human race appeared on the sixth day, eight acts fitted into a six-day frame in order to reserve the seventh day for the Sabbath, a day of cessation from activity devoted to the things of God, a tradition that permeates the Bible, with its lunar calendar.
Every act pleased the Creator, but the emergence of the human race is greeted by not merely "it was good," but "and indeed, it was very good." Genesis 1:27, which tells of the creation of humankind, is told in poetic form.
The story ends with Genesis 2:4a, as a genealogy, an element of much significance in the Bible: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth," concludes the story.
* * *
The Babylonian myth of Enuma Elish portrays Marduk battling Tiamat, the raging sea goddess, cleaving her in two and fashioning heaven with one part and the earth from the other part, with the waters above and the waters below thus confining chaos.
A wasteland—darkness and the deep, home to decay and dissolution—negates the possibility of sprouting and fruiting. The psalmist had contemplated the phenomenon of creation and had experienced in the manifestation of God's power and supremacy, the salvation of the people. Psalm 89:9–12 declares, "you rule the raging of the sea, and when its waves rise you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass ...," and in Psalm 74:12–17, "... you crushed the heads of Leviathan." In Genesis 1:2 chaos is in arrogant opposition to the Creator, which he quells with a word of command. No battle is even hinted at.
This motif reappears in Matthew's story of the stilling of the storm (Matt 8:18–27) where, unlike in Mark and Luke, it is a paradigm of discipleship. Verses 18 to 22 speak of two men declaring their wish to be disciples and Jesus' response to them. He had ordered sailing "to the other side" when the two men volunteered to follow him. The stilling of the storm takes on a pattern different from Mark's and Luke's. The story is bracketed between "a great storm" and "a great calm" with Jesus fast asleep in the boat. In the parallel versions, the disciples rush to him, wake him up, and say, "Don't you care we are perishing?"—in each case addressing him as Teacher, Master. In Matthew they approach him reverently, address him as Lord in his post-resurrection persona, and say, "... we are perishing." He discerns a storm in their hearts, gentles it first, asking, "Why are you of so little faith?" and then turns to the storm and silences it with a command.
* * *
Discipleship is liable to sudden death-dealing assault; but as the sea monster was subdued at creation, the Creator will reenact his deed of creation, and continue and preserve life from danger with a word of command.
Cosmologists today who refrain from rejecting a Creator nevertheless affirm that the universe and the human race are established on laws of physics and the operation of those laws are left to themselves without the Creator interfering with them.
In Psalms 74 and 89 Leviathan and Rahab are names for chaos, and 89:9 speaks of the raging sea. Although words such as "crush" and "break" in pieces are used in the latter (Ps 89:9), "you still them" shows the physical acts are meant as metaphors. His word is all-sufficient. Isaiah 27:1 and 51:9 employ the martial terminology in speaking of chaos, but these are expressions of poetic rhetoric as elsewhere in prophetic writing.
The prophets were dealing with national crises, vice and violence, apostasy and open rebellion against Yahweh, the approach of invading armies, and unspeakable social evils. Jeremiah, wounded in spirit, portrays it in terms of a return of chaos that was confined at creation. He laments:
"I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; And to the heavens, and they had no light.... I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all the cities were laid in ruins. Before the Lord, before his fierce anger." (Jer 4:23, 26)
Humankind, the crown of creation, is said to have been made in God's image, vested with dominion over all. Imago Dei has been a theme for theological speculation from the time the story of creation appeared in the public domain, traveling far beyond the rabbinic circles of Israel. It will never cease to be center-stage, even more so with the second story of creation making it multidimensional.
The second creation story, Genesis 2:4b–3:24, represents a stratum of tradition described as yahwistic from its use of Yahweh, the name attributed to God in Jewish thought. Four consonants, YHWH, make up the name. In Exodus 3:14, the unknown one identifies himself as YHWH in answer to Moses' question as to the identity of the one who spoke to him from the burning bush. Its meaning rendered in this verse is "I am who I am." It could also mean "I am what I am" or "I will be who I will be." Moffat rendered it as "The Eternal," which is nearer to the one arrived at by two great Jewish scholars, "I am the ever present."
The name is too sacred to be on human lips, and the word Adonai, "my Lord" or "Lord," is substituted whenever a text containing it is read. Thus YHWH ELOHIM becomes The Lord God.
Only once in the year may the name be pronounced. That is on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest enters the holy of holies and concludes the worship with the blessing, "Yahweh bless you and keep you ..." In the second creation story, Earth has precedence over heaven, and the latter, except for a solitary mention, recedes from the picture. Out of the earth (adamah), man (adam) is formed and comes to life when the Lord breathes into his nostrils. What was arid land, where the myth originated, sprouts vegetation when Yahweh brought rain to it. Eden, a pleasurable location, became home to man, who was entrusted with the care of it. Earth and man exist in mutual dependence, a symbiotic relationship. Man is a living being, a nephesh, soul, in many translations, only so long as the God-given breath remains in him. Once it is taken back he dies.
How the humans disobeyed God, were prevented from eternal life, are condemned to life-long toil and tribulation, and finally driven out of paradise are the topics of Chapter 3.
The Genesis story departs from the Gilgamesh epic of Babylonia, in which the serpent steals from Gilgamesh the herb that makes one immortal. In Genesis 3 the serpent stands for the Canaanite god Baal, the fertility god in the image of a serpent. The two trees in the Biblical account occur only in the Judaic, and in no other traditions. Verses 14 through 19, which pronounce the curses on the serpent, the woman, and the man, have yielded a number of theories as to the cause of human misery. There is the perpetual tension of order and disorder, life and death, marking human existence.
Knowing good and evil is the central issue in the story, the consequence of man's disobedience and the cause of the curse. Is it the knowledge of right and wrong, which ethicists find harder to cope with in the world of today? Does it mean the achievement of autonomy by humans and independence from their Maker? Or does it mean totality of knowledge and thus of power, again a very attractive proposition facing the world today?
The entire narrative is, however, dominated by the sexual motive. The serpent was a sexual symbol, indicating the waking to the condition of nakedness and the overpowering sense of shame. The story of the Gadarene demoniac in the Gospels says that after he was healed, people saw him "clothed and in his right mind." Yahweh mercifully makes garments of skins and substitutes Adam and Eve's meager loincloths of fig leaves, whatever fig leaves may stand for.
The verb "to know" is often used in the Old Testament for sexual relations. For the meaning of "knowing good and evil," Deuteronomy 1:39 and 2 Samuel 19:35 offer the clue. In the former we read, "And as for your little ones ... your children, who today do not yet know right from wrong." The latter reads, "But Barzillai said to the king ... Today I am eighty years old; can I discern what is pleasant and what is not?"
Genesis 2:17 says, "... In the day you eat of it, you will die." In 3:22–23, "Then the Lord God said, 'See the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever' ... therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the land from which he was taken." Mortality thus became the ultimate human condition.
Cain and Abel
Sibling rivalry, a theme that runs through the Old Testament, is apparently the cause of the fratricide, and as we see elsewhere, Yahweh is partial to the younger brother. Cain goes into a sulk. Yahweh tenders fatherly advice: "Why are you angry?" ... "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking (crouching) at the door, its desire is for you, but you must master it."
Cain defied Yahweh, killed his brother, and thought the matter was closed. But Yahweh confronted him with the question, "Where is your brother Abel?" Cain's "Am I my brother's keeper?" draws from Yahweh the challenge, "What have you done? Listen, your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground." He follows it with punishment. Cain acknowledges that his punishment is greater than he can bear—he is a fugitive from his land, and a target for retribution. Yahweh reveals his solicitude for the criminal and puts a mark on Cain to protect him.
The cry for justice can never be muted and those who have ears to hear will hear it echoing and re-echoing through the Old Testament.
The story of Cain and Abel could also be a paradigm of the transition of society from the nomadic to the agricultural stage, and the later transition from the agrarian to the urban as we see in the writing prophets beginning with Amos in the eighth century BCE.
Enoch, the Giants, and the Angels
From Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1–16 we pass through the sketches of descendants of Cain and pause at 5:24: "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him."
The apocryphal Book of Enoch describes his ascent from the first heaven through to the seventh, where he arrives in the presence of God and his court of angels and archangels. The Enochian literature has stirred the imagination of scholars, and much has been written about angels, fallen angels (Nephilim; see Gen 6:4), and warriors of renown. Chapter 6 of Genesis begins, "When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw they were fair and they took for themselves of all they chose.... 'My spirit shall not abide in mortals, for they are flesh ...'"—an expression of divine displeasure.
The giant motif appears in the references to the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, and others in Genesis 14:5. The team sent out by Moses with Caleb to spy out Canaan came back with the report of a land rich in natural resources, but "a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. Then we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed to be like grass-hoppers, and so we seemed to them." Deuteronomy 2:20 speaks of Rephaim, also called Zamzummim by the Amorites.
A Christian's mental space is populated with incorporeal beings, malakh in Hebrew and angelos in Greek, both meaning messengers. The three who called on Abraham and Sarah to herald the impending gift of a son to the aged couple (Gen 18) are called men. They were treated to a sumptuous meal "and they did eat it."
Daniel 10:13 speaks of "Michael, one of the chief princes," and 12:1 has "at that time Michael ... the protector of your people will arise," the final struggle reserved for Revelation 12:7. Gabriel makes a single appearance in the Old Testament in Daniel 8:16, to re-appear to Mary in Luke's Gospel.
Excerpted from FIDDLER in the Zoo by Chrysostom Arangaden Copyright © 2011 by Chrysostom Arangaden. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. Bible Through the Looking Glass....................1
3. Without Temple or Priest....................41
4. Revelation and Reason....................50
5. William Carey's Manifold Legacy....................64
6. Bible in the World: Glimpses....................87
7. Christianity's Age-Old Hatred....................97
8. Ecclesia in Asia and Hinduism in India....................105
9. Religious Conversion....................113
10. Whither North East India?....................120
11. Time and History....................132
12. Jesus: Myth and Reality....................139
13. Life before Death....................171
14. Christian Indians' Dual Heritage....................177
15. Paradise Within....................196