Bible 100/20 — of “emerods,” and other words

Day 20. Ruth chapters 3 and 4, and then we begin the next book, 1 Kings (1 Samuel), chapters 1 through 12.

Ruth’s story is short and lovely. In these last two chapters — there are only four in all — she sneaks into the threshing barn, at her mother-in-law’s instigation, to sleep at Booz’ feet. (We remember Ruth is a widow.) It is obviously some sort of graceful proposal. He likes the proposal but very gallantly submits his rights, to both her and a parcel of land, to another kinsman of higher legal standing. We the reader hold our breath till this kinsman says no. Then Booz and Ruth are married. She therefore becomes the mother of Obed, the father of Isai (Jesse), the father of David.

Isai being the same name as our more familiar Jesse reminds us to make a note of the different renderings of names, and sometimes of books, in Catholic Bibles. It all comes down to Latin, and to St. Jerome — whose feast day is a few days away, September 30th — laboring in Bethlehem to translate the holy scriptures correctly into the common language of 400 A.D., which was Latin. His Isai looks a lot more like the Hebrew יִשַׁי – Yišay, than “Jesse” does. It seems Jesse is more Greek, as in Ἰεσσαί – Iessaí. Anyway it becomes a bit of a parlor game to figure out, especially among the prophets upcoming in our reading, who is who, as we look over a Catholic table of contents with our undergraduate memories of more modern-day Protestant spellings (I suppose derived from scholarly Greek?) to the fore. Who is Osee [Hosea]? Who is Sophonias [Zephaniah], or Aggeus [Haggai]?

Other unfamiliarities will crop up. The two books of Samuel and the two books of the Kings march together, in the Douai translation, as the four books of the Kings. The two books of Chronicles following get the charming name “Paralipomenon,” “things left out,” that is, left out of the books of Kings. Wouldn’t you guess it, Paralipomenon is Greek. Tiny notes at the beginning of P. explain “the Hebrews call this Dibre Haijamim, that is, … The Chronicles.” Later on we will also get to read Biblical books that the Protestant and Jewish canons disallow. Tobit, Judith, Maccabees. All of Scripture, you know, derives from what the Church read out at Mass from antiquity. And still does. It’s a startling experience to attend Mass on an ordinary Thursday and hear the first reading, as it might be from September in Liturgical Cycle 2 or whatever, from the book of the Maccabees: an elderly woman lector reads to a largely elderly female congregation the words of the noble Jewish mother, exhorting her seven sons to be strong in martyrdom and refuse to eat pork.

Speaking of eating, do you remember when this #Bible 100 project was going to be accomplished quickly, as we thought at lunchtime over a one hundred day period? Not quite. We can still proceed reading fourteen pages in a day, but the summarizing and assessing is taking longer than we thought.

Regarding the word “emerods,” in the title above. It was the common word for hemorrhoids, in English, until the scholarly nineteenth century replaced it with “a direct transliteration of the Greek haimorrhoides.”

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Bible 100/19, really this time

Day 19: Judges chapter 13 through chapter 2 in the next book, which is Ruth.

The great stories of Judges continue. We meet Samson, who amid his adventures is also a judge. These are the days when “there was no king in Israel, but every one did that which seemed right to himself” (Judg. 21:24). Samson’s birth is foretold by an angel, twice; Samson teases his (pagan) wife’s family with the riddle of the honeycomb in the lion, and then reveals the answer to her anyway when she nags him almost to death (Judges 14); Samson kills a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass; Samson is ensnared by (pagan) Delila, with tragic but nobly sacrificial results.

The great stories are interwoven among other, more obscure stories that stand on the same themes. Population movements, the mixing of Israelite with pagan, the difficulties the twelve tribes have in keeping in contact with each other and maintaining their identity, all create a kind of buzzing welter of activity which makes the reader — more than three thousand years later, let us not forget — ask, why is the story of the silver idol of the tribe of Dan, and the story of the wife or concubine cut in twelve pieces, each recorded alongside tales we find more agreeable? It must be partly because the themes are the same so the lesson is the same: forgetting God and going along with heathens and their practices leads to violence, to revenge which may be just, but still leaves land and people a mental moonscape of sorrow.

Strangely, in Judges chapter 19 we read for the second time in the Bible of besieged men offering their own daughters or wives to sodomites at the gate, to stave off the homosexual rape of guests. In Lot’s case, the angels pull him back indoors and strike the predators blind (Genesis 19). Lot’s daughters escape. In the case of the Levite and his wife taking refuge with the old man, the predators outside do accept the woman, “abusing her with such an incredible fury of lust that she died” (Judg. 20:5). Fire and brimstone rain on Sodom and Gomorrah. The Levite cuts his woman into twelve pieces and sends the pieces to all the tribes of Israel, demanding punishment on the tribe of Benjamin, among whom this “never so heinous a crime nor so great an abomination” occurred. In the war, the Benjaminites are almost wiped out.

What is not questioned is the desperate expedient of offering women to save men from “this crime against nature” (Judg. 19:24). It is not a pleading host or husband but the predators, “sons of Belial (that is, without yoke)” (Judg. 19:22), who are fully responsible for the abuse and death of the surrendered woman — who still suffered something not as bad as sodomy would have been. In our rainbow-flagged, “love is love” world, we think we are above this moral incoherence. But remember the days when the movie Deliverance used to be shown on late-night t.v.? Remember that scene was usually cut? Remember it was called Deliverance? I think we talked about this on Day 2.

We turn in relief to the book of Ruth. She is a pagan, a woman of Moab, married into an Israelite family who have sojourned in Moab because of famine. When the men of the family die over the course of ten years, Ruth accompanies her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel. Ruth gleans in the fields of the man Booz (Boaz), Naomi’s kinsman. Of course he notices Ruth instantly.

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