Monday, May 28, 2007

The Book of the Generations of Adam

Going back to this post, and Cervantes continuing perplexity over why people of the Book are people of the Book, I have to say I understand your frustration. I'm frustrated by my inability to thus far express sufficiently an answer to that. I hope through our continuing dialogue the fullness of my answer will become more apparent. I do think it's important to approach this question with a certain veneration for the religious tradition and writings being discussed, whether it be the Bible, the Quran, the Vedas, or any other faith tradition.

You might say there's no accounting for taste. Most people who hold the Bible to be Sacred Scripture find a great deal of wisdom and beauty there. Flotsam and jetsam? There's certainly a great variety, but rather than being an incomprehensible scrapbook, I think it's a rich treasure of the past. From a faith perspective, it is a record of divine revelation--of mankind's attempt to percieve and understand the Spirit of God. And until you have fully studied the context and meaning of these stories, how can you say they lack wisdom? Obviously, if you reject the idea of God you might find this whole undertaking misguided.

It would be interesting to have the perspectives of individuals from other faith traditions.

Speaking as a Christian, the Old Testament is important precisely because Jesus was a Jew. Matthew in particular would be difficult to understand without the foundation of the Old Testament. The Bible stands as a whole because from a Christian perspective it is a whole.

In the famous medieval cathedral at Chartres in France there is a stained glass window which would have served as a catechitechal aid in the pre-Gutenberg age when most people couldn't read and didn't have access to the Bible. In the center is Mary holding the child Jesus. Flanking her are eight other figures, four of whom sit on the shoulders of the other four.

The four figures on the bottom are four prophets from the Old Testament: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Perched on their shoulders, and thus able to gaze farther into the distance, sit the four evangelists: Luke, Matthew, John and Mark, respectively. The idea imparted here is that the Old Testament prophets are the foundation for the New Testament evangelists. You cannot understand the New Testament without the Old, and in the Christian perspective the Old Testament finds its true and deepest fulfillment in the New.

Now you admit, Cervantes, that interest in geneology is both widespread and ancient. Despite your own lack of interest, most people have a certain fascination with their own historical past. Mostly we are interested in the past to understand our present and our future. There is a point to all of these begats. I see a deeper profundity in the listing of these individuals.

Look at the Bible as a whole for a moment. All of these stories are rich and beautiful, and integrated and resonant in the life of Christ. All of the unlikely and miraculous birth stories from Abraham and Sarah to John the Baptist leads to a protracted point which is the investigation of life's meaning. Why are we here? Why are any of us here? What is the meaning of a human life? Is every person priceless to the universe? Are the stories submerged in a person's hereditary past a persuasive reason for caring about that person? There are a whole string of people who participate in the making of one person, who all had a vital role to play. We are all links in the chain of life. When you think about all of the little plays of fate that must occur just to create a person--it's incredible.

Mr. Howland must have encountered a number of small miracles in his lifetime. (I imagine him escaping from a series of cuckolded husbands.)

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