Saturday, June 28, 2008

Where is the word?

As part of a long discussion on holy texts, a comment from David Ker spurred this note on the liberating possibilities of translation as commentary from Iyov.

There is advantage in reading the original tongues. What it exposes is not something more holy, but rather the myriad of decisions that are made on our behalf by translators. And even if we think we can read in the original tongues (no easy task), we can still impose our own commentary and judgment on our reading.

Moses writes (Deuteronomy 30:14) that 'the word is very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.' Look at that - the text says, 'It is not in me'. Paul appropriated this verse on behalf of the Gentiles (Romans 10:8). Paul's point also is about where the word of faith is and how it speaks - in our mouth and in our heart. God has put it in our hearts and in our mouth - so it is not necessary to find it in a 'wilderness of words' (to borrow a copy of that apt phrase from E. Edwards).

In the same letter (2:15), Paul speaks of the Gentile: 'They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts.' And in chapter 15, he shows that boundaries between peoples that might be implied by other parts of the text are broken down as the Psalms and the Prophets foretold. 'Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.' And 'Rejoice, O Gentiles with his people.'

So does God need a text in a particular language? Must it be Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic or Arabic? These seem to be several means among many for the Holy One to make himself known. But equally, it could be that for some, the language of creation is sufficient: 'Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.'

The holy message in the text is thus more universal and less in need of translation than we give it credit for. What is in need of translation is the cultural and parochial bias of our readings.

Lest I feel that I am gradually going out to lunch on this philosophical topic. I am glad to see that I can find in other students and teachers words that help me see the intuitions I am implying in this post and my prior one on the conundra posed by Irshad Manji. So Phil writes: 'This reality is not to be identified with either scripture or tradition, it is rather the reality to which scripture and tradition witness.' And the teacher he is currently reading, Hägglund says,

It is not dependent on the letters or the wording of the [Baptismal] Confession, but rather on the reality which is behind it, which is presented in the sentences of the Confession. It is evident that the various formulations can change, without the truth being changed in the process.
And I add - it is us who need changing, not the truth.

So, fearful as I am to suggest that the Spirit is available everywhere in all traditions - on all flesh, and the Word is in each person's mouth and heart, I think I must say it, for any other conclusion is intolerable. It doesn't mean I agree with everyone. On the contrary, I and everyone else need to come to agree with the truth that is not far from us.


Irshad Manji has posed three interesting conundra on her blog here.

  1. An American in Iraq, a female soldier, wants to know how to help the Iraqis.
  2. A cabbie from Sudan want to convince Irshad that the English teacher who let the children name the teddy bear Mohammed should be flogged.
  3. A Muslim in Java who wants to promote pluralism but is being isolated by family and threatened by the National Majaheddin Council.
In the second, she explicitly asks What would Jesus do?

I dislike that question since it assumes the lack of a present dialogue. Lord, what would you have me do? is one variation. Or since I am not in any of these places except in the Spirit by the work of the Media (to paraphrase St Paul - when you meet together and I am with you in Spirit, you are to hand this person over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh...), I can ask, Lord what would you have me say?

Paul's context is that of a man living with his mother in law - or his father's wife. What has this to do with anything!!

It has to do with question 1. The woman soldier needs to meet with those of her unit who are for her a safe haven and influence them first - in the Spirit. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the LORD. (Zechariah 4:6). Then together, they can learn to have that Spirit with them in this difficult situation.

It has also to do with question 2. The cabbie needs to be isolated (handed over to the Accuser) for correction. Maybe since he is working in NY, he will be.

Question 3 is more difficult and even more distant for me to think about. Isolation is already being applied as a technique by the other side. The problem is similar though - it is a matter - a real tangible fleshly and concrete action MATTER - of changing people's minds. Or 'repentance' in other words. How do you change people's minds? Especially those you love who are perhaps fearful, or conditioned. And it is a matter of limited survival for a potentially deadly ministry. Again - how to bring the present Spirit to bear on such a problem.

I think my advice in the face of threats from faceless organizations and disavowal by one's family would be to move away and find a safe place to consider options. If it happens that one must give up one's life then let it be in the same Spirit that Jesus gave his - for the life of the world. But this was not the beginning of his ministry. Often it was said of him that he slipped away to avoid the crush of the crowd.

It is my opinion - likely contrary to many of my own culture and religion - that God has poured out this Spirit on all flesh - so I am not advocating anything that requires anyone to change their religion - just to recognize that religion isn't everything, but that the Spirit of the All-Merciful is.

All of this is at present hypothetical for me. I have very simple problems to resolve and they frequently take multiple tries or even multiple years to bring some limited degree of resolution. Always though, I am reminded that I am to some extent part of the problem also. My problems are often my own chickens coming home to roost - so I have to either give them their roost or chase them out of my coop into someone else's.

Interesting technical failure

I had copied a story I wrote 8 years ago from MS word.I was initially pleased that firefox 3 had preserved all the formatting perfectly. But there was I noted a random bleed through and reformatting of all my other posts - giving them a newspaper headline quality that was offensive to me - sort of like a Herodian mansion in the ancient near east.

So to fix it, I tried refreshing the template and so on, but it is clear that the pages in Blogger are not sufficiently isolated from each other. Perhaps the idea of real isolation has not yet occurred to the html language.

Exploring our Matrix

See this post from James McGrath - a film I was not aware of but I am glad it exists. As I noted there: This short film by Rabbi Stephen Greenberg is a word of God heard.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Whatsoever is not of faith is sin

לְדָוִד, מַשְׂכִּיל For David. A riddle.

We love because he first loved us.

Your pleasure, Beloved, is in my hands.
To take pleasure for yourself is sin.
Consider your clothing, and imagine
that you could pull it through its own
buttonhole until it is all inside out.

I created the heavens and the earth.
The creation is my clothing.
My buttonhole is the death of my Firstborn.
I am pleased with him.

It is my will (and my will is good
contrary to what some believe)
to show you my pleasure, if you will.
And I will clothe you with my joy.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
for you have created all things and
for your pleasure were all things created.
At your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

III. The Shirt


Light-headed from chill, I huddled under the blanket Gaius had given me. I shaped myself as a child within the womb, embracing my own legs, gathering myself for warmth into the long skirt of a borrowed robe, a comfort in this unusually cold weather for the end of August. The Vetti boy had been taken from me. I recall as if present to us now the faded red glow of the night sky. A brisk wind helped the boat on its journey. The raw fear chilled as deeply as the cold. Mountains had fallen into the sea in a rain of hot ash.

How do I survive this, my Lord? The hum of the vessel replied. Ten thousand shall fall beside thee, but it shall not come nigh thee. I slept.

In the morning, a layer of ash covered the decks. We were two of a dozen survivors that the ship had picked up. When we stopped at Rhegium, we learned that the mountain had continued to move itself into the sea changing the coastline forever. No trace was found of the Vetti house or of its inhabitants except us two, a child, now dispossessed, and a slave. Of all those possessions, nothing was saved except the clothes we wore.

We saw the mountain explode. A cloud rose from it – like an enormous tree. There was no shelter from its terrifying branches. We saw before we heard or felt a rushing mighty wind. I moved in the numb anguish of sudden disaster, knowing the need to save a life: not just my own, but another’s and a life, though only a boy’s, that had power over me. We were both hurled into the sea, the terrified Marcus, a child again in his panic. His money-pouch dragged us down at first. I found his dagger and cut the weight loose. We rose to the surface in a struggle. He vomited and choked. I pulled his tongue out of his throat, turned him onto his back, cradled his still boyish head against my breast with my right arm, and began to swim away from the land. Every stroke was a task. My legs brushed against him. A strange gentleness came into his features. He calmed a little and began to breathe normally. Where I had cut loose the bag, his clothes were torn and there was blood in the water. I saw that he was exposed.

The dirt and ash began to fall thumping and sizzling as it hit the water. He submitted to regular submersion to save our heads from burning. He began to move on his own. If we had not been at the edge of the disaster, we would certainly have been destroyed. The flaming fields had opened their doors and hell was seeping out from the underworld. If I had not been raised a Jew, I could have believed this pagan understanding.

This was my third disaster. How I have reflected on these things. In one year, I lost my beloved, myself, and then a whole city.

When the sun had dried our clothes, Gaius himself saw to our separate needs. He returned my purple trimmed garment to me with an invitation to attend to him in his cabin. I was at first concerned by this personal attention, but he soon put my fears to rest. He took an interest in me because he had noticed that my garment was identical in colour and pattern to another that he had seen at his house in Corinth.

I was moved at this possibility, but I was not inclined to tell him the whole story. It could have been a third copy, or a misidentification of the pattern. I had had my garment for over a year, and had never told its story. It remembers all my troubles. Now that my beloved is restored to me, and I have borne his child, I can tell my passion without the anguish it carried when I first knew it.

While in residence at Pergamum, I had worked for three weeks with a young man named Eutychus. He was formerly of Troas, and now of Epidaurus, but I knew of him then as from Ephesus. I had heard of him when I studied there with Sorenos, but I was not aware of his exceptional consideration for others. I knew too that he was spoken for, and I myself was under a vow of service. I was not looking for a husband.

During these three weeks, we taught together a group of visiting medical students. We were very different. His approach was from Hippocrates of Cos and mine based on practical issues of childbirth. His was pagan, mine from Jewish practice. (There were other schools represented. Sorenos, one of our classmates, has become the most prominent in the study of human fertility. Famous or not, I was not in agreement with his comment about the role of women’s hair in reproduction. There is plenty of evidence that bald women can conceive.)

As a Jew, I had to be careful with my teaching since the explicit mention of gods outside the pantheon is not acceptable. Healing and mercy, compassion – I mean those things that can be seen in human relations – may be named, and to some degree explained, as long as no one’s religious scruples are offended. As is usual in these teaching sessions, the Spirit demonstrates love again and again. How difficult it is to take in the extent of so many new relationships. We worked hard together, presenting case after case and comparing outcomes, every night spent in preparation, every day following in presentations and questions. We worked solidly, and though I was allowed my rest on the Sabbath, I still lost track of time. I was not prepared for the extraordinary work of the Holy One seeking us one and all together, and I found myself drawn to this man’s spirit, enjoying every word and action I observed.

My experience moved me while disturbing me. I felt myself walking by a precipice and I had met someone who could walk with me. How I wanted it not to end. Was I feeling God’s intense desire or just my own? I prayed his blessing on this one whom I was beginning to love. When will we come before the presence of God? I cannot remember a time when I spoke of our faith with such power over a period of weeks. How I hoped that this pagan whom I loved would perceive the presence of the Holy One.

I do not know how the spirit enters the bones of a child. Nor did I know how the Spirit would be manifest for this man, but that God had shown me much love in him I had no doubt. I told him of many things in our preparation hours, of mercy and prophecy, of the pleasure of God in his people, of God as Husband, of the reconciliation of all things, of the Song of Songs. His perception of the word was not strong, but the word never goes forth without bearing fruit.

The service that he embodied astonished me. There are few who exhibit such consideration, understanding, and assurance without arrogance.

On one of our trips, we were returning to the residence and he fell asleep in the carriage. The seat was not adequate to hold his head. I was behind him, and midwife that I am, I stretched my hands forward to steady his head and keep it from falling into the void. I should not have touched him. I acted as a mother might have, but his head felt to me like a beloved’s. Later he awoke but I do not think he knew I had held him except as a mother might hold a child. He was so innocent for all his knowledge.

Perhaps I was doomed to love from the beginning but I had not seen it coming. What joy I found being near him, sharing the preparation for each day, and learning so much from every case. We ate, travelled, slept, and worked in the same places. He was careful of his appearance. In preparation for the classes, he pressed his own clothes to save the laundress’s time. His spirit had already moved me. The revelation of his body aroused more than admiration. What was I to do with him already spoken for? How I wished he were my brother, so that we could embrace in public and no one would take notice. My heart remembered the Song of Songs: O ye daughters of Jerusalem, who knows my beloved? My beloved is beautiful – his head breathes a circle of peace; his belly is smooth as ivory; his legs like pillars of alabaster set in sockets of gold. He is altogether lovely.

We finished our teaching and were preparing to return to regular duties: I to my midwifery, and he to Ephesus. On the last day, the laundress misplaced one of his garments in my clothes and I inadvertently took it with me. It was beautiful, with a trim of Phoenician purple, called murex. Fortunately, he was making one last visit to the Aesclepion where I was interning and I was able to give it back. I found myself wanting to embrace the garment itself for what it had contained. Of course, I returned it. I also told him the truth about my love and that I would be leaving for Dacia to carry the messages of healing to my homeland. He graciously embraced me at our parting. This was nearly forty years ago and I remember these images even now as if all had happened yesterday. Why does God put such powers in our hearts?

A few weeks later, when I was passing through Thessalonica, I found a garment shop that was clearing older products. There on the top of a heap was one exactly like his. I laughed but decided to buy the offered gift, as a memorial from the Most High. I did not have enough local coins in my pocket, so the merchant directed me to the moneychangers. Not just the first, but the second also was closed. Finally, I found one that would change my foreign coins and I rushed back to the shop to buy that shirt before it could be sold to another.

I had accepted the parting but I could not escape the effects of love. The image and memory of the loved one was always before me. So, I thought, our images must be always before God, for we are his Beloved. To transfer the problem of this sickness is to hope for a resolution, not necessarily to find one immediately. All love must live by the full cost. We know now how we are bought with a price, but I learned this long after these seeds had been sown. I wondered if it was only I that needed or received such training.

My beloved will know, I thought, when my prayers are answered for him though I will not. He had asked, being pagan, how will I know when your prayers for me are answered? I told him that he would know when he is known by the Merciful One. I asked the same question then but could not ask it of him. That is his story. How I hoped that we would meet again and that I would know the answer.

This is how I lost my beloved, and you know how I lost a whole city. But first, to gain the city, which I did not desire, I also lost myself. Slave traders attacked our caravan on the mountain roads to Dacia and we were subdued. Because I was untouched and educated, I fetched a large price at the market in Ostia where the Vetti were able to bid the highest. So it was that I came to their house in Pompeii as a governess to their children.

The excess in which they were raised prevented them from seeing any reality except their own bellies. All appetites were filled to excess. Perhaps I am too severe in my judgment, but that vestibule image of Priapus weighing his member is indicative of their state. It dominated the entrance to the house. One could not miss it. Perhaps this is why we are commanded not to make images. It did not fit with the beautiful image that I had of my beloved, or indeed the accidental image in water and fire that I had of that Vetti child whom I also learned to love.

Marcus Titus Vetti

I blush at the memory; Artemis has not told the half of it. I was changed by that escape. All was stripped away from me. Violently expelled from one world into another through the arms of a brilliant midwife, I remember waking that first morning under a strange smelling blanket. We, the Vetti, did not grow olives and Gaius had wrapped me in a piece of padding such as we use on the estate here to separate the amphorae. I felt well oiled – the best quality too. I also noticed the wound – significant but not serious.

I was hungry. I think I must have been demanding, a part of my character that I have as the youngest of a large family. Now I appreciate how I was trained in survival. Gaius gave me three choices: co-operate, swim to shore, or chains. He was smiling so I chose co-operation. As vessel owner, I knew he had power of life and death over me. I did not see at the time that the choices kept me from clinging to my past.

As I thought about the escape over the years, I realized that in that moment, I was for the first time in my life embraced by the present. There was no gloating over my rich family and no anticipation of power in my future. And what an embrace! After my fear and choking, I found myself lifted up on the breast of a person I had despised, who with a strong stroke was bearing me to safety. I was weak from the struggle to breathe and from retching – and there were sharp pains in my loins. As the ogre who was then my saviour moved through the water, I began to relax. Her legs touched my legs and buttocks and I was ashamed of my past attitude to her. She could have safely escaped and left me to burn, suffocate, or drown, but she showed the love of her Jewish God in saving me.

As I realized this, I began to move my own legs and arms and the pain in my gut was gone. The healing movement of the water surprised me. What happened next continues unspeakable. I put it down to the Spirit snatching me from the fire and saving me by means of water. I did not have words for such a sense of well-being. It came over me, beginning around my head. I felt circled by fire, consuming but not destroying. Then though submerged, my elbows flamed as if I had grown wings. The cut in my body sang and new life extended through my loins right to the tips of my toes. All my bones rejoiced. I felt so clean, accepted, totally loved, and I was no longer at war. I was given freely what I had formerly taken without permission. And I remember Artemis asked. Can you swim yet? I am getting tired. I tried and found I could stay afloat. I think I could have flown if she had asked me. A new feeling came over me too: a desire for modesty. It was not something I had ever felt before.

I knew in that moment that I wanted to live and to discover how to love as she loved. Today we hardly speak to those of the circumcision. I have seen the anger and conflict around this in Corinth and throughout my travels for the estate. Here I was, a pagan, cut by accident and it was – no, it is the sign of my escape. I was stubborn and resistant but I wanted to find out about this Jewish God who demanded such a covenant-sign in the flesh of a man. And of course, later, I found out that the skirts of Eutychus’ shirt were a part of my story.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gafcon and the love of Christ

I am Anglican. My Lord says to me to judge nothing before the time. If two people come to me saying they have given their lives to Christ, if they have the mind to live together in Christ, I will trust him to teach them his way.

I think he will pay them a penny who came at the 11th hour, just as he will pay the penny to me. But I will not complain as if I had borne the heat of the day, because I know his love and it undermines my desire to lay down the law for someone else.

Their love is not unequal or exploiting or violent. So I do not condemn them. They and I may yet have many things to learn together. Christ Jesus teaches such acceptance through his death - our death in him. The result of such a gift is known only to those who obey it. It is not revealed to those who exploit positions of power or live by fear or impose their rule on others whom they do not understand.

If those in such positions of power knew the love of Christ, they would reason differently. They would say perhaps - 'not yet - for some will be offended' or they would say perhaps - 'it is time, for we have failed some who are different from us who also must now be accepted'. Then they will learn to read the Scripture better also and the Lord will show them what he has done.

It hurts me to write that those in power - specifically the religious power of the cloth - have been the worst abusers in the matter of sexuality. Release from these historical errors comes neither through licentiousness nor through legalism, but only in a new creation by the Spirit through the death of Christ. If the religious had known this, they could have saved themselves.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Historical criticism, theology, faith, and power

James Crossley gives a very interesting post on his recent presentation about the Pope's book on Jesus of Nazareth.

Given some scathing dialogue recently on the Synoptic-L list which I occasionally read in detail, it was very nice to read Crossley in a more relaxed setting.

But that apart, I have been thinking that there is a very simple statement that puts these difficult tensions - HJ-theology-faith-power-and love (does love change everything?) together. And his post suggested to me that I write down that minimalist statement.

We are born seeking power.
We think God must be powerful.
When God becomes like us, we see that
God does not seek power the way we do.
If I pay attention to the power of water, powerful because it seeks the lowest place, then from this tradition of the Tao, I can also see that I must change my mind about what God is really like.

Personally, I think this change of mind must stop me from judging others - though I do draw the line at violence, exploitation, and injustice. But these classes of behaviour are generally clear examples of abuse of power. When the time is right, I think the right judgment will be evident - then we need to decide what we bind and what we loose. The other side of power is of course institutional self-preservation. Sometimes the institution is too fearful to change.

If we cannot express our criticism with the mind of love, then we need to examine our assumptions about what is right. Yes James, love changes everything, beginning with our argumentative nature.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Alef-Bet prayer in Siddur

When I issued my alef-bat challenge, I am surprised I did not get a pointer to this simple prayer in the Siddur which I first noted and heard this morning. (The Sabbath service is a wonder - and beautifully sung at the Beth Shalom Synagogue opposite my apartment in Ottawa.) Read it vertically - it has quite a rhythm.

אל El God
ברוך baruch blessed
גדול gedol great
דעה de'ah in knowledge
הכין hekin prepared
ופעל upa'al and worked
זהרי zaharei on the rays of
חמה chama the sun
טוב tov Goodness
יצר y'atsar fashioned
כבוד kebod glory
לשמו lishmo for his name
מאורות mi'orot from lights
נתן natan placed
סביבות sivivot around
עזו 'uzo his strength
פנות pinot leaders of
צבאיו tsiva'aiv his hosts
קדושים qedoshim holy ones
רוממי rommei exalt
שדי Shaddai the Almighty
תמיד tamid continually

Well that's something else - isn't it! There may be some misleading transcription - I had to do this all by hand since it does not appear to be on the web. (And I have no Hebrew keyboard).

I am a little dubious of the theology of the lights myself...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kugel on How to Read the Bible

My copy of this book went astray in the mail - so I paid for postage but didn't get the delivery.

The CBC interview is well worth hearing.

But - more to come: don't 'spiritualize' the Song. This is one way of hearing Kugel's 'explanation' of why the Song is in the canon when as he says many 'consider its original meaning inappropriate'. Rather let the Most High by the Spirit incarnate the Song in you. Then you don't need to explain.

In other words the author, redactor, canon-former found the 'secondary' meaning not by bringing earth to heaven, imagining what is appropriate or not, but by letting heaven in on earth, knowing the reality of forgiveness in action.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for thy love is better than wine.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Synoptic-L message

There is some close reasoning on the temptation scenes by Jeffrey Gibson here.

I wonder who might be interested among my limited readers... and what they think of this. I can say that Secundus likes it - but whether it will anachronistically influence his story telling, I do not yet know.

Sunday school lesson 3

I did present the Shema today - it was a complex lesson. The lesson experience is here on a new blog. Prior post is here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Trailer of a Jihad for Love

This film has had success in New York.

We transformed the cinema into a town hall 20 out of the past 22 nights leading Q & A's and holding panels ... wonderful and intense.
Trailer here - insightful. ألاس.

... Someone else tell me how good my Firefox English to Arabic dictionary is. (I cannot cite the orphaned which).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Children's Books

John Hobbins has asked for posts on children's books. My children were raised with many - but that was a long time ago! Yet they still remember - even if I am a bit vague.

Babar featured largely in my children's past especially the story when he turns green from a bad mushroom. And he is in the present too with Poulenc's Histoire de Babar at the Selwyn May week concert. See the lovely poster.

I also in the days of my foolishness, have written one children's book. It's about Jesus' pet donkey, named Peleyah. I know it is too complex. And there is at least 1 typo even after two reprints. If you press me I could post the text online - but I have to consider the poor artist who hasn't earned a dime from this our effort in 2002.

I think I will write another - but it may be an alef-bet book - or maybe I will just keep on blogging. I hope to introduce the Shema to my Sunday School class this week, under the rubric Alef is for one. Alef is the head of the letters....

Other children's books that surprised me in my 20s when I began to reread them with my children - Brian Wildsmith - with colour that is unmatchable, A. A. Milne (who I really did learn to read - thanks to Maurice Evans and his records), Lewis and Tolkein, and many others. I will post more when I ask my wife for her memories.

A recent read and find is the Africa book highly recommended by a certain Earnest Hemmingway - "She writes rigns around us all who consider ourselves writers": West with the Night by Beryl Markham. It is some of the loveliest writing I have read for a long time.

Here's a touch on overlooking a part of the Africa she flew over in her Leopard Moth:

It was a world as old as Time, but as new as Creation's hour had left it.

In a sense it was formless. When the low stars shone over it and the moon clothed it in silver fog, it was the way the firmament must have been when the waters had gone and the night of the Fifth Day had fallen on creatures still bewildered by the wonder of their being. It was an empty world because no man had yet joined sticks to make a house or scratched the earth to make a road or embedded the transient symbols of his artifice in the clear horizon. But it was not a sterile world. It held the genesis of life and lay deep and anticipant under the sky.
Curiously enough (like Curious George, another of our children's favorites), I also read some of Piers Anthony (the Incarnations series - not in my opinion up to Phillip Pullman's similar fantasy His Dark Materials) in the past 6 days. They were in the random library that I found at Tofino in The Brick House where we stayed the week. I see that Phil Sumpter has noted this author in his post.

The Piano Player

To lighten up your day, watch this. May your theological reflections be so accurate.

I regret to say that I have had to 'mark all as read' on my Google reader - simply too many posts to catch up on - more than 300 in 1 week. I think I am over the limit on my subscriptions! I know I have missed some important ones, but hopefully they will reappear or I will get to them with a bit of rereading.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

In Capharnaum manet

The villages of Galilee are many. The main Roman town is not mentioned in these books. It is as if the writers did not want to note that their country was conquered or they remembered the more elaborate and later Tiberias. But Zippori was an important town nonetheless. The soldiers were garrisoned there, just a few miles from Nazareth.

When I first came to Zippori, I stood before the meeting rooms where the local people worshiped. I had been told how strange the customs were and I was very curious.

My father had told me, “They read from a book and they have no images anywhere. They are a peculiar people, stubborn. They even call them­selves stiff-necked. And they are prone to riot if their religious sensibilities are offended. Not only riot but stand in total defiance of the mightiest army on earth, willing to die for the sake of purity. The men are cut as a sign of their allegiance to their treaty with their God. Treaties with Rome they manage through client kings and brokers as in all the lands of the Empire, but their treaty with their God, covenant they call it, is marked permanently for all males in the flesh of their member.”

And he said that there are others who follow these practices but none who hold them with such zeal. This is a serious religion, I thought as I stood before the gates. I will go in and listen. There is nothing to see, so let me open my ears.

Zippori is some distance from Capernaum. I have not traveled in that country. I know of it only from the letters of the twins and Claudius Giordanus, a Roman Centurion stationed in Zippori with the Imperial Legion XXIV. He had some interest in the customs of Palestine and donated to three of the local Synagogues as he himself testified.

So I attended synagogue every Sabbath. There are several synagogues in and near Zippori and I made the rounds enjoying the flavour of each one. In some, rich mosaics adorn the floors with figures of birds and even of the signs of the heavens. Others are plainer. In some, I heard the words in Hebrew and have to ask for translation. In some, I heard the Aramaic, for many of the local people need an interpretation of the Hebrew also. In others, I heard the words in Greek. This has been easier for me.

The people have loved me, for I have striven to keep the peace fairly, control corruption, and encourage mercy as the prophets command. I was accepted as a God-fearer. From my own pay, I have contributed to three of the congregations. The local people became like family to me. My father, Panthera Urbanus, had been in the same district before me. He died in the thirty-seventh year of Octavian, twelve years after his retirement to Sicily, when I was ten. Before I left for my engagement, my mother told me to be on the lookout for a possible half-brother whom my father, being an honest man, had not kept secret.