Reading the Bible for All the Wrong Reasons* – I

Part 1

I was recently checking the Christian New Testament book called The Acts of the Apostles to verify an idea that the first Christians were actually communists (spoiler alert: yes). In the course of this I decided to see what other fun facts were recorded in Luke’s gospel sequel.

I had actually read Acts in high school religion class (as evidenced by various mysterious circlings and underlines in my copy) but I had somehow forgotten all the incredible high jinx it contains:

  • Murder of a couple who lied about their income
  • Murder by boredom
  • Murder by stoning
  • Death of a king (Herod Agrippa) who was eaten by worms after being struck down by an angel (12:23)
  • Ecstatic visions (Peter dreams his tent fell on him, thus allowing Gentiles into the fold, so to speak) (11: 5)
  • Bewitchings
  • Numerous resurrections, so many resurrections  (e.g. 9:40)
(Between all the resurrections and hundreds and hundreds of miracle healings, it’s a wonder Asia Minor wasn’t in danger of an overpopulation crisis…but we digress)
  • Imprisonments, so many imprisonments
  • Jail breaks (usually at the hands of helpful angels)
  • Mysterious desertion of a missionary apostle (gospel writer John Mark, 16:38)
  • Earthquake (16:26)
  • Shipwreck
  • Filibustering
  • Sarcasm (17:22; 26:28)
  • Numerous repetitions of Saul’s journey to Damascus
  • Garment shaking
  • Blaspheming
  • Courtroom dramas
  • “worshiping women of rank” incited against Paul and Barnabas (13:50)
  • Burning of magic scrolls worth 50,000 pieces of silver (worth, depending on the method of estimation, from $1,000,000t o $1,082,000)
  • Interminable babbling, blathering, preaching

Here are just a few of the more intriguing stories.

Were the first Christians communists?

Let’s start with definitions

Definition of communism Merriam-Webster

a : a theory advocating elimination of private property

b : a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed

And in case you don’t like M-W, here’s the Oxford English Dictionary entry:

 

 

 

 

Now let’s look at what Acts 2 has to report:

    44 And all who believed were together and held all things in common…

The Catholic edition footnote on this says that this was not communism but a “spirit of fraternal charity.” Hmmph. Later on, in Acts 4, however, we find:

32The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, as everything they owned was held in common. 33. The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all accorded great respect. 34 None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from the sale of them, 35 to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any who might be in need. 36 There was a Levite of Cypriot origin called Joseph whom the apostles surnamed Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). 37 He owned a piece of land and he sold it and brought the money and presented it to the apostles. <Acts 4: 32-37. Bíblia Católica Online>

Paul frightens believers who held back part of the price of their land to death

Here’s how it went down. A married couple, believers in “the Way” (before they were called Christians) named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold some property and kept back part of the money for themselves but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

But we’ll let Acts 4 speak for itself:

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. . . . 7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” 9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” 10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.To sum up this tale of avarice and cruelty, a man and his wife, early members of the faith, not wishing to be completely destitute, withhold a small amount of money from the commune. When Peter finds out, he frightens them both to death. At least they were buried. OK, OK, they lied, but you’re on notice, communistas: the Holy Ghost is taking no prisoners.

Stephen, the first martyr, filibusters himself into a stoning

We hate to “blame the victim,” but Stephen, who was chosen by the Twelve to go out and do the work of gaining converts while they devoted themselves to “prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6: 5) didn’t do himself any favors by his habit of blathering.

Here’s what happened, per Acts 6 and 7.

Stephen was going around working great wonders and signs among the people, which naturally annoyed the regular Jews of the synagogue who were “not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit who spoke.” (6: 10) Stephen was seized and brought to the Sanhedrin for blaspheming: “This man never ceases speaking words against the Holy Place and the Law.” (6: 13)

As we’ll see, this habit of ‘never ceasing speaking” seems to be Stephen’s main talent.

So we’ve got Steve seated in front of the Sanhedrin and the high priest asks him a pretty simple question: “Are these things so”?

Instead of answering the question, Steve launches a monumentally pointless discourse, beginning with “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran…” (7:2) and continues on for the next 60 verses, recounting the history of Joseph, Moses, Mount Sinai, tents in the desert, the ark of the covenant . . . zzzz.

In fairness, my Catholic edition says that Stephen was simply refuting charges that he spoke against Moses and the temple, though nothing in his blathering testimony shows this.

He ends by accusing his accusers of betraying the Law and this is simply enough blathering for them. With much gnashing of teeth, they “stopped their ears and rushed upon him,” casting him out of the city for a proper stoning. (7:57)

Next time we’ll see how Paul bores a man into falling off a balcony, the million-dollar book (er…magical scroll) burning and a “knock knock” joke about Peter on the lam.


*The idea for this headline came to me one day as I was out by the pool studying the Qur’an. I had a paperback English translation, a larger English-Arabic version, my Arabic alphabet cheat sheet and a mobile device that I used for translation aid, commentaries and phonetic/oral help. A neighbor saw all my gear and asked if I was studying the bible. I figured it was too complicated to explain my project, which at times included the Book of Mormon and the history of early Christianity, so I just said, “Yeah, but for all the wrong reasons.”
Additional notes for bible wonks:
The majority of scholars date Luke-Acts to 80–90 CE, even as late at 120 CE (Mack 1995), on various grounds, e.g. it looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem, and does not seem to be aware of Paul’s letters (which began circulating late in the century); in either case, there is evidence that it was still being substantially revised well into the 2nd century.” [WP – Acts of the Apostles]
Clearly, whoever the author of Luke-Acts was, he was far removed from the times and places he wrote about, including Luke’s gaffe at 5:19 about “tile roofs” (roofs were actually reeds and packed mud, see Korb 2010)
Spong (1996) sees a “midrash” of the Ananias story in Jeremiah’s story of Hananiah, “lying in the name of the Lord, and deceiving the people” where “the deceiver should be shortly cut off by death.” (Jeremiah 28: 15-17). Seems like a stretch to me though Asimov (1969) seems to agree.
“Midrash” by the way, is the Jewish tradition dictating that everything to be venerated in the present must somehow be connected with a sacred moment in the past (Bringas p172). Spong (1996) quite persuasively makes the case that the entire NT is essentially a midrash of Hebrew Sabbath lectionaries (weekly scripture readings). In this light, Acts is a lectionary book written midrashically, designed to complement and parallel gospel readings. (p177) The Jewish practice of reading appointed Scriptures on given days or occasions dates back to the time of Moses and continues in Catholic masses.
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Prediction (feel free to tape it)

Does Trump have a Comey tape or not?

Pressed on the issue last Friday, Trump said “I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future.” (CNN) (see update, below)

I’m going to commit myself to a prediction.

[insert ghostly psychic music here]

No.

He’s got nothing but a 5th-grade bully taunt (apologies to 5th graders everywhere).

Here’s what we’ll hear from Trump in the next few days–whether prompted by Fake News outlets like CNN and The New York Times or just volunteered.

“OK, I’m gonna tell ya what the story is. No tapes. <long pause> Gotcha!”

And this will be followed up by something like,

“I told ya you’d be disappointed! So disappointed. Very very disappointed.”

and…

“Believe me, if there were tapes, they would totally corroborate my statements.”

or…

“I know how you fake news folks like to focus on unimportant things, so unimportant, like whether or not there was collusion with our administration’s extensive Russian business interests and tapes, or videos or snapchats or whatever. I so totally had nothing to do with whatever is being spouted by the sore losers — whether it’s fake Russia news, covfefe or rigged elections — so I was just baiting you. Now, can we get back to the critical business of bringing imaginary coal mining jobs back to the people who elected me?”

“I don’t understand why the president just doesn’t clear this matter up once and for all,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, referring to the existence of any recordings.

Answer: Because Trump thinks he’s still on a TV reality show where cliffhangers before the commercial are de rigueur — part of the fun.

Maybe the Trump presidency ought to be renamed…something like, oh, The Apprentice.*


*Because, as House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “He’s just new to this.”
Update: Trump  announced (or admitted) on June 22  that there’s no tape. Oddly, he’s claiming that this somehow vindicates him, or justifies his little 3rd-grader prank (I’ve downgraded it from 5th-grade). This comes 40 days after his initial impish tweet: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” Trump implied that he raised the possibility of tapes in a strategic fashion to ensure that Comey would tell the truth, but, ironically, he now claims victory in getting Comey to come clean…which he seemingly has done, but to the utter disembowelment of Trump’s case.

Cof’veve Salade au Spamme Internationale

For reasons that are not entirely clear, this internationally acclaimed recipe has suddenly taken the country by storm.

Cof’veve Salade au Spamme Internationale

Serves 2-4

Ingredients:

1 can Korean Spam

1 cup shredded lettuce

1 cup shredded cheese

1 cup cubed fresh Hawaiian pineapple

¼ tablespoon of Russian cof’veve (may substitute Saudi Arabian-style or Yemenese cof’veve for a more shawarma-style flavor. Some chefs use a Canadian blend but that’s considered a bit…conciliatory among cof’veve aficionados)

Preparation:

Carefully remove Spam from container and cut into medium slices. In a lightly oiled (don’t want to bruise the Spam) frying pan, sautee the Spam nonchalantly on one side, turn and fry more intensely on the flip side to give a Cajun texture.

Shred the lettuce and cheese, a la Mexican taco. Roast the pineapple cubes on ungreased rimmed baking sheet drizzled with toasted North Indian sesame oil and vegetable oil.

Dice the cooked Spam slices into small, quarter-inch nuggets and toss all into individual salad bowls.

At this point, the cof’veve (see photo at right) should be sprinkled lightly on top either using fingers or a small ornate spoon.

Caution: a little cof’veve goes a long way so do not be tempted to overdo this fascinating ingredient. The secret is to have a light touch and spread evenly.


All photos copyright J. Veihdeffer, including…yes…really, the Korean Spam can. I don’t remember where I got it or if I even consumed it. But it was too good of a deal to pass up in whatever grocery I found it in.

Eerie shadows and light

I thought I’d take a break from peering into the eerie creepy shadows of current politics to offer some recent shadow and light images from my own humble abode. Except for a bit of contrast control and minor cropping, these are straight out of the camera. (You can click on the images to get an enlarged view.)

Some of these are imbued with inherent mystery…

1) …such as this unusual configuration shining through an upper window, illumined by moonlight only, no camera tricks.

2) …and this bizarre light show that simply appeared one night

3) This Mickey Mouse cactus on my back patio is lit only by a porch light.

4) Can you guess this one. Hint: looking downward.

5) This small pink ball appeared on my front walkway one morning. No note. Only those odd shadows know.

6) Not much mystery here, other than the fact that the hummer was up pretty dang late for dinner.

7) Full moon across the street, along The Arizona Canal.

8) I’m a fan of this serendipitous image from my kitchen table

9) OK, this Cowboy Hydrant just outside the humble abode is admittedly not a shadow figure, per se but it seems to gain some credibility from the play of early morning light.


  1. Shadows of miniature cacti and empty vase and a small Don Quixote figure are refracted through an upper window onto my upper living room wall by the loft staircase. This is straight out of the camera with just a bit of contrast control.

  2. Turns out, the weird other-worldly display comes from from small, shiny, colored peace symbols that I had casually tossed onto the cabinet.

  3. Paddle cactus

  4.  This is a downward look into a glass jar containing sugar water and a two drops of red dye for the hummingbird feeder

  5.  This fun, colorful ball was deposited by a neighbor in thanks for a small favor I had done. When you bounce the ball, it lights up.

  6.  Not clear where the orange-ish light on the hummingbird fluid is coming from, possibly just a porch light

  7.  The Arizona Canal crosses Central Ave by my house. The 50-mile canal actually starts out in northeast Mesa, flows across the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, jaunts through upscale downtown Scottsdale and continues northwesterly through Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria before ending at New River, near Arrowhead Towne Center. (What…they couldn’t spell it “Centre”?)

  8.  I had just bought a small oscillating fan and discovered that I had to assemble it. The fan blade was enclosed in this cool, resealable plastic bag which apparently is irresistible to children.

  9. Cowboy Hydrant. Not sure where the hat came from…presumably a workman in the parking area.

The Joy of Repairing Stuff

The Joy of Maintenance Repairing Stuff.

I had the opportunity recently to have several home repair issues taken care of—which got me thinking about an Oct. 2016 Freaknomics episode called In Praise of Maintenance.” In the podcast, Harvard economist Ed Glaeser traces municipal maintenance back to 6th-century BCE Etruscan and subsequent Roman Republic projects in the time of Cato the Elder (2nd-century BCE).

But while maintenance of stuff is certainly important, I find I get a lot more inherent pleasure out of getting stuff fixed.

I’ll stick to the last two months

  • Guest bath: completely new faucets and hoses to fix longstanding dripping problem
  • Guest bath: varnished under-sink wooden cabinet base to keep it from flaking (after years of dripping from the sink)
  • Front door weatherstripping replaced
  • Front door latch bolt replaced (caused by weatherstripping replacement)
  • Front storm door pneumatic closing mechanism adjusted (that’s the gizmo at the top that prevents it from slamming closed and allows you to lock the door into an open position

  • Main bath shower: drain strainer fixture replaced (after previously botched job)
  • Main bath toilet: loose seat adjusted (subsequently loosened again)
  • Roof: installed drain pipe from rooftop AC unit (to keep water from dripping down the roof tiles)
  • Laundry room: replaced ballast on fluorescent light fixture
  • Kitchen: fixed broken track light, installed dimmer switch and new bulbs for track lights (I actually cracked the track light fixture trying to install a bulb while balancing on the tippytop of a ladder, thus necessitating the repair and renovation cycle)*

  • Loft fan: bought new fan to replace decrepit unit
  • Refrigerator: super-glued door shelf back into place (this vintage fridge really needs to be replaced—it’s already lost the ability to serve water and ice and some of the light bulb fixtures are defunct)
  • Patio: scrubbed out long-standing bird- and tree-dropping stains from concrete area.
  • Fireplace: vacuumed and scrubbed out (this is probably more like yearly maintenance but it still feels good to get it done with).

Note that none of these are regular maintenance projects like changing your car oil or house AC filter, filling your bike tires or watering your plants.

(I admit that I’m pretty proud that this orchid has started blooming again after two years of, um, benign neglect)

Oddly, I think I derived greater pleasure from these simple maintenance projects than from buying new things for the house. It’s like removing one little nuisance after another.

Now, can the same thing be done for our government? Repair (not replace) our healthcare system, our tax codes that seem to mainly benefit billionaire real estate magnates, our treatment of people who can’t defend themselves? Repair the 2nd Amendment that makes it ridiculously easy to get access to guns? Repair the gerrymandered voting districts? Repair our educational system (hint: it’s not going to be by vouchers).

Needless to say, I had professional handymen doing the work above, though I did buy a stepladder that allows me to get up on the roof to see what the neighbors and their infernal barking dogs are up to.

But who will be the handyperson to repair our democracy?


Yes, those are airplane models and ridiculously outsized wine bottles up there. Fixing the track lighting gave me a good opportunity to do my yearly dusting of the high ledge.

The real reason Trump won’t release his tax returns

Here, for your amusement, is a unique defense of the so-called president’s refusal to release his tax returns, from the perspective of a certain gun advocate who calls himself “The Uninvited Ombudsman”*:

The Uninvited Ombudsman notes however that:
The Uninvited Ombudsman notes however that:*

As the president has repeatedly said, his returns are under audit, so the papers are only a draft. They are unofficial, subject to change, and can be accepted, rejected or rewritten at the pleasure of IRS. [italics in orginal]

Apparently this was brought on by the gun author getting tired of pesky citizens unabatedly continuing to ask for these documents.

So the real reason for the Bankrupter-in-Chief not releasing his returns is that they were “drafts”! (Like when I submit a piece of writing to a client and await their comments for revisions or approval. “Oh, you didn’t like that wording? OK, let me tweak it a bit till you find it acceptable.”)

Of course the SC-POTUS itself has continued to assert that since his returns are under audit, he’s “not allowed” to release them—despite clear and definitive statements by the IRS and others knowledgeable of tax laws that there’s no such restriction.**

The author goes on to assert that:

Reporters had stopped asking about Trump’s taxes, now that they have other gripes to repeat ad nausem, which will frustrate them equally, for similar reason. [itals, quote marks, Latin spelling error in original]

Of course, neither the millions of petition-signing citizens nor the news community have ever stopped asking, but our author continues his rant:

That ended when “news” outfits nationwide gave exorbitant coverage to staged rallies by left-wing malcontents demanding presidential action on his tax returns — where none is required. [quote marks in original]

Yes, we know that there’s no legal requirement to release the returns. The arguments for releasing the returns are those of transparency, a legitimate interest on the public’s part to see whether the SC-POTUS and his associates might have significant financial dealings with various governments, politicians and corporate interests that could affect his ability to serve solely in the public interest.

And we can’t help but wonder what the difference is between a “staged rally” and other kinds? Aren’t rallies, by definition, staged? At least the pep rallies in my high school were.


*Yes, the author refers to himself as “the uninvited ombudsman” and likes to double-up the line before each of his responses to various issues.
“In a statement Friday, the IRS said that federal privacy rules prohibit the agency from discussing individual tax matters, but ‘nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.’” (IRS: Trump can release tax returns, regardless of audit.” USA Today, Feb. 26. 2016)
Cartoon from The New Yorker

Easter yoks, er, yolks

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one is from the inter-faith comic strip series, “Jesus & M0”

 

and my current favorite…Vermeer’s mystery muse.

 

Oh, all right, one final one, for you so-called golf fans:


FYI – in case you’re one of the folks who got the original version of this and are wondering why there’s a duplicate with a different headline: When I posted this on Facebook, the stupid system featured the wrong image. There’s currently no easy way to select the image you want to feature on the FB page (it apparently requires deep coding work), so I just made the original one private and re-did it without the wrong image…and then added it back in after it was posted. (I think)