We're just under a month away from Easter at this point, and I am nearing the midpoint of the Bible. I am halfway through the book of 2 Chronicles, so I'm basically in the middle of a big recap..."Previously on...THE BIBLE!" It's not the easiest read: there are lots of long stretches of genealogies that make it slow going. And I can't help thinking, "I just read about all these people...why do I have to go through the whole thing all over again?" It actually gives me greater appreciation for the traditional Jewish order of the Hebrew Scriptures, where Chronicles comes at the very end.
Still, now that I've finished the whole saga of the kings of Israel and Judah, as told in 1 Samuel-2 Kings, I do feel a sense of accomplishment. Sure, it's an almost endless saga of good king/bad king, but it ends with the very dramatic event of the Babylonian Captivity, so there is a payoff at the end of the sequence. Meanwhile, 2 Kings has one of my favorite odd stories in it: the little paragraph at the end of the second chapter, where the boys mock Elisha the prophet, with disastrous consequences. I'll let the Bible tell it...
He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23-24, ESV)
Pretty weird, no? It's one of those weird little, oddly detailed stories that you come across in Scripture from time to time. They often don't advance the larger story at all, but they are interesting.
But back to Chronicles for a second. It's also interesting to me that the Chronicles version of King David's story completely skips the embarrassing tale of Bathsheba, and David's murder of Uriah the Hittite (Bathsheba's husband). If you were to read only the Chronicler's depiction of David, you would come away with a picture of him as the greatest king ever, with no evidence to the contrary. Oh, and another thing: the story of King Saul almost completely disappears in Chronicles. It's a really big deal in the earlier version of the story: Saul trying to kill David, and David always outwitting him. Saul only rates a brief paragraph in 1 Chronicles, almost an afterthought. The Chronicler just wants to move the story along to the hero--King David.
Well, after Chronicles, it's just a few relatively short books before I come to the Writings (as they're often called in Jewish Bibles): Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon. That's good stuff, and I'm looking forward to reading it all again. Thanks for reading!
Last week, I saw on Google that Johnny Galecki (Big Bang Theory) was producing a new sitcom called Living Biblically, based on the book The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. I had read the book several years ago, just after it came out, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. So I went ahead and read it again. I also watched the pilot episode of the sitcom. It wasn't brilliant, but I enjoyed it (despite the fact that critics seem to have panned it). The book, on the other hand, was just as good on the second reading as it was on the first. Here are some of my thoughts...
Jacobs spends an entire year (plus a couple weeks) trying to live his life according to a pretty literal reading of all of the Bible's commands. He spends about 2/3 of the time focusing on the Old Testament, and the remaining 1/3 following the New Testament. During this time, he grows an epic beard, visits Israel, refuses to sit anywhere that may have been touched by a menstruating woman (including his own wife), etc. This might seem like an irreverent sort of experiment. On the contrary, he seems to approach the task with great reverence, despite his secular, agnostic worldview. And even though he admittedly fails much of the time to truly "live biblically," he emerges from the experience a changed man. Does he become a believer in Judaism or Christianity? No. But he does develop a deep appreciation for the sacred.
There is much to enjoy in Jacobs' memoir of his experience. Possibly the funniest story he tells is when he informs his wife that he can't sit anywhere she's sat during her period. When he returns home that day, she gleefully informs him that she has sat on every single surface in the house, except for their toddler's play bench! He ends up purchasing a portable stool that he can carry around, thus ensuring his ability to stay pure in that regard. He even ends up "stoning an adulterer," which basically means he chucks a pebble at a cranky old man who almost decks him.
As I read the book this time through, as much as I enjoyed the experience, I wondered how a deeply religious (or deeply irreligious) person would view Jacobs' journey. After all, he doesn't end up having any sort of Christian "salvation experience," or rediscovering the Judaism of his family's heritage. At the same time, he doesn't decide the whole religion thing is not worth believing, either. He's quite honest that he still remains an agnostic, although he indicates that he has become a "reverent agnostic." Disappointing to some, I imagine, who would expect such a lengthy encounter with the word of God to have a more tangible effect. But I admire his forthcoming attitude, and the fact that he devotes so much attention to the innumerable little changes that occur inside him during his "biblical year."
Oh, and if you're interested in the sitcom that was based on the book, here's a little promo video for the show...
P.S. I thought it was interesting that the sitcom writers changed the main character from a nominally Jewish agnostic to a lapsed Catholic agnostic. Did they think that more viewers would identify with the latter?
As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm reading through the Bible during Lent this year. Yes, I'm reading the entire Bible, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, about six-and-a-half weeks. It usually amounts to twenty to thirty chapters a day. Not impossible, though some days are harder than others. Today I'll be finishing up 2nd Samuel, the tenth book of the Bible (at least, it's the tenth book in Christian Bibles: Jewish Bibles usually have a slightly different system). Here are some observations thus far:
This year for my Lenten observance (about which I've been very lax these last several years), I chose to do something I haven't done in many years: read through the entire Bible from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. With the reading plan I'm using (created by Logos.com), that amounts to twenty or so chapters per day, a fairly large amount of reading, but not impossible. Some thoughts as I've been reading over the past six days:
There's an awful lot of free audio of people reading the King James Bible out there. About the best one I've discovered recently can be found here: King James Bible Online. All you have to do is to navigate to your favorite passage, and click on the listen icon in the Bible Options box (see below). Presto! You get to hear a fine reader with a plummy British accent. Enjoy.
Here's a promo for the production of Hamlet that Su and I are going to see in just over a week. I'm really looking forward to it. As much as I enjoy some Shakespeare films, I think the best way to see Shakespeare's plays is in live productions. I think there's an immediacy to the acting and the text that is missing from most films based on Shakespeare's plays. I think Su will really love it, because she's at the right age to really appreciate what's going on.
This one is shorter than the Simpsons clip I posted earlier, but I actually find it a bit funnier! This is Phillip (as inTerrance and Phillip, of South Park fame) doing a Canadian summerstock production of Hamlet. True to SP's depiction of all Canadians, there are a bunch of utterances of "buddy" and "guy" added to Shakespeare's text. Watch and enjoy.
I'll be taking Su to see a live production of Hamlet in just over a week. It will be the first time she's seeing live Shakespeare since she was really little. As preparation, here's Shakespeare's story as told by The Simpsons.
Wow! It's been over a month since my last post...what can I say, things have been busy. Anyhoo.......
I've been having some fun lately watching/listening to some debates between King James Only advocates and normal people. In case you don't know about this subject, let me elucidate. There are some folks who don't just prefer the King James Bible (you know, the ones who think the English of the KJV just "sounds like the Bible"); rather, they actually believe that the King James Version is the only inspired translation of the Bible into English. In fact some of them believe that it is the only inspired, preserved word of God in any language. Let that sink in. The only version of the Bible that can truly be said to be "the Bible" is a version that was translated 400 years ago...according to some of these folks. To many of them, modern versions (NIV, ESV, CSB, and the like) are not only incomplete--they're actually perversions of Scripture that have been designed to lead the faithful astray.
Well, it doesn't take long to see that some of these KJVO folks are not always the nicest people in the world. After all, if you're going to criticize other believers for using the wrong Bible, for being the wrong kind of Christians, you probably don't put a lot of value on being kind to other people. They often share groovy memes like this one:
Wow, gotta love that wicked font! Really gets the point across.
Or how about this classic from a Chick tract? (The late Jack Chick was a big KJV Only guy...)
Notice how there's what looks to be a Catholic cardinal in that one? Well, I forgot to mention, many KJVOs are also rabidly anti-Catholic, and so they also promote the theory that the modern versions are part of a diabolical Roman Catholic plot, to lure Christians away from the "good ol' King James Bible." Of course!
My favorite video to watch about this whole fascinating issue is this one from the 90s, a discussion on the John Ankerberg program:
It's long, but boy, is it entertaining. (I know, I have a bizarre notion of what constitutes "entertainment"...)
Here's the thing, though: I love the King James Bible. I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, and I don't think there are two works more important to the English language than the King James Bible and the First Folio of Shakespeare's works. I have all kinds of different editions of the KJV in my collection, and I love to dig into the majestic sweep of its language. But when a KIVO like Sam Gipp (in the video above) says, without a hint of irony, that non-English speakers would need to learn English to experience the actual word of God, I think that's insane.
Anyway, that's what I've been doing with my time lately. May write more on the subject later...
From time to time, I have enjoyed posting videos of a few different actors doing the same Shakespearean soliloquy, in order to compare/contrast the different approaches actors take to the same text. Today, I've decided to do it with one of my favorite soliloquies: Richard's opening speech in Richard III. The one that goes as follows:
Now is the winter of our discontent
First, I'll show the classic interpretation by Sir Laurence Olivier, from his 1955 film version. This one is famous not only for being one of the most popular, enduring film portrayals of Richard, but also for Olivier lifting a bit of a monologue from the last Henry VI play (Act III, Sc. 2). One has to appreciate the way Olivier addresses the camera, and the various levels he finds within the speech. Despite some of the melodramatic style, it's a pretty good performance.
Ian McKellen's portrayal in the 1995 film, forty years after Olivier's film, is a very different kind of performance. Some of the speech is in front of the crowd, followed by a very intimate chat with the camera in the men's bathroom. McKellen also includes a few lines from Henry VI in his screenplay, but not nearly as much as Olivier. It's a much more subtle performance, and more convincingly sinister.
Here's a very "minimalist" reading of the soliloquy from British actor, David Morrissey (widely known for his role as The Governor in AMC's The Walking Dead). I like being able to focus purely on the text in this performance, and I also enjoy hearing a bit of Morrissey's North Country accent. It's maybe not quite as impressive as McKellen or Olivier, but it's a fine reading, nonetheless.
Finally, this last video is a very fun, idiosyncratic reading of the soliloquy, featuring Irish actor Jonjo O'Neill, from the Royal Shakespeare Company. This is a unique rendering of the character: O'Neill sounds unstable, bordering on psychotic, with a dark current of humor underneath the text. And talk about communicating with the camera! He comes right up to the lens, making the viewer feel like he's right there in the room. Very enjoyable...
I wish I could have found a clip of Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Richard in The Hollow Crown, because it was pretty good, as I recall. He did the monologue shirtless, with a creepy looking prosthetic hump. It really highlighted Richard's deep bitterness about his physical deformity, in a very visual way. If I can find a clip, I'll add it to this blog post.
So that's it...Richard III, one of the ultimate Shakespeare baddies. Hope you enjoyed it!
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)