The Power of Symbolism

Here is my dissertation:  “The Interpretation of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World:  A Case Study of   Early  Christian Fish Symbolism” (3 vols):  Yale University, 1993.  Please note that the pagination in the PDF files, though close, is not exactly the same as in my original dissertation (due to formatting issues).

I originally intended this as part of a comparative study of ancient symbols, including the menorah for Jews.   Given the length of the project, this was not practical.  However, I regard my dissertation as comparative project whose goal is to understand the nature of religious symbolism.

There are many things that I would now change, including writing style.  Of note is the Avercius (Abercius) inscription text, which has several errors; for a correct edition, see  I also wish that I had  included a section on the use of fish and fishing symbolism in the gospels.  If interested, take a look at the text of a talk I gave on this topic in “Essays and Talks” in “Larry Kant” (

I have also somewhat changed my views of Freud and Jung.  I always appreciated them, but my dissertation is more critical of them than I would be now.



Dalai Lama Cedes His Political Role

The Dalai Lama cedes his political role.  Clearly the Dalai Lama understands the Western idea of  “separation of church and state,” its importance for entry into the modern world, and its role in fostering healthy civil institutions.  Of course, there are many traditions that Tibet will maintain, and it will adapt on it own terms.  Perhaps we will how a society can maintain its deep spirituality while developing democratic, secular institutions. This is impressive:


Time Never Stops

Time never stops. It is inexorable. In moments of joy and tragedy, the earth continues to rotate and the seasons continue to alternate. Shabbat and meditation offer a glimpse of existence outside of time. There we reside in the presence of the Source: no limits, no boundaries, only the vibrations of no/thing.


Tibetan Karmapa Cleared of Wrongdoing in India

A fascinating discussion of religion and politics that relates to Tibet, India, and China


Arab Antisemitism and Yusuf al-Qaradawi

This is an excellent primer on Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Also an essay on Arab antisemitism by Richard Cohen

In the meantime, Hamas resists letting the UN include the holocaust in its human rights curriculum


Saudi Arabia and Revolution

The situation is ripe for change in Saudi Arabia, but the country could end up divided between young, tech-savvy, democratic secularists, anti-democratic Wahabi Islamists, and restless Shiites:


The Islamist Role in Egyptian Politics

This is an analysis of the possible popularity of Islamist parties in Egypt.  The Muslim Brotherhood is only one such party, and the Islamist movement in Egypt is far from monolithic:


Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are close, as this article indicates.  And now Hamas has invited one of the charismatic leaders of the Brotherhood to Gaza, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  Egyptian Qaradawi has frequently called for jihad against Israel and Jews, the destruction of Israel, and has said that he himself looks forward to coming to Israel to personally shoot Jews.

For more on Qaradawi and his hatred of Jews, see the following: (this discusses not only Qaradawi’s anti-semitism, his love for Hitler and his hopes for another even more successful Jewish holocaust, but also his support for female genital mutilation and wife beating, suicide killers, the fatwa ordering the murder of Salman Rushdie, the execution of apostates, and laws treating religious minorities differently.  The author emphasizes the whitewashing of Muslim Brotherhood hatred and violence in the New York Times.


Turkey as Regional Muslim Power

Turkey is growing in influence in the Middle East because of its closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood:


The Muslim Brotherhood’s Internal Divisions

The Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, and it may receive less support when it is not the only alternative.


al-Qaradawi Returns to Egypt and Publicly Attacks Israel

This is a danger that the Egyptian democratic movement must confront clearly and courageously.


Bahrain and Iran

An excellent analysis of this potential social and religious powder keg, where ethnic and religious conflict lies just beneath the surface.  US policy has glossed over much of this, but the chickens are coming home to roost.  Now is the time to encourage peaceful, democratic change in order to avoid an extremist religious Shiite takeover.


Tunisia: Secular and Religion

Tunisia has a very proud civil, secular tradition that includes women’s rights.  With the collapse of the dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian society and politics are at a crossroads.


Religion Not Important in Egypt Revolution

Despite the understandable talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolt in Egypt (and throughout the Middle East) has not been about religion, but about economic opportunity and freedom.  This is a secular issue.  While this does not guarantee that religious extremists will not come to power in the midst of chaos, it suggests that there is tremendous pressure against that scenario.


“Palestine, an Obsession of Radical West, Not Arabs”

This essay is impressive.  Brendan O’Neil absolutely nails it.  This is all about victims and who is the biggest victim.

Back when Israelis looked like victims in the fifties and sixties, the same lefties loved Israelis and Jews (by the way, I’m no conservative either).  Israelis and Jews were good victims then too.  Until Israel won wars in 1967 and 1973, the Israelis and Jews (because of the Holocaust experience) were the favored victims.  Many Jews were glad to have their support, but now I realize what that support actually meant.  Jews are fine for these protesters as long as they remain victims:  holocaust survivors, victims of anti-semitism, and poor Israelis facing massive odds against far more populous Arabs.  However, God forbid that they should defend themselves and emerge victorious.  Like the Palestinians, Jews were a tribe that middle-class empathizers could “coo” over.  We’re still a tribe.  Only we’ve made the mistake of forming a prosperous, democratic county and protecting ourselves.

There’s no question that Israel has done things that are problematic, especially the settlement policy.  Israelis have also fallen into the trap of responding to every Palestinian provocation with force.  There’s racism against Arabs that is prevalent in Israel.

Still this is a democratic society (the only full-fledged democracy in the Middle East) that is under siege from surrounding countries who want to annihilate it and to remove all Jews from the Middle East.  Israel’s own Arab citizens have more economic opportunity, mobility, and freedom than the vast majority of other Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East. It is a diverse society that has women serving in the military, gay pride parades, as well as Arab and Ethiopian Jews.

In the end, whether you are Israeli/Jewish or Palestinian, most in the West look at you as a symbol, a trope.  Not many really give a hoot about you, except in so far as you conform to some preconceptions that elicit feelings of tenderness or revulsion.  It’s not just liberals, but conservatives, as well, especially some fundamentalist Christians.  The latter see Palestinians as Muslim allies of the Anti-Christ ready to destroy Christianity, while Jews are ancient witnesses to Christ whose presence in the “Holy Land” will help usher in the Second Coming.  Of course, in this scenario, the returned Christ will pretty much kill all of us, Muslim and Jew alike, unless we convert.

It would be nice if people could look at us, both Jews and our Palestinian cousins, as fellow human beings.  Perhaps that’s too much to ask.


Egypt’s Khomeini

I don’t see an Iranian-style revolution as happening, especially given the strong secular culture in Egypt, the existence of many Muslims who support democracy, the antipathy of many Egyptians for Iran, the role of the army, and the educated techie youth generation.  But it’s something to pay attention to and will probably produce some major bumps in the road.

Here’s also an excellent, clear-eyed summary of the Muslim Brotherhood:


Religious Leaders Call on Rep. Allen West to apologize for Comments on Islam and Muslim Representative, Keith Ellison

This is hate speech as far as I am concerned.  It is ugly and unacceptable from anyone, especially from a member of the US House of Representatives.  Maybe he’s getting the media attention he craves, but these remarks dehumanize a group of people and create a context for discrimination and violence.



The word, “God,” is a label that often cuts us off from “God,” our Source.


Rebel Yoga: Tara Stiles

While many (including me) emphasize the religious and spiritual roots of yoga, Tara Stiles takes another approach.  She just wants people to do yoga and improve their lives and bodies.  She rebels against those teachers who see themselves as gurus.  Her goal is to make yoga accessible rather than difficult and total.  Deepak Chopra is among her students.  I am impressed by her authenticity and determination to simplify this ancient tradition.


Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt

I don’t agree with Religion Link’s description ( of the Muslim Brotherhood as “not simply a religion, but a way of life.”  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood believes that.  Yet, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, it also believes that Egypt should be an Islamic state, as should other Muslim countries in the Middle East.  It does not historically affirm freedom, openness, an entrepreneurial economy, or secular democratic values such as a free press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.  Unlike Iranian Shi’ites, the Mujhadeen, and Jihadists generally, the Muslim Brotherhood is not wedded to intimidation and violence as the primary means of achieving its goals, but it is willing to use violence when it sees fit.  For example, members assassinated King Abdullah I in Jordan in 1951, tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, were implicated in the assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981, assassinated a number of moderate Arab leaders in the 1950’s, and perpetrated other terrorist attacks including the Hebron massacre of Jews in1929.  Since the 1970’s and 80’s, it has renounced violence and has spoken of Islamic democracy, but given its history and its hostility to generally accepted democratic values, it would not be unreasonable to view its democratic advocacy very skeptically.  Further, Hamas (which rules Gaza) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has consistently used violence against both Israelis and Palestinians as an important tactical component.  In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood views Israel as the enemy of Arabs and Muslims.  The Muslim Brotherhood has also had a long-standing, well-documented admiration of, and support, for Nazi ideology.  In general, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt now uses moderate tactics, but its goal is still an Islamic state.  And, remember, calling for Islam to be a part of government is not the same as calling for an Islamic State, with Sharia law and all its accoutrements.  There’s certainly the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood has changed and will continue to evolve into a democratic movement, but there will have to be more evidence to trust that.

Here is a link from Juan Cole, suggesting that a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is unlikely.  Many Egyptians who are religious and who oppose the current government also have democratic, secular values.  And there is a long tradition of secular politics in Egypt.  There is also widespread support for Islamic values, but not necessarily for an Islamic state: .  I hope Cole is right.

That said, in the final analysis, prosperity and peace in the Middle East depend upon Muslim/Arab societies developing democratic traditions and cultures of openness,  That will be good for everyone, including the US and Israel, in the long run.  Of course, the “long run” can take a long time, and there can be a lot of turbulence and suffering in-between.



Creation is a flow of multiplicity in an ocean of oneness.

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The Pope and the Jews (Jewish humor)

This is a well-known Jewish Joke and can be found on many sites on the web.  It;s a wonderful story that I use in multifaith gatherings to illustrate the importance of understanding how two different people can size up a situation completely differently.  In other words, we may be looking at the same objects, but we don’t necessarily see them in the same way.



Several centuries ago, the Pope decided that all the Jews had to leave Rome. Naturally there was a big uproar from the Jewish community. So the Pope made a deal. He would have a religious debate with a member of the Jewish community. If the Jew won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave. The Jews realized that they had no choice. They looked around for a champion who could defend their faith, but no one wanted to volunteer. It was too risky.

So they finally picked an old man named Moishe, who had spent his life sweeping up after people, to represent them. Being old and poor, he had the least to lose, so he agreed. He asked only for one condition to the debate. Not being used to speaking very much as he cleaned up around the settlement, he asked that neither side be allowed to talk. The pope agreed.

The day of the great debate came. Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Moishe looked back at him and raised one finger. The Pope waved his fingers in a circle around his head. Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe pulled out an apple.  The Pope stood up and said, “I give up. This man is too good. The Jews can stay.”

An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Pope asking him what happened. The Pope said: “First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity.”  “He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him, that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground, showing that God was also right here with us.”  “I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that Jesus absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?”

Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around Moishe, amazed that this old, almost feeble-minded man had done what all their scholars had insisted was impossible!  “What happened?” they asked. “Well,” said Moishe, “First he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of here. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here.”  “And then?” asked a woman.
“I don’t know,” said Moishe. “He took out his lunch and I took out mine.”


Who Are We, You and I: Meditations on Death and Afterlife

See my talk:  Laurence H. Kant, “Who Are We, You and I: Meditations on Death and Afterlife”: Late Life Concerns: The Final Miles, Newman Center, Lexington, Kentucky, August, 2010: © 2010, Laurence H. Kant, All rights reserved:  Who Are We


Aqedah (Genesis 22): Binding of Abraham and Isaac

See Laurence H. Kant, “Some Restorative Thoughts on an Agonizing Text:  Abraham’s Binding of Isaac and the Horror on  Mt. Moriah  (Gen. 22)”:  “Part 1,”Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 77-109; “Part 2, Lexington Theological Quarterly 38 (2003) 161- 94: AqedahPart1a andAqedahPart2a

See also Laurence H. Kant, “Arguing with God and Tiqqun Olam:  A Response to Andre LaCocque on the Aqedah,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 203-19 (this was a response to an article by André Lacocque, “About the ‘Akedah’ in Genesis 22:  A Response to Laurence H. Kant,”Lexington Theological Quarterly 40 (2005) 191-201): AqedahResponseToLacocque


Fish and Fishing Symbolism in the Synoptic Gospels

See my talk:  Laurence H. Kant, “Fish and Fishing Symbolism in the Synoptic Gospels,” Synoptic Gospels Section, American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, Chicago, November, 1994: © 1994, Laurence H. Kant, All rights reserved:  FishNTTalk1


DaVinci Code and Passion of the Christ: Two Peas in a Pod

See Dianne M. Bazell and Laurence H. Kant, “First-Century Christians in the Twenty-First Century:  Does Evidence Matter?”,  in Restoring the First-century Church in the Twenty-first Century: Essays on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement in Honor of Don Haymes, pp. 355-66.  Edited by Hans Rollman and Warren Lewis.  Eugene, OR:  Wipf and Stock, 2005:  Haymes


Avercius (aka Abercius)

Final Draft before publication of Laurence H. Kant “The Earliest Christian Inscription:  Bishop Avercius’ Last Words Document the Emergence of the Church,” in Bible Review 17.1, February, 2001, pp. 10-19, 47:  AverciusBAS1

3b) Here is my most up-to-date edition of the text:  AverciusText


Fish Symbolism

Here is my dissertation:  Laurence H. Kant, “The Interpretation of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World:  A Case Study of   Early  Christian Fish Symbolism” (3 vols):  Yale University, 1993.  Please note that the pagination in the PDF files, though close, is not exactly the same as in my original dissertation (due to formatting issues).

I originally intended this as part of a comparative study of ancient symbols, including the menorah for Jews.   Given the length of the project, this was not practical.  However, I regard my dissertation as comparative project whose goal is to understand the nature of religious symbolism.

There are many things that I would now change, including writing style.  Of note is the Avercius (Abercius) inscription text, which has several errors; for a correct edition, see above.  I also wish that I had  included a section on the use of fish and fishing symbolism in the gospels.  If interested, take a look at the text of a talk I gave on this topic in “Essays and Talks” in “Larry Kant.”

I have also somewhat changed my views of Freud and Jung.  I always appreciated them, but my dissertation is more critical of them than I would be now.



American Yoga

This is a timely piece giving a real sense of the difference between modern fitness yoga and the authentic tradition of spiritual discipline practiced by Indian yogis and yoginis.  Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that was then adapted in other religious traditions in the twentieth century.  Yet, it has its roots in Indian religion, and this is how it first came to the US.  Yoga is not necessarily exercise or breath work, but a system of feeling, thought, and experience. In fact, Yoga does not even have to involve the body at all, but can consist of communal activities or study.  Yoga simply means “union” (as in union with God).


Mindfulness Training in the US Military

Because of the massive information overload that affects soldiers in the US military due to a heavy emphasis on sophisticated technology and multi-tasking, there is greater need than ever for awareness and grounding.  This article shows the unstated influence of Buddhist meditation, with its ubiquitous focus on mindfulness–an intriguing development.  (via Dianne Bazell)


A Name

Naming the Source is impossible.  Once you name “God,” you are no longer describing the Source.


Holy Texts

Our lives are holy texts, chapters in the sacred scripture of humanity.


Sacred Stories

Our lives are sacred stories. We are here to tell them and inspire others.


Translating “God” and “Lord”

Because of the anthropomorphic connotations of the English words, “God” and “Lord,” because of the human tendency to use “God” as a thing or object (thereby objectifying “God”), and because of their inherently gendered meanings (”Lord” as opposed to “Lady” and “God” as opposed to “Goddess”), these words have too much baggage to use in current translations of the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, I often replace “God” with “THE ALL” and “LORD GOD” with “ALL THAT IS.” For “LORD,” I simply use “SOURCE.” This will no doubt prove strange for many readers, but de-familiarization is part of the process of reacquainting oneself with the deeper meanings of the biblical text.      These translations also have the advantage of preserving the actual significance of the Hebrew words which have become ossified in English (and other modern languages) translations and consequently lost their original meanings.

YHWH comes from the Hebrew word, “to be” (hayah), and is explicitly associated with being, becoming, existence, etc. By using a verb to describe the Divine, early Jewish writers imply that the Divine is fundamentally not an object or a thing, but rather that it is relational in nature. One might describe it as “energy,” because it is a force, not an object. The English word, “Lord,” reflects the Hebrew vowel pointing of YHWH as adonai (a – o – ai), used by Jews from antiquity to the present day to avoid saying the Divine name. There are other circumlocutions used by Jews to avoid saying the Divine name:   e.g. “the name” ( hashem) and “the place” (hamaqom). By using “SOURCE” or “ALL THAT IS,” I maintain the original meaning of the word without using the Divine name.

Elohim  is the word that normally translates “God” (from El, the chief deity of the Ugaritic pantheon), but it is a plural form that naturally implies a multiplicity of deities. In the Hebrew Bible, it normally indicates the deity of the Jewish people: the One God, the Eternal. Occasionally it directly indicates more than one god (such as in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22), but even there the notion of oneness persists. As a plural form, Elohim suggests that one cannot limit the Divine to a single thing (which a singular form would connote) and actually implies that the Divine is so all-encompassing that no thing falls outside of its compass. Elohim means unity. From a metaphorical perspective, one might see the Divine as a choir rather than a soloist; here the many become one. This is why the term, “monotheism” (which implies singularity rather than oneness or unity) is inadequate for describing the Jewish and Christian concepts of Divinity. “THE ALL” preserves the all-encompassing character, relationality, unity, and oneness of the Divine.

See how I do this in “translations of Genesis by larry” in “about mystic scholar”:


Isaac Meditates

“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at sunset”: Gen 24.63.

(Meditation means both “meditate” and  “study” in Jewish interpretation and bears both connotations here, along with “stroll.”)


Learning Lessons

How many lifetimes does it take to learn a lesson?  As many as it takes to learn the lesson.


Free Will

Free will means the choice to be who we are.


Judaism in Indonesia


Dalai Lama Donates to Meditation Study Center in Wisconsin

“The Tibetan spiritual leader gave $50,000 to a new center devoted to studying the power of meditation.”


Tibet Photos 100 Years Ago

“Contemporary Tibet conjures a mysterious mental image. So imagine how much more mysterious it was 100 years ago when travel was difficult and few foreigners were granted entry. A rare photo album provides a glimpse of that cloistered culture.”


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