Workshop in Lexington: “Reading the Bible Mystically”: Dr. Laurence H. Kant: Flood and Noah Narrative: Sunday, December 13, 2-5 pm

Reading the Bible Mystically continues on Sunday, December 13, 2-5 p.m., at 131 Jesselin Drive. Everyone is welcome, whether or not you were able to attend prior sessions. This time we will discuss developments in human history following the story of Cain and Abel (including the Nephilim/giants in Gen 6) and continuing through the flood narrative and the Noah saga: Gen 5-9. See more details below.
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READING THE BIBLE MYSTICALLY: Fall Series
Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)
December 13, Sunday, 2-5 pm
Genesis 5-9: Flood and Noah Narrative: Part 1
Location: 131 Jesselin Drive, Lexington, KY  40503

Everyone comes to the Bible with different perspectives. Lay people appeal to tradition, practice, belief, social justice, evangelism, literal interpretation, and opposition or apathy to religion. Scholars interpret the Bible from their own angles: history, literature, sources, language, theology, and archaeology. No one perspective, however, can encompass and fully explain biblical texts.

For me, a mystical approach to biblical interpretation entails the discovery and creation of profound meaning in the text. Integrative in nature, it uses a variety of perspectives to understand the contexts and multiple (often ambiguous and sometimes conflicting) meanings of passages. We start from the ground up, beginning with small details (word-by-word and even letter-by-letter) as we move through sentences and stories toward apparently hidden and esoteric readings. Usually what we regard as secret or mystical lies in open sight, but seeing it demands close attention and far-reaching awareness of all sorts.

IN THIS SESSION, we will study developments in human history following the story of Cain and Abel (including the Nephilim/giants in Gen 6) and continuing through the flood narrative and the Noah saga: Gen 5-9. This will take at least two sessions. Reflecting on the universality of flood myths and of tales of humanity’s role in them, we will explore what makes floods such a powerful symbol for human beings and what makes the Genesis narrative distinctive. As always, there are profound questions to consider: Where exactly did humanity go wrong? What makes Noah different from his ancestors? Why are there two flood narratives, and what does each contribute? How do these stories fit into the tradition of epic literature, with concepts of honor and courage? How can a compassionate, moral God commit an act of genocide and planetary destruction? Why is this story of global violence so popular in the religious education of children? Why does God promise not to flood the earth again? How can the mind of God change? What is different about humanity and the earth after the flood?

No previous background is necessary. Mutual respect is assumed in an atmosphere open to all spiritual, religious, and non-religious points of view.

The cost of the workshop is $35.00 per person (cash, or check made out to “Mystic Scholar, LLC”), Reserve a place by emailing Dr. Kant at dblk2@qx.net (with “Mystic Scholar” in the subject line). Payment may be made at the door before the workshop. Please read Genesis 5-9 beforehand. For further information on the presenter, see the attached CV and bio, as well as the brochure with photos.

Dr. Laurence H. Kant
dblk2@qx.net
859-278-3042
http://mysticscholar.org

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Workshop in Lexington: “Reading the Bible Mystically”: Dr. Laurence H. Kant: Fall Series: Sunday, November 8, 2-5 pm

Reading the Bible Mystically continues on Sunday, November 8, 2-5 p.m., at 131 Jesselin Drive. Everyone is welcome, whether or not you were able to attend prior sessions. This time we will discuss Genesis 4, the story of Cain and Abel (see some of the question topics below).
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READING THE BIBLE MYSTICALLY: Fall Series
Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)
November 8, 2015, 2-5 p.m.
Location: 131 Jesselin Drive, Lexington, KY  40503

Everyone comes to the Bible with different perspectives. Lay people appeal to tradition, practice, belief, social justice, evangelism, literal interpretation, and opposition or apathy to religion. Scholars interpret the Bible from their own angles: history, literature, sources, language, theology, and archaeology. No one perspective, however, can encompass and fully explain biblical texts.

For me, a mystical approach to biblical interpretation entails the discovery and creation of profound meaning in the text. Integrative in nature, it uses a variety of perspectives to understand the contexts and multiple (often ambiguous and sometimes conflicting) meanings of passages. We start from the ground up, beginning with small details (word-by-word and even letter-by-letter) as we move through sentences and stories toward apparently hidden and esoteric readings. Usually what we regard as secret or mystical lies in open sight, but seeing it demands close attention and far-reaching awareness of all sorts.

We will spend the bulk of our time this session engaging the text, particularly Genesis 4, the story of Cain and Abel, and ponder some challenging questions: What happens to first-born children in Genesis? Why? Why did God prefer Abel’s offering to Cain’s? How would you describe God’s treatment of Cain? Why did Cain choose to bring Abel to a field to kill him? Why did Cain kill Abel? What is murder? What do life and death mean to those who have never experienced death? What does it mean to be a wanderer? What is the mark of Cain? What does it mean that Cain and Cain’s descendants built cities, played lyres and pipes, and made tools of copper and iron? Who are the descendants of Cain? Who are the descendants of Seth and Enosh? If we have time, we will also consider Genesis 5-6:1-4.

No previous background is necessary. Mutual respect is assumed in an atmosphere open to all spiritual, religious, and non-religious points of view.

Our next date for the Fall Series is Sunday, December 13, 2-5 pm.

The cost of the workshop is $35.00 per person (cash, or check made out to “Mystic Scholar, LLC”), Reserve a place by emailing Dr. Kant at dblk2@qx.net (with “Mystic Scholar” in the subject line). Payment may be made at the door before the workshop. Please read Genesis 4-6:1-4 beforehand. For further information on the presenter, see the attached CV and bio, as well as the brochure with photos.

Dr. Laurence H. Kant
dblk2@qx.net
859-278-3042
http://mysticscholar.org

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Workshop in Lexington: “Reading the Bible Mystically”: Dr. Laurence H. Kant: Fall Series: Sunday, October 11, 2-5 pm

Reading the Bible Mystically continues on Sunday, October 11, 2-5 p.m., at 131 Jesselin Drive. Everyone is welcome, whether or not you were able to attend prior sessions. This time we will discuss Genesis 3: the story of creation, human origins, the quest for knowledge and wisdom, disobedience and deception, frailty and strength, gender symbolism, and the banishment from Eden.

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READING THE BIBLE MYSTICALLY: Fall Series
Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)
October 11, 2015, 2-5 p.m.
Location: 131 Jesselin Drive, Lexington, KY  40503

Everyone comes to the Bible with different perspectives. Lay people appeal to tradition, practice, belief, social justice, evangelism, literal interpretation, and opposition or apathy to religion. Scholars interpret the Bible from their own angles: history, literature, sources, language, theology, and archaeology. No one perspective, however, can encompass and fully explain biblical texts.

For me, a mystical approach to biblical interpretation entails the discovery and creation of profound meaning in the text. Integrative in nature, it uses a variety of perspectives to understand the contexts and multiple (often ambiguous and sometimes conflicting) meanings of passages. We start from the ground up, beginning with small details (word-by-word and even letter-by-letter) as we move through sentences and stories toward apparently hidden and esoteric readings. Usually what we regard as secret or mystical lies in open sight, but seeing it demands close attention and far-reaching awareness of all sorts.

We will spend the bulk of our time this session engaging the text, particularly Genesis 3, and discussing its use in constructing meaning for our lives. We will explore the story of creation, human origins, the quest for knowledge and wisdom, the consequences of disobedience and deception, frailty and strength, gender symbolism, and the banishment from Eden. No previous background is necessary. Mutual respect is assumed in an atmosphere open to all spiritual, religious, and non-religious points of view.

Upcoming dates in this series are as follows (at the same time from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons): October 11, November 8, and  December 13.

The cost of the workshop is $35.00 per person (cash, or check made out to “Mystic Scholar, LLC”), Reserve a place by emailing Dr. Kant at dblk2@qx.net (with “Mystic Scholar” in the subject line). Payment may be made at the door before the workshop. Please read Genesis 1 and 2 beforehand. For further information on the presenter, see the attached CV and bio, as well as the brochure with photos.

Dr. Laurence H. Kant
dblk2@qx.net
859-278-3042
http://mysticscholar.org

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Reading the Bible Mystically: Fall Series: Dr. Laurence H. Kant

Reading the Bible Mystically continues on Sunday, September 20, 2-5 p.m. at 131 Jesselin Drive. Everyone is welcome, whether or not you were able to attend the prior introductory workshops. This time we will discuss Genesis 2 and its relation to Genesis 1.

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READING THE BIBLE MYSTICALLY: Fall Series

Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)
September 20, 2015, 2-5 p.m.
Location: 131 Jesselin Drive, Lexington, KY  40503

Everyone comes to the Bible with different perspectives. Lay people appeal to tradition, practice, belief, social justice, evangelism, literal interpretation, and opposition or apathy to religion. Scholars interpret the Bible from their own angles: history, literature, sources, language, theology, and archaeology. No one perspective, however, can encompass and fully explain biblical texts.

For me, a mystical approach to biblical interpretation entails the discovery and creation of profound meaning in the text. Integrative in nature, it uses a variety of perspectives to understand the contexts and multiple (often ambiguous and sometimes conflicting) meanings of passages. We start from the ground up, beginning with small details (word-by-word and even letter-by-letter) as we move through sentences and stories toward apparently hidden and esoteric readings. Usually what we regard as secret or mystical lies in open sight, but seeing it demands close attention and far-reaching awareness of all sorts.

We will spend the bulk of our time this session engaging the text, particularly Genesis 2, and discussing its use in constructing meaning for our lives. No previous background is necessary. Mutual respect is assumed in an atmosphere open to all spiritual, religious, and non-religious points of view.

Upcoming dates in this series are as follows (at the same time from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, location to be announced): October 11, November 8, and  December 13.

The cost of the workshop is $35.00 per person (cash, or check made out to “Mystic Scholar, LLC”), Reserve a place by emailing Dr. Kant at dblk2@qx.net (with “Mystic Scholar” in the subject line). Payment may be made at the door before the workshop. Please read Genesis 1 and 2 beforehand. For further information on the presenter, see the attached CV and bio, as well as the brochure with photos.

 

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dblk2@qx.net
859-278-3042
http://mysticscholar.org

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Workshop in Lexington: “Reading the Bible Mystically”: Dr. Laurence H. Kant

READING THE BIBLE MYSTICALLY: An Introductory Workshop
Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)
August 30, 2015, Sunday, 2:00-5:00 p.m.: Encore class
Location: 131 Jesselin Drive, Lexington, KY  40503

Everyone comes to the Bible with different perspectives. Lay people appeal to tradition, practice, belief, social justice, evangelism, literal interpretation, and opposition or apathy to religion. Scholars interpret the Bible from their own angles: history, literature, sources, language, theology, and archaeology. No one perspective, however, can encompass and explain biblical texts.

For me, a mystical approach to biblical interpretation entails the discovery and creation of profound meaning in the text. Integrative in nature, it uses a variety of perspectives to understand the contexts and multiple (often ambiguous and conflicting) meanings of passages. We start from the ground up, beginning with small details (word-by-word and even letter-by-letter) as we move through sentences and stories toward apparently hidden and esoteric readings. Usually what we regard as secret or mystical lies in open sight, but seeing it demands close attention and far-reaching awareness of all sorts.

We will initially have a brief review of some basic Hebrew Bible background, including chronology, history, the source hypothesis, and language issues. We will follow this up with a short discussion of how Jews, Christians, and Muslims, as well as non-believers, non-affiliated, and spiritual-but-not-religious, view the Bible. Then we will spend the bulk of our time engaging the text, particularly Genesis 1, and discuss its use in constructing meaning for our lives. No previous background is necessary. Mutual respect is assumed in an atmosphere open to all spiritual, religious, and non-religious points of view.

The workshop is part of a larger series that continues in the Fall. Upcoming dates are as follows (at the same time from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, location to be announced): September 20, October 11, November 8, and  December 13.

The cost of the workshop is $35.00 per person (cash, or check made out to “Mystic Scholar, LLC”), Reserve a place by emailing Dr. Kant at dblk2@qx.net (with “Mystic Scholar” in the subject line). Payment may be made at the door before the workshop. Please read Genesis 1 and 2 beforehand. For further information on the presenter, see the attached CV and bio, as well as the brochure with photos, below.

Dr. Laurence H. Kant
dblk2@qx.net
859-278-3042

 

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Gaza, Israel, and Media Coverage

Why are the global protests all focused on Gaza? Many more are dying in Syria: 700 over a two-day period.

Israel is the bogeyman for world media, but no one gives a hoot if Arabs are slaughtering other Arabs. What does this say about Israel and about antisemitism (yesterday protesters looted and ransacked Jewish businesses in a Paris suburb)?

Part 1: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGING THAT MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS SO EXTENSIVE BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S FAILURE TO AGREE TO A CEASEFIRE

I don’t agree with you that the ceasefire issue is what drives the media.

The reason everyone pays attention to Gaza, and not to Syria, is because no one in the West gives a darn about Arabs and Muslims dying, but they do enjoy scapegoating Jews wherever they are. Whatever problems there are in the Middle East, blame it on the Jews. Now Muslims and Arabs have joined in on this. Take a look at Paris and its suburbs, where protesters have now burned and decimated French Jewish businesses. This is not primarily because of Gaza, but because fundamentally, at root, people blame Jews for whatever problems exists in their communities and cultures.

It’s sad, but it’s a fact. I don’t see a lot of people in Europe attacking Russian churches and community centers, because Russian separatists shot down a passenger jet. Where are the protesters on Iran’s treatment of the Bahai? Israelis are trying to protect their civilian population. You can argue about their tactics and effectiveness, but they do have a good argument based on self-defense.

No, fundamentally, the media and most people are fixated on Jews. This is a 2500-year-old problem, deeply rooted in history and culture. Those of us who devote our lives to working on antisemitism, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, must face this on a daily basis. That’s the reality, and no amount of rationalizations get around this fact.

PART 2: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT EXTENSIVE MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS DUE TO LIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES

a) It’s not just Syria that the media ignores. Last I heard France is pretty good digs for reporters. Yet how much media attention is focused on protesters burning down Jewish shops and businesses, calling Jews “pigs” and shouting “kill the Jews,” vandalizing and storming synagogues, and hunting Jews on the streets? There were similar (though less destructive) events in Germany. I don’t see much on the TV about that. Iran is a police state, but it’s relatively safe to travel in. Where is the attention on the Iranian treatment of the Bahai, who are viciously persecuted and murdered? What about the Iranian treatment of their native Arab population and political dissidents, whom they like to hang from cranes? Where is the attention on the destruction of indigenous communities worldwide (including in the US and Canada) for corporate profit (oil, minerals, gems, whatever)? What about China and Tibet? What about the treatment of women and gays in the Arab/Muslim world? How much media attention is there on that compared to Israel? I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is, the media, and people in general, are obsessed with Jews. Israel is a good proxy for that.

There is one financial factor you did not mention: Israel coverage markets well to a public that is focused on Jews and Judaism. In other words, “Israel” sells. As the newspaper people used to say, “Israel” makes good copy.

That said, I do agree that the safety and cheapness of travel to Israel is a factor in media coverage of Israel. Part of the attraction is also that Israel is a pleasant place to which to travel and a democracy with a free press. There’s just a lot more to it than your explanation.

b) Israel is in the news all the time. The media always has stories about the Palestinian situation–not as intensely as Gaza right now, but these stories are all over the place regularly. They’re hard to miss. I don’t see nearly as much attention on the stuff I describe above as I do on Israel, even when Israel is not involved in a war.

Beyond that, there has been massive violence (with concentrated deaths in short periods of time) in other locations over the past decades with relatively little media attention: Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Ivory Coast. Back in the 1960s through the 1990s we saw hideous numbers of deaths in conflicts in South America, Africa, and East Asia (remember East Timor) without comparable attention. Naturally disasters such as occur in Bangladesh and India attract relatively little attention. These are not all impossible to cover (not as easy as Israel, but not Syria), and yet we saw very little on them. I would not expect the equivalence of Gaza, but I would have expected a lot more than we got.

Somehow the media figured out a way to cover our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Vietnam. The media covered the breakup of Yugoslavia, including Bosnia/Serbia. They covered the Tiannamen Square uprising in China. They gave blanket coverage to the Indonesian tsunami. They focused on the 2009/10 election protests in Iran. In the U.S. the media covered the Tea Party, but much less the Occupy movement.

If it wanted to do so, the media could cover Syria to a greater extent than it has recently. Yes, it’s not easy, and, yes, it’s more expensive. Coverage of Syria would never equal coverage of Gaza, but the media could give Syria much more attention than it has–even without a lot of reporters on the ground. It chooses not to, because Syria, Arabs, and Muslims just don’t hold the attention of the public or of news decision-makers. They’re just not sexy or meaningful to enough people.

I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to give Gaza a lot of attention. And I’m not saying that a Jewish fixation is the only reason the media focuses on Israel/Gaza/West Bank. I am saying that Gaza has attracted much more attention than other stories of similar magnitude and that part of it has to do with the public’s fascination (for both good and ill) with Israel and Jews. I’m also saying that the media picks and chooses what it decides to cover, in part based on what it thinks sells best. And Israel sells real well. And it has since 1948, especially since 1967.

And I can tell you this. Unless a miracle happens soon, stories about Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors will continue to abound (massive deaths or not), while stories about Ukraine and Russia will have long since faded into oblivion. This does have to do with the prominent place of Jews (in spite of their small numbers) and Israel in human culture and history.

c) All in all I just don’t buy this argument. It does not pass the smell test. The amount of coverage on Israel/Palestine (the former British Mandate), a tiny piece of land with a miniscule population of Jews and Arabs is massive and overwhelming, even without the current Gaza conflict. The overwhelming coverage cannot be explained away simply by reference to limited media resources. An alien from another solar system who dropped onto earth and saw the media coverage would assume that Israel/Palestine must comprise a large continent and a major portion of the world’s population. Obviously, that’s not the case. There are other reasons why the public and the media are obsessed with this little slice of our planet. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

d) I do think antisemitism is a major factor, but not the only one. It’s fixation on Jews that’s really at the core here. Even some supporters of Israel are motivated in part by the Bible and by their belief in Jews as part of God’s plan. And there are philosemitic non-Jews who focus on Jews and on Israel for a whole host of reasons. I wouldn’t call that antisemitism, but it does reflect a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Jews and Judaism. So fixation on Judaism is not simply antisemitism, but can actually be philosemitism as well. I would certainly rather have the latter than the former, but even that is a sword cutting more than one way.

I think it would be best for Jews if others would simply live their lives and leave us be. At the same time, I admit that Jews sometimes cultivate this fixation, and I’m certainly uncomfortable with that. There should be dialogue and conversation–not as an attempt to convert or to preach, but in order to learn and grow. I think it’s much better for Christians to become better Christians than to become Jews or something else, and I think it’s much better for Jews to become better Jews than to spend our time distinguishing ourselves from Christians and others.

As for one-sidedness, that’s a red herring. There are lot of one-sided conflicts in the world (some of which I already mentioned above) that do not get the same attention as Israel/Palestine. In Tibet, it’s mostly Tibetans getting killed, not Chinese. In Iran, no government officials get killed, only dissidents and disfavored minorities. In Central America, governments killed rebels and dissidents far more than the latter killed the former. In France, supporters of Israel are not attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators, while Palestinians supporters are engaging in numerous attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Right now in Syria, ISIS seems to be inflicting most of the damage.

Actually, the death toll in Gaza is now over 700 Gazans and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus two civilians. Of course, that’s because Israelis try to protect their civilians, while the goal of Hamas is to have as many civilians as possible killed in order to promote their PR/media campaign. It’s amazing (though sadly not surprising) to me that the media mentions this only in passing or skeptically. Also, we have no way of knowing how many Gazan civilians vs. soldiers are being killed–Hamas is not exactly a trustworthy source for this kind of info.

In any case, the media would do well to spend more time looking more deeply at what’s going on and not simply reporting death numbers as if it’s a football game. From that perspective, however, Hamas is winning. For them the side with the most dead is the victor. So on the media scoreboard, Hamas is currently ahead of Israel, c. 1,058 vs. 53. That’s a lopsided victory for Hamas. I’m sure Hamas’ leaders are thrilled. The culture of death is winning in a landslide over the culture of life.

Perhaps, however, the distancing of other countries from Hamas that I have observed recently is a move in the right direction. That would certainly show some sophistication in not simply accepting Hamas’ explanations at face value. I hope the media will move in that direction as well.

 

PART 3: ON ISRAELI AND ARAB POSITIONS ON A PALESTINE STATE (INCLUDING THOMAS FRIEDMAN WHO WANTS ISRAEL TO FOCUS ON DEVELOPING THE WEST BANK AS A THRIVING DEMOCRACY)

I’m not a fan of Netanyahu and have never supported him or Likud. I’m not sure he’s as opposed to a Palestinian state as you think, but I’m not sure he believes in much of anything–except his own political survival. And I wrote on this blog that most Arab governments don’t want a Palestinian state either: see the same thing here-http://mysticscholar.org/whats-really-going-on-in-the…/

As far as the West Bank goes, Friedman is right in principle, but that’s no easy task either. Fatah is corrupt, inept, and non-democratic, and there is not much of a prospect for more salutary groups or institutions that could take the lead. The West Bank would need a massive shift in culture and outlook for what Friedman suggests to happen. And Arab governments, as well as Iran, have no interest in an autonomous, free, democratic Palestine. They will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. So that leaves essentially a mess for Israel to deal with. Netanyahu is not much of a leader, but I doubt that anyone or any Israeli party could deal with the current state of things. 

So what are the options? What should Israel do in light of all this? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else as far as I can make out. The best I can think of is play a waiting game and hope that the West Bank cleans up its act and that the Arab world develops some kind of democratic institutions (Tunisia??).

As far as handling Hamas, I don’t know what Israel should do. I’m not an Israeli, and I don’t live there. But I know I wouldn’t put up with rockets firing on my land and tunnels with terrorists pouring out. Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with Hamas, but I don’t know what it is, and I haven’t heard anything plausible. Demilitarizing Gaza would make sense, but that seems impossible, given Hamas and given the sentiments of Gazans. 

If you have something practical to suggest, I really would listen–really. But most of what I’ve heard out there is, quite frankly, naive, totally impractical, or simply wrong. I’m waiting–but sometimes, you just have to tread water for a while. 

Friedman can talk and talk, but his ideas are not really pragmatic or feasible; they just sound nice and thoughtful. He’s not really suggesting anything workable, just a lot of hopeful words.

In the meantime, I have to deal with the antisemitism that’s out there and that’s integrally related to the media’s depiction of Israel. France is a mess, and the attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions is reminiscent of Nazi-era events. And this is happening across Europe. The situation is ugly and screwed-up, and the media is making it worse by not explaining what’s going on.

It does bother me that Israel gets singled out for its deplorable conduct, while the other nations you mention get a pass. The BDS movement focuses on Israel, but shows no interest in advocating divestment in other countries with far worse human rights violations (in the Middle East, that would include Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among others). This too is ugly and antisemitic, and the media does not address it at all. When you’re dealing with the detritus of the Holocaust that still remains with us and the burgeoning global antisemitism, this is very disturbing indeed.

 

Part 4: ON ISRAEL LEAVING THE WEST BANK AND THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE THERE

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

PART 5: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT THE CONCEPT OF THE “CHOSEN PEOPLE” AND OF “DIFFERENCE ARE WHAT DRIVE SOME OF THE ANIMOSITY TOWARD ISRAELIS AND JEWS

On the whole “chosen people” business, I rarely hear Jews, including most Israelis, talk about this. Most of the Israeli settlers are looking for suburban plots near Jerusalem and have no interest in theology. There are extreme settlers who talk about the Chosen People (Hebron, for example–and quite a number of them are American immigrants), but they are a small minority, and most Israelis (even religious ones) strongly dislike them.

It’s mostly Christians who talk about Jews as the Chosen People. I’ve led a lot of Jewish study groups, and that topic hardly ever comes us, except in response to Christians. Conservative/Evangelical Christians love the whole “Chosen People” trope and run with it non-stop. They have their own agenda, with end-time theology and mass conversion. Mainline and liberal Christians hate the whole idea of it and complain incessantly about Jewish superiority and tribalism.

Jewish sources talk about the Chosen People, but mostly not with pride. In Jewish tradition, God asked every other people to be the chosen ones, and they all refused. The Jews were the last, and they finally agreed to it–with a lot of complaints that have continued through the centuries. The concept of being “chosen” is not necessarily positive at all, but a burden that Jews are stuck with, forcing them to live difficult lives without much reward.

Even so, most Jews today don’t talk about it much, because it’s not an important part of daily life, of identity, or of practice. It’s mainly Christians (and now Muslims) who obsess over it.

Now, on the concept of “difference,” that’s a different matter. Lots of individuals and groups think of themselves as different. And, in fact, they are.

Teilhard de Chardin (who was a Catholic evolutionary biologist and theologian) had a concept known as the Omega Point, which he believed was the ultimate level of collective consciousness that human beings could attain in the distant future. He thought that collective consciousness depended not on homogeneity, but on hyper-individuality–each person’s authentic uniqueness.

We’re all different, and, yes, we’re all similar too, but Jews focus more on the “difference” part. They’re not the only group to do that. I don’t think that everyone should have to be the same. There should be a place (I hope) on the planet and in the human species for individuals and groups who focus more on difference.

 

ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

 

ON PROSPECTS FOR A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

Actually, believe it or not, I think there will be peace some day. So I’m not pessimistic in the long term. I may be wrong, but, in my view, the Arab/Muslim world will have to move toward a more democratic system of governance before a two-state solution works. That’s going to take time. In spite of its shortcomings, the “Arab Spring” (which is not Spring in some places I realize) was a positive step. Tunisia will be interesting to watch.

Dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians will also help over time. This will not transform the region over night, but it is slowly affecting the situation and will continue to do so..

As for your idea, Ehud Barak offered something similar in 1999. Arafat and the PLO rejected it. It may not have been the right time, and Barak was a terrible negotiator.

Israel did not “seize” Gaza and the West Bank. Israel entered them in 1967 after facing a massive Arab attack. When the Arab world decides to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East (which governments are beginning to), then it will be easier to deal with the logistics of this problem.

On the Arab right of return, this is obviously a thorny issue and will involve compensation. The Palestinians are the only group in the world given “refugee” status after multiple generations of absence from a territory. When the Arab countries expelled Jews after 1948, Israel accepted them as full citizens of the state of Israel. On the other hand, Arab governments forced Palestinians to live in refugee camps and did not integrate them into Arab societies.

Israel will have to deal with this issue financially, but it’s not as one-sided as your words imply. There are two stories here, each having legitimacy: two peoples with two painful histories and competing narratives and claims to the land.

As for Hamas, I’m glad you’re confident in Gaza tossing them out under the right conditions. I’m not. And I don’t think Israelis can assume anything. All I have to do is look at other parts of the Middle East to draw another conclusion.

Nevertheless, at some point, the day will come when a two-state solution can be put into action. I just don’t think that day has arrived yet. Let’s hope it comes soon.

RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE WHO ARGUES THAT ISRAEL IS NOT A DEMOCRACY, COMPARING IT TO ALABAMA 100 YEARS AGO

KantGazaExchange1

On the Barak proposal and the Camp David Summit, most observers (including many Palestinians ones) lay the blame on Arafat–that he never offered a concrete counter-proposal and could not give up on the right of return. In the end, Arafat could not accept a Jewish state on land that he still considered as belonging to the Palestinians. In other words, he was not ready to make a deal–Barak was (even with his weaknesses as a negotiator).

As for democracy, Israel is not a perfect society, and there’s racism and prejudice there, along with at times poor treatment of its Arab population. And, yes, it is a Jewish state, with Jewish governing principles and a Jewish majority.

That said, Arab citizens in Israel have more freedom and rights than they do in almost any Arab/ Muslim society that I can think of. The rights of Arab Israeli women are far higher than in any Arab society. Arab Israelis also have a considerable higher standard of living than in the surrounding societies and can actually be openly gay without being murdered.

In 2011, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion commissioned a poll of Arab residents of Jerusalem. A plurality indicated that, if given the choice, they would choose to live under Israel rather than the PLO and that they thought their neighbors would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship. Most Israeli Arabs vehemently oppose an Israel-Palestine settlement, because they do not wish to live under the PLO. Senior PLO and Hamas leaders (including three sisters of Ishmail Haniyeh, the top leader of Hamas) have sought Israeli ID cards so that they can live in Israel if they choose. Many of them have done so, including Haniyeh’s sisters. (Haniyeh’s sisters currently live as Israeli citizens in the Bedouin town of Tel as-Sabi near Beesheva on the edge of the Negev in Southern Israel; several of their children have served in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF!). I don’t know what the polls are saying now and who is living where and who holds which ID cards, but not all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs view Israel as a authoritarian state (as you suggest). Further, their view of the Israeli government versus the PLO and Hamas is filled with complexity, nuance, and contradictions.

If we consider Germany a democracy or Italy or France or Japan or South Korea (countries that presume ethnic/linguistic/cultural majorities), then Israel is no less a democracy than any of those. Israel believes it has a right to preserve its Jewish character, that Jews need to have a place where they can live without fear of persecution, discrimination, and murder. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or contrary to democratic principles. Perhaps others have a new definition of democracy with which I am unfamiliar.

Would you really compare Israel to Alabama a 100 years ago– lynchings; micegenation laws; separate water fountains, bathrooms, park benches; not to mention effective voting prohibition? Are you sure that you thought this analogy through? I don’t think there are many objective observers who would consider your comparison legitimate or reasonable. You might want to try a new tack.

 

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Being and Becoming in Shabbat

Shabbat closes the weekly circle, being completing becoming.  Then a new curved line swirls outward, moving forward, waiting to meet its sibling at the beginning and at the end, to commence again in an eternally re-forming helix.  This is the 7-day ourobouros, the snake swallowing its tail, shabbat swallowing six days of creation.  We go forward, only to begin again, before the Source swallows us, and life then continues in a new form.  A day, a week, a month, each a re-forming of days, weeks, and months before them.  No different from life, Gilgul:  we are born, we live, we die, rest a while in shabbat, to move gain as new life forms, beings in the midst of becomings.

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A New Day

A NEW DAY
© 2010, Dr. Laurence H. Kant
Essay for the Evolutionary Envisioning Circle of the Annual Great Mother Celebration, September, 2010

A new day emerges, as so many have in millennia past. Once, after we foraged and gathered, we became hunters. Once, after we hunted, we became farmers and shepherds. Once, after we lived in villages and small enclaves, we became city dwellers. Once, after priests and kings ruled, leaders came from the people. Once we did not know what was on the other side of the ocean; now we can not only travel there by boat or jet, but we can be virtually present on other continents when we’re secure at home half a world away. Once we thought that mass violence and genocide were normal; now we don’t. Once we did not even have a word for genocide; now we do.

Each time we move a few steps closer to the land of Eden, where, amidst friendship, dance, love-making, study, and work, we will dine again with God, the Source of All That Is. The sparks of fire that scattered at creation slowly come together to create a flame that lights our world in times of dissolution and chaos. We move from confusion toward knowledge, from fear toward courage, from despair toward hope, from separation toward unity, from pieces toward wholes.

What is wholeness? In Hebrew and Arabic, shalom/salaam connects to a Semitic root that means “whole” and “complete.” Some say “peace,” but that’s only part of the story. In its mystical sense, shalom/salaam really means interconnected oneness. It is that place where difference and oneness coexist, where each being finds its own unique purpose and self-expression as part of one planetary tableau, one eternal poem, one cosmic body, one collective consciousness, one Source.

During the shift, the ego (the I) recedes, and the authentic person emerges from its mother’s womb. The true self, the person You truly are, takes its place in the chariot palace, near the blazing wings of the multi-headed cherubim and the flashing heat of the serpentine seraphim. There it dines with other new-born true selves to seek wisdom in the new Temple of Knowledge and Love. Feminine and masculine energies, whose significance we assumed we understood, reveal unexpected meanings to thinking bodies and heart-filled minds. Days of pleasure and collective communing finally allow a slumbering species to shed its ego hide and put on a healing garment of shared awareness.

What will wholeness mean for evolving human culture? “Conformity” means a mass of individuals forming a collective mega ego (an I). Genuine “community” means a critical mass of individuals building a whole that transcends the individual egos and creates a collective Higher Self.

The events we see on our television sets and computer monitors—boiling, jittery delirium and tumult accompanied by earth’s eruptions, swirling storms, and disappearing ice—signal a shift from one age to the next. There will be many more such shifts in the future. But, for now, at this moment, our twenty-five-hundred-year sojourn at the inn of familiar habits, nations, and institutions has ended. Dying structures make way for new. Another day of travelling begins toward another inn on the road circling back and forward from and toward Eden. Here, in another time long, long ahead, we will be able to eat of both trees—of life and knowledge—but with experience enough to do so as humble partners of the Source, adult co-creators, sharing in the miraculous birthing of new worlds.

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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 http://mysticscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/AverciusText1a.pdf.  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” (http://mysticscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/FishNTTalk1.pdf).

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.

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Rev. Jim Wallis on Government Cuts

As a Jew, I thoroughly share the sentiments of Rev. Jim Wallis.  The TaNaKh and rabbinic tradition command us to take care of the poor and marginalized.  That why we are told not to plough the corners of our fields.  When the Hebrew Bible and the rabbis talk about caring for the needy, they refer to communities and governments.  The structures envisioned in those texts are governmental, and they *require* (not merely suggest) a society take the needy into account.  This tradition does not focus on voluntary acts and association, but on political structures that create a just society.  Those who try to convert these into free-market scenarios, which advocate economic commitments that are solely private, do not understand what the texts actually say.  Those who know the Hebrew and the history should start articulating the true nature of this tradition, which demands that governments protect those in need.

http://blog.sojo.net/2011/03/24/fast-pray-and-act-new-threats-to-the-poor/#disqus_thread

 

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Translations of Genesis

These are examples of my new translations of two small portions of Genesis: © 2007 Laurence H. Kant:  http://mysticscholar.org/talkspubs/translations-of-genesis/

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A Personal View of Kashrut (Kosher)

See Laurence H. Kant, A Personal View of Kashrut,” Opinion, Shalom, September, 2010, p. 11: Kashrut2

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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

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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

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Jewish Inscriptions in Greek and Latin

See Laurence H. Kant, “Jewish Inscription in Greek and Latin,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, 2.20.2:671-713.  Berlin:  Walter de Gruyter, 1987 at the following two links:  JewishInscriptions1JewishInscriptions2

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Ancient Synagogues in Jewish Inscriptions

See my talk:  Laurence H. Kant, “Early Jewish Synagogues in Epigraphic Evidence,” Archaeology of the New Testament World Group, American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, San Francisco, November, 1992: © 1992, Laurence H. Kant, All rights reserved:  SynagogueTalk1

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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

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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

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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.

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The Mistakes the Spies Made in Numbers 13:30-33

What was the mistake the spies made when they scouted the land of milk and honey?  They allowed fear to overcome trust.

What was another mistake the scouts made?  They focused on what others thought rather than on what there were to do.

What was another mistake?  They assumed that size was more important than wits.

What was another mistake? They acted like slaves rather than free persons.

What was another mistake? They were there to figure out how, not whether.

What was another mistake?  They exaggerated rather than coolly assessing.

What was another mistake?  They could not leave the past and move forward.

What was another mistake? They could not envision an alternative to their current situation.  They preferred the familiar and the customary to change.

What was another mistake?  They quit.  They just gave up.

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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”: http://mysticscholar.org/about-mystic-scholar/translations-of-genesis-by-larry/

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“Some Restorative Thoughts on an Agonizing Text: Abraham’s Binding of Isaac and the Horror on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22)”

By Laurence H. Kant

1) “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

2) “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)

AqedahArticlePart1a; AqedahArticlePart2a; and AqedLacocqueResp1

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Mystic Scholar study in spirituality

I am reflecting on the fundamental shift away from institutional religion. It affects every religion and every religious community globally: churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. It cuts across the ideological and political spectra. As educational attainment increases, so does disaffection with traditional religious modalities. Yet the vast majority of people still seek to explore the fundamental questions of existence, matters of ultimate concern (as Tillich says), interconnectedness, community, ethics, and love and relationships. Why are so many religious institutions unable or unwilling to address the hunger for meaning and purpose that so many yearn for?

Looking forward to commenting in the future on these topics.

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Women and Temple Priesthood

In fact, there’s some evidence from antiquity that suggests that there were Jewish women who may have served as priests in the Graeco-Roman period (for example diaspora Jewish inscriptions). Obviously this goes against the heavy weight of rabbinic tradition, but I bet that there is evidence in rabbinic texts to suggest something similar (probably when a rabbi criticizes some other practice)–I need to look into this some time. Is it possible also that some of the women (Sarah) in Genesis functioned as priests, but then that tradition was reinterpreted by the biblical writers? Controversial, but I would not rule it out.

In any case, whatever the technical sense of priesthood in modern contexts, Jews reformulated priestly and Temple practices into home and synagogue life after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. So a woman who lights the Shabbat candles functionally takes the place of a priest.

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A Personal View of Kashrut

A PERSONAL VIEW OF KASHRUT

Laurence H. Kant
Kosher observance entails many things. Each Jew who considers himself or herself to be “observant” calibrates the areas and degrees of that observance.

There are many theories about kashrut’s origins—anthropological, sociological, moral, health-related. Torah doesn’t offer any explicit reason other than God’s command.  Presumably, there are many factors. I’m more interested, however, in the outcomes of the practice than its origins.

“Keeping kosher” is commonly associated with not eating pork and shellfish, but it was my evangelical Christian naturopath who convinced me to avoid both pigs and shellfish because they have inefficient digestive systems and retain toxins and allergens. I realized that kosher observance may have given Jews an adaptive advantage in terms of well-being and longevity, since our circulatory, neural, lymphatic, and digestive systems are healthier than those of others who eat toxin-filled foods.
There may be health reasons for separating meat and dairy, too. Vegans don’t consume dairy products (along with meat), and there are naturopathic reasons for avoiding dairy, particularly homogenized/pasteurized milk products.  Many naturopaths believe that the process of producing dairy products damages the food, making people less able to absorb nutrients. There’s also a view that eating meat and dairy together makes our bodies less able to break down foods in our digestion than if we ate them separately, clogging our systems and raising cholesterol levels.
Beyond health, there are other reasons for maintaining kosher awareness. For one thing, it makes consumers and eaters more conscious of what they ingest. (My wife has long quipped that “organic” is the New Age “kosher.”)

Keeping kosher is what Jews have always done and are commanded to do. While that’s not enough for me, I originally stopped eating pork in order to maintain my connection to my ancestors and my tradition. I think there’s value in doing so.

There’s another reason that’s difficult for non-Jews to understand. Kosher and Sabbath observance have always distinguished Jews from others. Being different is part of what it means to be Jewish. Jews are, frankly, notoriously contrarian (even enjoying breaking their own rules) and don’t follow the crowd.  The Jewish path is a less traveled one.

This “otherness” gives us a different perspective and allows us to see connections others don’t. It’s what has allowed Jews to help make the world a better place. Look at the Jewish Nobel prizewinners, artists, and humanitarians—well beyond the miniscule percentage of Jews in the population. Sadly, this very habit of life and mind that has advanced the world is what offends non-Jews and makes non-Jews suspicious of us. Despite this, Jews (religious and secular) continue to live distinctively, often without realizing they’re doing so.

I don’t view Judaism as solely a religion, but rather as a way and philosophy of life that has made one people take an “alternate route” for three millennia.  For me, what distinguishes Jews isn’t the obvious, but an array of things that most don’t notice. These include non-religious elements, such as pursuit of learning, challenging authority, taking pleasure in debate, love of good food, and humor. Jews have, and will, adopt the cultural influences around us. One of the distinctive characteristics of Jews has been our capacity to adapt what it means to be Jewish and still remain Jews. We’re protean, able to take on different roles and appearances, but still keep a Jewish perspective and way of life, wherever we go. That’s what continues to make me Jewish—not dietary law, per se.

I value thinking about food and believe that kashrut encourages this. My personal understanding of kashrut isn’t very traditional.  For me, kosher dietary practice means being conscious of food, how it’s grown, raised, and prepared, and where it comes from.  It also includes the humane treatment of animals. Organic practices are a form of kashrut for me, and I consider free-range/non-hormonal chickens more truly kosher than chickens prepared according to rabbinical standards. If I could easily obtain and afford kosher/free range/non-hormonal chickens, I would prefer them.

That’s my highly idiosyncratic understanding of kashrut: it preserves ancient traditions that possess great wisdom, and, together with modern organic foods, it makes sense to me.

Published in Shalom,  September,  2010,  p. 11

© Laurence H. Kant 2010

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Origins of Gnosticism

A friend of mine asked me about the origins of Gnosticism. Not everyone agrees on the origins of Gnosticism. The term itself is disputed, because many do not even believe that there is a coherent phenomenon called “Gnosticism.” Of those who do accept the idea of “Gnosticism,” there are some who see it as a second century C.E. Christian movement, but there are others who see it as first a Jewish movement (this is my view). And there are others who see Gnosticism as a kind of “pagan” (whatever that means) philosophical spirituality. Take your pick. It all depends on how one defines “Gnosticism,” I guess. My favorite sourcebook for Gnosticism is, Bentley Layton, Gnostic Scriptures (Anchor Bible Library).

For a comprehensive view of Gnosticism as a Christian movement, see Simone Petrement, A Separate God. For the Jewish origin view, see Guy Stroumsa, Another Seed; also Carl Smith, No Longer Jews. From my point of view, if you look at a text like the Apocryphon of John, for example, this essentially reads as a Jewish text. For Jews living in the Hasmonean and Roman periods, there was constant apocalyptic ferment and messianic crisis–even more so after the destruction of the Temple in 70. The Gnostic view makes sense in such a context. Elisha ben Abuya was not the only Jew to have speculated about a “second God” (hence his nickname, “Aher,” “other”); that kind of speculation can be found in one form or another in Jewish mystical texts in antiquity right through the Kabbalah and Lurianic mysticism. The Christian theory really only works if you define “Gnosticism” in certain terms, thereby making it Christian. I can define pretty much anything into existence by using that kind of logic. It’s like putting on blinders, and then saying that anything you could see without the blinders are really figments.

My own view is that Jews had more widespread influence on non-Jews during the Graeco-Roman period than is generally understood. “Pagans” may have picked up some of the ideas from Jews (as magical papyri seem to indicate). and that could have been one of the avenues that Jewish gnostic ideas traveled to Christianity. Also, as Jews,some early Christians would have received these ideas directly from Jewish tradition.

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Horned Moses

The reason Moses has horns here and in other art works is because Exodus 34:29-35 describes Moses’ face as “qaran,” which is normally translated as “radiant” or “shining.” The Septuagint (Greek Bible) translates it this way. But Hebrew “qaran” also looks and sounds like “qeren,” which means “horn.” The Latin Vulgate version (4th cent. CE) of the Bible translates the description of Moses’ face as “horned” (cornuta). Because of the influence of the Latin Vulgate in European Christianity, the “horned” Moses became the predominant image of Moses in Europe.

I don’t believe that there was anything originally antisemitic in this interpretation, because there are scholars (including Jewish ones) who recognize the possibility of “QRN” as having something to do with “horns.” I’m not even sure that “horned” is a complete mistranslation. Later the reference to horns became part of a stereotypical antisemitic myth, when the horned Moses morphed into the horned Jew. There may still be some in rural areas in the US who believe that Jews have horns. I once jokingly told someone that the reason Jews don’t show their horns is because they’re retractable. We press a button to make them come out.

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Jewish Contract with God

From an e-mail I received

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To: The Lord G-d Almighty a.k.a. Ha’shem, Shadai, Elohim, etc.

From: The Jews: a.k.a. The Chosen People

Subject: Termination of Contract/Special Status (Chosen People)

As you are aware, the contract made between You and Abraham is up for
renewal, and this memorandum is to advise You that after, yea, those many
millennia of consideration, we, the Jews (The Chosen People) have decided
that we really do not wish to renew.

We should point out immediately that there is nothing in writing, and, contrary to popular beliefs, we (The Jews) have not really benefited too much from this arrangement. If You go back to the early years of our  arrangement, it definitely started off on the wrong footing. Not only was  Israel and Judea invaded almost every year, but we also went to enormous expense to erect not one but two Temples, and they
were both destroyed. All we have left is a pile of old stones called the Western Wall (of course You know all this, but we feel it’s a good thing to account for all the reasons we wish to terminate the contract).

After the Hittites, Assyrians, Goliaths, etc, not only were we beaten up almost daily, but then we were sold off as slaves to Egypt, of all countries, and really lost a few hundred years of development. Now, we realize that You went to a great deal of trouble to send Moses to lead us out of Egypt, and those poor Egyptian buggers were smitten (smote?)with all those plagues. But, reflecting on those years, we are  at a loss to understand why it took almost forty years to make a trip that El Al now does in 75 minutes.

Also, while not appearing to be  ungrateful, for years a lot of people have asked why Moses led us left  instead of right at Sinai? If we had gone right, we would have had the oil!

OK, so the oil was not part of the deal, but then the Romans came and we really were up to our necks in dreck. While it’s true that the Romans did give us water fit to drink, aqueducts, and baths, it was very disconcerting to walk down one of the vias, look up, and see oneof your friends or family nailed to a three-by-four looking for all the world like a sign post. Even one of our princes, Judah Ben Hur got caught up with Roman stuff and drove like a crazy man around the Coliseum. It’s a funny thing but many people swore that Ben Hur had an uncanny resemblance to Moses…go figure.

Then, of all things, one of our rabbis (teachers) declared himself “Son of You” (there was nothing said about this with Abe) and before we knew what was what, a whole new religion sprang up. To add insult to injury,
we were dispersed all over the world two or three times while this new religion really caught on! We were truly sorry to hear that the Romans executed him like so many others, but, …alas, (and this will make you
laugh,) once again WE were blamed.

Now here’s something we really don’t understand. That our rabbi really came into his own. Millions of people revered and worshipped his name and scriptures. ….. and still killed us by the millions. They claimed we drank the blood of new born infants, and controlled the world banks (Oy! if only that were so.) We could have bought them all off, and operated the world’s media and so on and so on. Are we beginning to make our point here?

OK so let’s fast-forward a few hundred years to the Crusades. Hoo boy! Again we were caught in the middle! They, the lords and knights, came from all over Europe to smack the Arabs and open up the holy places, but before we knew what hit us, they were killing us right, left, and center along with everyone else. Every time a king or a pope was down in the opinion polls, they called a crusade or holy war, and went on a killing rampage in our land.

Today it’s called Jihad. OK, so You tested us a little there, but then some bright cleric in Spain came up with the Inquisition. We all thought it was a new game show, but once again we and, we must admit, quite a few others were used as firewood for a whole new street lighting arrangement in major Spanish cities.

All right, so that ended after about a hundred years or so… in the scheme of things not a long time. But every time we settled down in one country or another, they kicked us out! So we wandered around a few hundred years or so, but it never changed. Finally we settled in a few countries but they insisted we all live in ghettoes…no Westchesters or Moscow for us. There we are in the ghettoes, when what do you know? The Russians come up with the Pogroms. We all thought they made a spelling mistake and misspelled programs, but we were dead wrong (no pun intended). Apparently, when there was nothing else for them to do, killing
the Jews (a.k.a. The Chosen People, are You getting our drift?) was the in thing.

Now comes some really tough noogies. We were doing quite well, thank You, in a small European country called Germany, when some house painter wrote a book, said a few things that caught on and became
their leader….whoo boy what a bad day that was for us…You know…Your Chosen People. We don’t really know where You were in the earth years 1940 to 1945. We know everyone needs a break now and then…..even Lord G-d Almighty needs some time off. But really…when we needed You most, You were never around. You are probably aware of this, but if You have forgotten, over six million of Your Chosen People, along with quite a few unchosen others, were murdered. They even made lampshades out of our skins. Look, we don’t want to dwell on the past, but it gets worse!

Here we are, it’s 1948, and millions of us are displaced yet again, when You really pull a fast one. We finally get our own land back! Yes!!! After all these years, You arrange for us to go back… then all the
Arab countries immediately declare war on us. We have to tell You that sometimes Your sense of humor really eludes us. Ok, so we win all the wars, but it’s now 2006 and nothing’s changed. We keep getting blown up, hijacked, and kidnapped. We have no peace whatsoever.

Enough is enough. So, we hope that You understand that nothing’s forever (except You of course) and we respectfully would like to pull out of our verbal agreement vis-a -vis being Your chosen people. Look, sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.  Let’s be friends over the next few eons and see what happens. How about this? We’re sure You recall that Abraham had a whole other family from Ishmael (the ones who got the oil). How about making them Your chosen people for a few thousand years?

Respectfully,

The Commitee To Be UN-Chosen

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The Text of the Hebrew Bible Was Not Permanently Fixed

Recently Oxford University Press published a book, which looks of great interest.  Though I have not yet read it and cannot vouch for it, the author presents a thesis that alerts us all (scholars and lay both) to the proverbial elephant in the room:  B. Barry Levy, Fixing God’s Torah:  The Accuracy of the Hebrew Bible Text in Jewish Law (New York, Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001).  For text critics (those who work with the original manuscripts) and those who read them, knowledge of the biblical text’s fluidity comes as no surprise.  From biblical versions found at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls) and from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), from the second century BCE to the first century CE, we know that the biblical text varied from source to source.  Yet, most of us still work and study  “as if” the Masoretes got it absolutely right in the Middle Ages:  we have the correct text.  Now Barry Levy apparently shows that the rabbis of antiquity did not even agree on the notion of an immutable text and recognized the need to “correct” the text.  He provides a plethora of evidence.  Wow.  That’s kind of an earthquake.  Even the very traditional rabbinic tradition seemingly acknowledged that the text of the Torah was not permanently fixed.  Should provide for lots of lively discussion.

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Free-Range Chickens and Ethics

This is in response to a group discussion in our congregation on organic foods.

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Something positive and good has come out of this discussion of chickens.  We have learned that people are deeply responsive to the issue of meat consumption.  Unlike abortion, stem cells, capital punishment, even war, this topic strikes all of us at a gut, personal level.  We may not all have the unfortunate experience of dealing with a murderer or an unwanted pregnancy, but obviously we all to have to eat on a regular basis.  So this is a dilemma we cannot avoid facing.  And nobody wants to feel like a bad person; we all want to think we’re good, decent, nice people.

Yet, the reality is that we are all–everyone of us–implicated in the cultural activities of the broader society in which we live.  There is no getting around that.  Torah has long explained that every Jew sins not just as an individual, but as part of the greater Jewish and human community.  No matter what we do, we are engaged in activities that are harmful to other beings and to the earth itself.  That’s simply the nature of humanness.  What we should do, I think, is not try to be perfect (that’s plainly impossible), but to try to reduce the harm we do and to transform negative actions into positive ones.

Historically, laws of kashrut slaughtering were much more humane than slaughtering practices found in neighboring cultures.  And part of the motivation (though not all) for these laws probably stemmed from concern for the well-being of animals.  But times have changed, and we live in a different world since the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century.  Like others today, kosher butchers engage in the factory industry of chicken slaughtering (though kosher butchers are more humane than the large corporate industry giants).  It is this assembly-line, industrial system that has caused new, inhumane practices to be adopted by most large slaughtering houses.  Our dilemma is:  Do we pay more for humane slaughtering practices, or do we pay the lowest possible price?  Of course, we all have to make that decision for ourselves, and no one is wrong who decides to pay a lower price.  Every day we make these kinds of decisions in countless, little ways, and I imagine that each one of us comes to different conclusions, depending on the issue.

For me eating free-range chickens means that we are inflicting less pain and suffering on other sentient beings.   We are also forcing poultry producers to adopt more humane and healthy practices. This is tikkun olam.   Do I always do this?  Honestly, no.  Do I try to?  Yes.  Why?  Because it is the right thing to do.  We all do the best we can, knowing that we can still cause harm.  That’s the complexity of our human existence.

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Name of God (not G-d)

The name of God in Hebrew is yod-heh-waw-heh, with no vowel points, i.e. the Tetragrammaton (“four letters”).  Originally, that word would have had vowel points, but we don’t know what they are for sure.  In order to avoid saying the name of God, the Jews of antiquity changed the vowel points and said “adonai” (“Lord”) instead.  Now we have others who simply say “ha-Shem” (“the name”) which makes sense because yod-heh-waw-heh is in fact the name of God.  But the name of “God” for Jews is “yod-heh-waw-heh,” not “God.”  The word for “God” in Hebrew is “Elohim.”   Thus:  “Elohim” = the concept of God; “yod-heh-waw-heh” = the name of God.  Some have started to spell the word, “God” in the form of “G-d,” equating this with the Hebrew.  This is English, however, and “God” is not a Hebrew word.  There is no need to use the spelling, “G-d,” which in fact communicates the misimpression that “God” is also a Jewish name–it’s not.  The name of God is and has always been “yod-heh-waw-heh.”  The word, “God” is not the equivalent of “yod-heh-waw-heh,” but rather “Elohim.”  In my opinion, “G-d” is a misnomer.

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Judaism and Social Action I

This is an email response to a friend of mine:

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I enjoyed your essay. There’s a lot there that makes sense. I think you’re right about the importance of “separation” and binary opposition. Have you read the work of the structural anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, on this general subject? He bases his theory primarily on the work of structural linguistics and its application in the study of kinship patterns. The anthropologist, Mary Douglas, has a lot to say as well (particularly in her book, “Purity and Danger”). Most recently, Saul Olyan has written a book that you might find interesting and relevant: “Rites and Rank: Hiearchy in Biblical Representations of Cult” (Princeton, 2000). I have not seen or read it, but he apparently deals with these issues in detail.

On the issue of polarity in Christianity, you definitely make a good point about the centrality of evil, the consequent concern for preventing it, and the resultant tragedies that have occured. Yet, it is also true that Christianity is fundamentally different from Zoroastrian religion in at least one respect. Christianity does not posit an equal force of evil (the devil) in the universe that is on a par with God (good). Gnostics, Mandaeans, and even some Jews (Elisha ben Abuya) may have done this, but not the mainstream Christian tradition as it has come down. Original sin is a human creation (Adam and Eve), not directly part of the original creation of God. So Christian views of evil are actually rather complex.

At the same time, Judaism was certainly influenced by Zoroastrian religion. The notions of an afterlife, physical resurrection, and paradise may all have part of their origin in Zorastrianism. And the Christian idea of a “devil” figure comes from Judaism! Satan occurs in Job, and in later intertestamental Jewish texts, Satan appears as an opponent of God. Many Jews have had, and continue to have, a preoccupation with evil forces in the universe. Evil is not an exclusively Christian concern, though I think you’re right that Christians may emphasize it somewhat more than Jews, especially as an abstract concept or force in the universe. You’re also right that Christians tend to place evil outside of ourselves and the world than have Jews. And your point about entropy and original sin is excellent.

Yet, I do believe that we Jews have had our own preoccupations as well and that this has led to our own process of externalization: unclean and clean, pure and impure, especially. While traditional Judaism has not posited “sin” as an outside force, we have tried to keep “impurity” and “uncleanliness” outside of our environments. Some have gone to great lengths to achieve this. Judaism has tended to envision these disturbing elements not in theological terms, but rather in ritual terms.

As for “gemilut hasadim,” I think “acts of mercy” or “acts of compassion” is a translation that does not quite catch the depth of this phrase. “Rahamim” usually translates “mercy,” and that’s what most translators have used. “Hesed” can mean “kindness, “love,” “affection,” “piety,” and more. “ahabah” refers to the concept of love, particularly between human beings (whether that of friendship or family). It’s a very common word in Hebrew. “Lovingkindness” is an English attempt at trying to convey two of the connotations of “hesed”: “love and “kindness.” I think “hesed” includes the quality of humaneness associated with the Yiddish word (from German) for a real human being, “Mensch”: Somebody who goes above and beyond their apparent obligations to take the pain, suffering (and joy!) of others into their hearts. It is a concern for others that includes an awareness of our fundamental connectedness to one another.

The noun, “gemilut,” comes from the Hebrew verb, “gamal”: “to do good/evil,” “to reward,” “repay,” “ripen,” “wean.” “Gemilut” is not used in the Bible, however, and we are not certain of its original meaning. It is my hunch that “gemilut” conveys a sense of “ACTION,” EDUCATION (broadly speaking), and also of “MORAL OBLIGATION`.” So “gemilut hasadim” is a moral imperative to love your neighbors, helping them when they need it and sharing in their joy: clothing the naked, feeding the starving, healing the sick, comforting the bereaved and the depressed, celebrating weddings, rejoicing in other’s successes, adding positive energy to the world. It’s that force of goodness in the world that maintains our existence, as Simeon the Righteous implied when he said, “On three things, the world stands: the Torah, worship, and acts of lovingkindness.”

So “gemilut hasadim” definitely calls us to act on behalf of others, including social action. As to the specifics of “sweatshops,” you have made some very good points. This is not an easy issue. Even so, I think, for example, we have an obligation to stand up for what we believe. If we believe that it is inappropriate and immoral for children to work full-time for low pay at factories which produce our clothing, we have an obligation to say so and work toward another means of production. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, industrialists and free market theorists offered the same arguments when they faced popular opposition to child labor. Yet, though the content of the arguments had changed, the assumptions have remained more or less the same since antiquity: cheap labor allows the production of more goods at a lower cost and greater profit.

But we decided to pursue another course, eventually resulting in a system of compulsory education for children. In fact, this gave us the skilled labor that allowed us to create the powerful economic engines characteristic of Western nations. I think we have the obligation to encourage other countries to take a similar course–to use the incentives at our disposal in order to produce more just societies. Do we want societies riven by the division of the population into small wealthy classes and large poor classes? I don’t think so. What threatens our national security? I believe it is no longer large armies, but rather unstable nations, much of whose populations live in poverty, illiteracy, poor health, and consequent despair. This produces terrorism, jingoistic nationalism, mass emigrations, environmental disasters, population explosions, drug economies, antagonism to the U.S. and the West, etc. It’s not just a moral or economic issue, but one of national security. By discouraging child labor and by encouraging education, we have the chance to see the formation of nations with dynamic middle classes and more powerful economies. In other words, we will have a more productive and safer world. At least, I hope so.

I’m by no means an expert on this, but it seems to me that the moral call to social action and economics actually conspired to create what we have now. Does it always work out this way? No. Do good intentions sometimes lead to bad results? Yes. Can bad intentions actually at times produce good results? Yes. Can good people disagree about a moral course of action? Of course. In fact, the discussion itself may produce an awareness and a plan of action that would not have otherwise existed.

I believe, however, that “Gemilut hasadim” does call us to take action on behalf of others, including those we don’t even know in parts of the world we may never have visited. We may make mistakes, but that does not mean we should avoid putting ourselves in the world. Not to do so is (in my opinion) an error and misses the thrust of “gemilut hasadim.”

Thank you for thinking about these issues so deeply. Your essay should help us all. I know it’s helped me. I think you’re absolutely right about God and the holocaust. We spend too much time thinking about God’s intentions and not enough looking at our own actions and foibles. Also, I had never thought about entropy in such positive terms as you put it. You really changed my view there Perhaps entropy is a gift that God has given us. Hmm . . .

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