Sunday, June 19, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible -- part 4

First a note to my dear friends in cyberspace. Until very recently, I was working with goose quill pens and carrier pigeons. Until recently, I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer. I write these fulminations for the parish bulletin. I really have nothing to do with my blog spot and not a lot to do with my website. Some very unbalanced people, who actually read what I write, have taken it on themselves to create these spaces, and, though I suspect that their doctors should increase their medications, I am very grateful to them.

Some people have asked why I don’t respond to bloggers. I have tried but I can’t seem to figure out how to do it. I read the comments and am very grateful for them, most of them. I try to answer all the E-mails I get from the column and the radio show, but sometimes I just get a sinking feeling and start humming “Nearer My God to Thee.” By the way, if you are really a glutton for punishment, you can hear my sermons at the St. Lambert’s Parish, (Skokie) web site and one can hear any “Go Ask Your Father” show at the archives of Relevant Radio. Just google in Relevant Radio, click on the archives at the home page, then click on Go Ask Your Father. A calendar will pop up. Then you click on the show you want to hear. You can also hear Fr. Rocky and Monsignor Swetland who are both truly smart people and who, unlike your friend, the Rev. Know it all, don’t have to make things up. While you’re at the Relevant Radio Web site, you might as well listen to the whole bunch like Sean and Drew and Sheila and Wendy. They are an amazing bunch.

Humor aside, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to those who make these columns so widely available, especially the webmaster, Jim Frommeyer. He’s the only one whose name I actually know. May it be for the glory of God, the salvation of souls and the up building of the Church.

You are in my prayers,
Fr. S

Part 4


There are some very troubling numbers in the Bible. First of all we have the ages of the patriarchs: Adam 930; Seth 912; Enosh 905; Kenan 910; Mahalalel 895; Jared 962; Enoch did not even die, but, like our Blessed Mother and the Prophet Elijah was assumed into Heaven) Methuselah 969; Lamech 777; Noah 950; Abraham 175; Isaac 180; Jacob 147 ;Moses 120.

James Ussher , the Protestant Archbishop of Ireland in 1625, published a chronology that established the date of the creation as the night preceding Sunday, 23 October 4004 BC, by making creative use of the ages of the patriarchs and the Julian calendar. I suppose October 22nd/23rd is as good a date as any to have a happy birthday party for the planet.

Another problem is that 6,000,000 Jews left Egypt in the Exodus, according to some estimates 2,000,000.) The estimated population of Egypt at the time was between 2 and 5 million. Certainly 6,000,000 people, even 2,000,000 people would not have had to worry about Pharaoh and his chariots. They would have simply walked over them. So what’s with all the numbers? Are you expecting me to believe that at a certain point in history, numbers just settled down and behaved? Or before that, did people just do things in a bigger way?

Calm down. Have you ever heard of gematria? Of course not. (Unless you are the pop singer Madonna or are a Jewish Kabballist.) Gematria is the Hebrew system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase. This comes from the fact that words can have numerical value in certain languages such as Greek and Hebrew. Those languages didn’t have numerals. They used letters instead of numbers, a =1, b=2 c=3, d=4 and so on.

Were we to do this in English, the word “dad” would add up to 9 (4+1+4). So, if I wrote my mother that I had 9 worries, it might be a poetic way to say that I was worried about my father. Or it might just mean I was worried about nine things. A common Jewish example of gematria is the Hebrew word “Khai” (life), which is composed of two letters which add up to 18. This has made 18 a special number among Jews, and gifts in multiples of 18 are very common among Jews.

The Greek Language can do the same thing, though I don’t know that the Greeks themselves did this sort of thing. We get our tedious scientific attitude from them and I suspect that for them a number was just a number. Greek speaking Jews, of whom the early Church was in large part composed, would have been aware of gematria meanings.

The most famous New Testament gematria comes from the book of Revelation, 13:18 “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” The Hebrew letters that spell out the Greek name Nero Caesar add up to 666!!! Hollywood has made a fortune with 666 and no one wants that number as part of their address or telephone number or anything else for that matter. It was probably just a coded reference to the emperor Nero. Big deal. So, from all of this we can gather that Bible numbers can have literal or symbolic meanings.

So what do all the old geezers in the beginning of the Bible mean? It would seem that longevity declined the farther away we get from humanity’s original state of perfection in the Eden. Things just got worse and worse until God finally smacked us with a flood “ Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." (Genesis 6:3) Moses, Abraham, Sarah and a few others got a longevity pass, because they were good enough to be numbered among the patriarchs, but that was it. My point here is that the ages of the patriarchs may be symbols of their virtue and/or importance in the divine plan. I remember a modern day example of a symbolic number value.

When I was a boy, we did not eat yogurt, unless we came from Greenwich Village in New York and were communists. Mother would have said “Throw that milk out it’s spoiled. Just smell it!” There was no market for yogurt in the United States. So some clever entrepreneurs decided to create a market for the stuff and make a fortune.

They aired these wonderful commercials about old people from some place in the Caucasus mountains called Reelibadistan or something like that. These were people claiming to be older than dirt, and they looked the part. They were 150 years old and still climbing trees. And they gave all the credit to the fact they ate yogurt about 12 times a day. Americans who think of themselves as hard bitten realists all ran out and bought yogurt. A much appreciated Christmas gift during those heady times was a home yogurt making kit. I am amazed more people did not poison themselves. Frozen yogurt, low fat yogurt, fruit flavored yogurt, yogurt coated peanuts, yogurt granola bars, yogurt and wood chips. We are still eating yogurt and pretending to like it. Why? Because all those folks in Reelibadistan could climb tree at the age of 150. America -- a nation of clear and objective thinkers.

Where was I? Oh yes. A few years back, some researchers made the trek back to Reelibadistan to see what had become of those 150 year-old tree climbers. They were all as dead as stones by that time and the locals had no idea what the researchers were talking about. The researchers researched and found that the original yogurt eaters had never been older than a hundred. In fact they most of them were 60 or 70. They looked as old as rocks, because life in Reelibadistan is, in fact, really bad. No one there, back in the late sixties, knew how old anybody was. They didn’t bother to keep records.

So why had they claimed to be ancient? Because old age was considered honorable. To say that someone was 150 years old was, in effect, to say that they were old enough to have gained that much wisdom and virtue. This is nonsense to people like us who treasure immaturity and where 50 year old men sometimes wear baseball caps backwards. The Reelibadistanians had no idea what was going on. They just knew that these weirdos from America were taking their picture and paying them to eat yogurt. What’s not to like?

So here is Biblical principal #5:


Maybe Methuselah was just very, very holy or maybe he actually lived to be 969 years old. It doesn’t matter to the story. That’s one of those questions that I am going to ask when I get to heaven. I am planning to go visit Methuselah a few days after the resurrection. First I am planning to visit the Blessed Mother and ask about the brothers and sisters of Jesus. I am sure she is a really good cook. You are welcome to join me.

In the Bible you are reading history from the perspective of 4000 years ago, and they told stories differently than we do. The point is to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying by means of the story. Perhaps you have heard me say that some of us have the souls of poets and others have the souls of appliance repairmen. If you are not satisfied with this answer and you want the Biblical historical perspective to be more scientific, more modern, more American, well just go eat some yogurt and climb a tree. (What a shame that Methuselah didn’t make an even thousand. We were all hoping)


1 comment:

  1. Father, as one of the unbalanced people who follows this blog assiduously, I would like to thank you and the unbalanced people who make this possible.

    I’m sure I don’t have the soul of a poet and it’s doubtful that I have the soul of an appliance-repairman. A major undertaking for me would be replacing a washer on a tap! That would be a ‘faucet’ to those of you not from Ireland or England. Which is why the old joke “What’s the cure for water on the brain?” Answer: “A tap on the head” – doesn’t fly here in the US – which is a little surprising as everyone here in the Midwest knows what “tap-beer” is…

    Anyway Father, thanks again to you and the others for brightening my day and enlightening my mind. Keep ‘em coming!