A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

American culture

Biblical Delebs

This week, 60 Minutes ran a piece on firms that represent delebs:  dead celebrities.  Turns out there’s a big business in merchandising Elvis, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and the most recognizable face of our time, Albert Einstein.


As one firm explained, it’s a lot easier to make money on dead celebrities than the living.  There’s no need for damage control after your client goes into rehab, tweets something stupid around the globe, or steals Taylor Swift’s moment in the spotlight.  Marilyn Monroe’s agent doesn’t have to worry that Ms. Sexy willl get fat or wrinkled.  James Dean’s doesn’t lose sleep wondering how to repackage Mr. Rebellious if a stroke leaves him in need of round-the-clock care. Both have ceased being moving, changing human beings and have been reduced to a one word brand.

In some ways, the same is true for biblical characters: dead and reduced to single-word attributes.  Abraham the Faithful.  Jacob the Trickster. Jephthah’s daughter the Victim.  Ruth the Loyal. Daniel the Faithful. Thomas the Doubter.  Peter the Hothead. Mary Magdalene the Fallen.


But biblical characters have some things going for them that most delebs don’t.  One, a lot of people really, really care about the “real” story of their lives.  Biblical scholars and fiction writers make careers pitching new biographies of the biblically famous, trying to change people’s minds about Moses and Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Moreoever, these delebs come to us through books, in stories. They may have been real people (some, maybe not) but they are primarily literary characters, ones that can be discussed and argued about.  Readers have a way of always finding something new in stories, finding new connections between the words on the page and their own lives.

Mainly, though, biblical delebs don’t have exclusive agents. As much as interpreters may claim that theirs is the only authentic portrait of the past, no one firm or person owns rights to these stories.  Even though Hebrew University of Jerusalem receives the proceeds from the marketing of Albert Einstein’s image, Abraham or Peter haven’t made those who claim to be their heirs rich. But the open source status of biblical characters has helped keep them talked about, argued about, and studied by the faithful and skeptics alike.   Now, that’s real fame.

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Daily Racism

Was Joe Wilson racist when he shouted “you lie!” to President Obama?  Are supporters of Obama too quick to dismiss honest criticism of the President’s policies as knee-jerk racism?

In the American conversation about race, it’s easy to focus on the big public arguments, the stuff that makes it into the few remaining newspapers and gets pinged across the globe on the internet.  It’s too easy to forget the daily indignities that people face because of perceptions that they are different from the (assumed) norm.

Here are links to two sites that testify to the painfulness of being different.

  • The other is the blog “stuff white people do,” written by mason d who self-describes as a “I’m a white guy, trying to find out what that means. Especially the ‘white’ part.”  I found mason d’s blog through the facebook linkings of Prof. Wil Galney.  Thanks for the postings, Wil.
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Trying to Understand a Ripped Jesus

I’ve never thought of Jesus as meek and mild, but I also never imagined Jesus the way I saw him depicted on a billboard in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a few years ago.



Ever since I saw this billboard, I’ve been curious about its origin, whether it’s unique or part of a genre, etc.

But I’ve never taken up the task of researching it.  So instead I’m asking folks around the world.  Have you ever seen billboards or other public depictions of Jesus like this? Know anything about its origin?  Those of you who’ve been to Myrtle Beach lately, is it still there?  Do you know who paid for its display?

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On Being an Adult (Woman)

My daughter turns 21 today. In contemporary American culture, that’s a significant milestone. As of today, she can drink alcohol legally and the cost of her car insurance decreases significantly. She’s very excited about the former and I about the latter, but I’m sure there are other legal dimensions of turning 21 that neither of us has thought about yet.


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When Words Change "Their" Meanings

I am a grammar snob.  While I don’t grade seminary students on the mechanics of writing, I do mark infelicities of English style and insist that communicating clearly is a matter of courtesy as well as a defense against being misunderstood.   “I don’t know what you’re thinking unless you can explain it to me”  has become my mantra. Continue reading

The Bible as Instructions

As long as the word “Bible” is used to mean “definitive” or “instructions,” is there any hope people will read it for its stories?  What chance do those of us who want to open up the reading of these writings have in the face of pop culture definitions?

That’s the question that ran through my head as I pondered a display outside of Borders at the local mall.


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Back in the Summer of '69

The 40-year anniversary of the moon walk of Apollo 11 has me nostalgic.  I remember where I was and where I was headed on the evening of July 20, 1969.

It was the first night of a month-long, cross-country family car trip.  My father, who loved to travel, hatched the idea and planned the details with the help of AAA.  He and my mom bought a station wagon, topped it with a Sears luggage carrier, packed up all four kids, and headed out from North Carolina to California.  I was 11 at the time.


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