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


Moses Bigger than Jesus? Let the Action Figures Decide

In his book America’s Prophet:  Moses and the American Story, Bruce Feiler makes a bold claim: “Moses is bigger than Jesus.”

Feiler’s argument is about the relative influence of these two great figures on the North American psyche.  But there’s another way to evaluate the powers of these men: by comparing their action figures.

First, there’s Moses.

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Moses’ stats on the back of the box list his accomplishments, as well as the powers of his weapon, the staff.

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Moses is Liberator, Prophet, Lawgiver, Historian. His weapon does incredible things.

Then, there’s Jesus.

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The description on the back of his box is more measured.

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Jesus comes with no weapons but he with signs of his miracles–loaves and fishes and a wine jug–as well as a backdrop.

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Jesus also has glow-in-the-dark hands, which didn’t show up well in my photography.

Based on their action figures, I’m not sure who wins.


Unlike Moses, Jesus doesn’t get weapons, but then again he doesn’t need them to work his miracles.  Moses’ staff has special powers, but Jesus himself has special powers. Moses is listed with more superlatives, but more religions seem to have opinions about Jesus (though they seem only to agree that “Jesus was an extraordinary man”).

To settle this, I thought about bringing in the Pope Pius action figure that belongs to my colleague, but I thought that would be rigging the fight.


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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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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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Eat Like an Israelite?

This summer has not been kind to my backyard garden.  After a few weeks of prolific production, my squash and cucumber plants succumbed to powdery mildew.  Now, just as they are supposed to ripen in full glory, my tomatoes (the bread and butter of my garden) are waging war with late blight.  It’s been too wet here in south central Pennsylvania.  Not hot enough.

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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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