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


Fighting over Manuscripts in the Digital Age: The Blockbuster

It’s a common plot of novels and movies:  while the superstitious public clings to outdated religious beliefs, people in power compete for access to ancient manuscripts which reveal the powerful, if shocking, truth about the past. Think The DaVinci CodeIndiana Jones movies. Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. Irving Wallace’s The Word.

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2012 and the Noah Narrative

In a recent  New York Times review of the new movie 2012, Manohla Dargis twice links the destruction-of-the-world movie with the Bible.

She describes the unlikely pairing off of survivors  as the “Noah’s ark theory of onscreen hookups (two of every kind),” and her final tag claims that  the movie depicts “Old Testament style destruction served with a smile.”

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Ancient Literature for Modern Healing

A recent New York Times article reports that the U.S. military has turned to a new resource  to help soldiers name and heal from the trauma of war:  the very old literature of Sophocles.

The Pentagon has provided $3.7 million for an independent production company, Theater of War, to visit 50 military sites through at least next summer and stage readings from two plays by Sophocles, “Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” for service members.


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The Coen Brothers Take on Job

A new movie opens today.  Entitled “A Serious Man,” it’s the biblical story of Job told through the eyes of Joel and Ethan Cohen.  According to the New York Times review, it’s one of the Coen brothers’ darkest comedies– both “hilarious and horrific.”

The trailer shows a man in existential and religious crisis.  It’s 1957, and Larry’s family and professional lives are falling apart.  Friends and religious leaders aren’t any help.

What does life mean when it is so incredibly painful?

I look forward to seeing the movie and to hearing what others have to say about it.

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Julie, Julia, and the Contemporary Hero Quest

This weekend, my husband and I saw Julie and Julia (click for a link to the official website). The film is Nora Ephron’s adaptation of two books: Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France; and Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia, which follows Powell’s quest to prepare all 524 recipes in Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days and to blog about her experience.


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Why Read the OT (1): As Background

A lot of folks treat the Old Testament as “background” reading for something else.  For Christians, it’s treated as the prequel to the New Testament, the part you have to read in order to understand the stuff you want to read. Who is Melchizedek and why does the book of Hebrews link him to Jesus?  Why was circumcision important to Jews of the first century?  What does atonement mean?  What’s a covenant? The Old Testament offers the answers for the New Testament reader who wants to know.


In non-religious circles, students of art, music, and literature are encouraged to learn the Old Testament in order to understand the references in their own subject matters.  After all, it’s the well from which Handel (actually his librettist) drew most of Messiah, including the Hallelujah chorus. Of course you can appreciate the stylistic dimensions of Rembrandt’s “Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s wife” at the Met and Rubens’ “The Meeting of David and Abigail” at the National Gallery without understanding the stories behind them.

But Goltzius’ “Lot and His Daughters” in the Rijksmuseum is more deliciously creepy when you know what’s going to happen after the guy drinks that bowl of wine.

Old Testament literacy also helps folks “get” the references in pop culture.  It explains what half of U2’s lyrics are about.  It shows up over and over in South Park episodes, as when Kyle’s parents read him the Book of Job.  And it’s been great fodder for Leno’s “Jay Walking” segments, allowing him to poke fun at people who don’t know biblical stories–Noah, Cain and Abel, the 10 Commandments. (see blog post on biblical literacy in popular culture)

Especially in the U.S., the political arena is filled with allusions to and arguments about the Old Testament.  Obama’s inauguration speech alluded back not only to the founding fathers but also the Old Testament prophets, and a few hot passages from Leviticus are common weapons for those who stand against same-sex marriage.

But reading the Old Testament as only as background overlooks the true riches of this collection.  In the next few blogs, I’ll share some other reasons to read the Old Testament.