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


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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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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When Sarah Palin isn't Conservative Enough: Visionary Daughters Headed for a Breakdown?

When you encounter a website that slaps the face of all you believe in, makes your blood pressure rise, and basically ticks you off, should you speak against it or ignore it in hopes that it withers from lack of attention?  That’s the dilemma I face when I view the Visionary Daughters website. Continue reading

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.

Jack Black, Year One, and Biblical Literacy

Columbia Pictures will release Year One on June 19th.  Starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, the comedy follows two hunter-gathers after they are kicked out of their tribe and embark on adventures throughout the ancient world.

A friend who saw the long version of the trailer noticed multiple references to the Bible and sent me the link:  http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/yearone/site/ (Look for “video”)

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David, David, David: It's Always about David

King David is on the entertainment circuit these days.  He’s the focus of an off-Broadway musical, not so creatively titled “King David,” now at the Promise Theater. He’s already a TV regular,  starring in the NBC series Kings (see earlier blog post).

In all the media hype, he hasn’t risen above the humble book.  Robert Pinsky’s The Life of David was published in 2008.   For the literary-minded, there’s a new version of his story by Robert Alter: The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel.  And to show that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, David continues to appear as a vegetable version of himself in “Dave and the Giant Pickle” in the Veggie Tales series.


What accounts for David’s timeless appeal?

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