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phrases

Tower of Babel

When I was 11 years old I invented a religion.  Except that there was nothing new about it.  I imagined a god who demanded moral goodness and punished shortfalls.  And with a combination of carrots and sticks my god would prod me towards some kind of “better place.”  I wasn’t the first to consider religion […]

Rainbow

Not a rain-arc.  Not a rain-wheel.  Not a rain-dome.  A rain-bow.  Why rain bow? Here’s what God says after the flood-waters abate: “This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and […]

Olive Branch

A previously hostile nation offering terms of peace.  A business competitor bringing a promising deal.  A chastened husband presenting a bunch of flowers.  Any of these cases might be called “bearing an olive branch.” There are different views about how the olive branch became associated with peace.  But its importance in the flood story should […]

40 days and 40 nights

In the “film” 40 days and 40 nights Josh Hartnett has to endure this unbearable trial period without sex.  It’s a time of sore testing and I’m sure hilarity ensures.  I wouldn’t know, I couldn’t be forced to watch it even for research purposes. But we seem to have a cultural memory that “40 days and 40 […]

Two by two

It’s the name of countless nurseries and toddler groups.  We instantly think: cramped menagerie and a cartoon boat – usually absent Noah and the family.  Also absent is any hint that this is a cataclysmic scene of judgement. The context is Genesis 6.  Apparently the “sons of God” were uniting with the daughters of men […]

Noah

When you think of rest, what springs to mind?  If you’re like me you’ll be thinking about an absence of stresses and suffering. The name “Noah” means rest.  But the one called Rest does not come in the context of peace and safety.  It was in the midst of death and curse that the promised […]

Methuselah

If someone calls you ‘Methuselah’ it’s probably not a compliment.  He was 969 years old when he died – the oldest man in the bible. In the midst of the avalanche of deaths in Genesis 5, Methuselah weathers the storm better than most.  But actually someone else in the family tree does better than Methuselah […]

Begat

When people attempt to read through the bible, Genesis 5 represents the first hurdle.  It’s a chapter of genealogy. So and so begat so and so, then they lived this many years and they died. And on it runs, generation after generation.  And the bible lists them in painstaking detail. Why the detail?  It’s been […]

The Land of Nod

These days, drifting off to the land of Nod sounds like a pleasant slumber.  It looks like it was Jonathan Swift who first used the phrase in connection with sleep.  And Rudyard Kipling followed suit.  Now we associate the land of Nod and ‘nodding off’ exclusively with sleep.  I read today that taking heroin is […]

Am I my brother's keeper?

We all know the phrase.  And we all want to be able to answer yes. Tony Blair first introduced “New Labour” to the party conference describing it as the kind of compassionate socialism that said “I am my brother’s keeper.” In 2008, Barack Obama’s Christmas Day message was this: “Now, more than ever, we must […]