Welcome to the Ten Commandments, also referred to as the Decalogue. In Judaism, they’re known as the Aseret ha’Dibrot, which might be translated “the Ten Sayings,” “the Ten Statements,” or, as my dad is fond of putting it, “the Ten Words.” They’re not technically imperative sentences, but they do prescribe certain behavior, or more accurately, they proscribe certain behavior. And they certainly are sayings, as the chapter says right out the gate that God says them.
I hope you’re ready for some plagues, because today we’ve got plagues. Well, one plague. Don’t worry, there are more later.
Here’s a passage that used to agitate me. To set the stage, Jacob and his twelve sons have long since died, and the current Pharaoh is struggling to control the numerous Hebrews in his kingdom. He forces them into hard labor, but they still prosper. So he tries to enlist the Hebrew midwives to kill all the Hebrew sons as they’re born. The Hebrew midwives don’t comply. But they lie in order to save the newborns, and therein lies the complication.
I want to start this one off with an observation. Genesis 10 is Noah’s genealogy, and it starts by going down Japheth’s branch of the family tree. Talking about all his offspring, it concludes, “From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations” (5). I read that, and I thought to myself: hey, here we’ve got differentiation of language. No, wait, re-differentiation of language! It struck me that the Tower of Babel didn’t account for the multiplicity of human languages after all: Noah and his family represented a second choke point where everyone once again shared a single native tongue. Except that I got the chronology wrong. The Tower of Babel doesn’t precede the flood; it follows it.
When I sat down the first time to write this post, I felt like I had nothing new to say about today’s chapter. Peter and John’s foot race to the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Messiah, Thomas’ insistence on empiricism: for nearly two thousand years, wiser individuals than I have been saying things about these scenes, and what could I add to them? As I’ve been reading and re-reading the chapter here, I don’t even have any fresh insights that I’m noticing for the first time. But how is it that I’ve never before discussed Thomas on Chocolate Book? I, a professed Christian skeptic? And of all the topics I could retread today, none seem more worth recapitulating observations on which you may well have heard before than our friend Doubting Thomas.
Let’s just pull off the band-aid right away: today we’re opening the Theodicy Can with all its Theodicy Worms. Apparently someone put a band-aid on the Theodicy Can. I’m not sure what they thought it would do, if they thought the can was injured or maybe the band-aid would help it stay shut, but we’re tearing off the band-aid and opening up the can. All mixed metaphors aside, today’s chapter of John features Jesus healing a man blind from birth, and right off the bat his disciples ask why the man was born blind.
The gospel of Mark is weird, but at least it’s synoptic. You probably already know that Matthew, Mark, and Luke comprise the three synoptic gospels, but you may not know that the word “synoptic” comes from the Greek words συν, syn, meaning “together,” and οπτικος, optikos, the adjective form for the word meaning “seeing” or “sight.” We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the synoptics because they’re looking together at the same events from Christ’s life, looking at him in more or less the same way. John’s gospel, however, is so weird it isn’t even synoptic. In all probability, John was the last gospel to be written down, so it’s like John’s saying to us, “I’m going to complement the synoptics by giving you a whole different vantage point on Jesus Christ, and it’s going to blow your mind.” I may be editorializing a bit with that last phrase, but the fact remains: the gospel of John provides a distinct look at the life of Jesus Christ, and it is weird.