Creative Arts with Patrick Moore


The Spirit / The Muse?
September 27, 2016, 12:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The word, spirit, literally means wind in Hebrew, with the additional meanings, voice, because voice is operated by breath, which is a kind of wind. Spinoza begins his Tehologico-Political treatise  , describing the many uses of “Spirit” in the Hebrew Bible.

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The Spirit and the Muse

Spinoza said the Bible is the record of God’s messages spoken through the Prophets. Since God is so vast and inconceivable to a finite human, an intermediary is required. The Holy Spirit, Spinoza said in 1670 (Theologico-Political Treatise) The Holy Spirit, Spinoza defines, is that intermediary that conveys God’s Will into words. So the spirit sort of works the Prophet’s voice for him. The Prophet needs to be that kind of person who can set his ego aside, to allow his body to be the mouthpiece of this Higher Power. The Prophet would then stand and shout the message to a crowd of people.

Then we have other authors of the Bible. These works were not copied-down speeches by Prophets, but were originally composed in writing. Writing is not breath work. Does that mean it is not of the Spirit? Spinoza answers, yes. He said that the written parts of the Bible were not God’s messages, but human interpretations. But I differ with Spinoza in this. I imagine the writers, like the prophets, set aside their egos to allow Something Greater to move their hands. What I don’t know, is who or what moved the hands of Bible Writers? Was this the same Being or Process that vibrated the voices of the Oral Prophets? Even though I don’t know the answer, still I feel strongly this is worth asking and discussing.

The inspiration of writers has traditionally been called The Muse. Is The Muse the same being or process as The Holy Spirit? Was there a Special, Holy Muse that inspired the Bible writers? And was this a different being or process from the Muse that inspires secular writers?

Rescuing the Bible — the Literary Approach

I am reading a book called the Literary Guide to the Bible, compiled in 1987 of twenty-ish experts. The Literary Guide attempts to give new validity to the Bible as a work of poetry or literature. This movement seems to have been motivated in part as a reaction to a prior movement of Textual Analysis that most people thing began in Germany in the 1800s.

Textual analysis has recently been made famous by Dr. Bart Ehrman. The Bible is critiqued as if it was intended to be a factual historical account, or journalism. You may not be surprised that under this kind of analysis, the Bible comes up short. It turns out the original facts may not have been accurate, and then things were added and subtracted by later scribes, editors and councils, for motives that appear to have human gains rather than Divine guidance. Before Ehrman, this discussion was held largely among post-doctorates in their scholarly journals. Ehrman brought this discussion into the public eye. Not surprisingly, many non-scholars have used Ehrman’s work to degrade the Bible as worthless. If it ever was Holy, if it ever was God’s Word, by the time it got into human hands it became degraded beyond all recognition of God, is the interpretation of Ehrman’s followers. While Ehrman himself has never said that, he has implied it, and done nothing to stop this interpretation.

Against this devaluation of the Bible, the Literary movement hopes to restore the Bible’s Glory and Holiness. The literary view of the Bible is, “No, it was never intended as eyewitness journalism or historical report. It was intended all along as God’s Poetry, to inspire humans to holiness. And as Poetry, it still stands, it still has Holy Power and Effect.”

I won’t take sides between Ehrman and the Literarians. Anyway, I think there are problems with both views. And I don’t have an alternative view to offer, so I apologize in advance!

A Bible Quote under Textual Analysis and Literary Critique

At twilight, as evening falls

In pitch-black night and darkness

Proverbs 7:9

This couplet has troubled some scholars. The report seems to contradict itself. Is it twilight, or night time? The difference would be a couple of hours. It is bad journalism. Maybe an editor patched-together two accounts, justifying differences as if they didn’t matter. If so, it loses credibility as history.

A literary interpretation rescues this couplet. The Hebrew word that is interpreted as “pitch-black” gets its meaning from the pupil of the eye, which is black. Did the speaker (or author) intend for hearers (or readers) to feel this effect, that blends the setting–the dimming of the evening–with the personal window of one’s soul?

The literary view of this couplet is, it was never intended to be an eyewitness report of what time of day it was. It was intended as a poetic inspiration to give a feel, a mood, an effect upon the hearer (when recited) or reader (when read). In fact, people reading it today would probably agree, this couplet is intended more as poetry than as eyewitness report. Round One goes the Literarians.

In his book, Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job , Scott B. Noegel claims the author of Job intended dual meanings in many words. The Hebrew language as originally written used only consonants. The vowels were not written. A set of consonants could mean two different words. You would know which of these were intended when that word was pronounced, because the speaker would fill in the vowels. On the page, however, you wouldn’t know which of two meanings was intended. Noegel claims that the author of Job intentionally used this ambiguity, as a poetic device, to give the poem more depth and literary richness.

Later, at some council of Rabbbis, the book of Job was given vowels. Which of two interpretations were then written? Whichever the council felt was the best single meaning. Spinoza claims this council was made of Sadducees, a Jewish sect that derived their power from the written word. They were motivated to have One Authoritative Bible, not a bunch of variant readings. So they worked to make the various texts invariant, and threw away all the originals so nobody could doubt them. Whenever that council met, or whatever their motives, the result was a bible punctuated with vowels. No longer could anyone misread the interpretation they gave the book of Job, and the rest of the Hebrew Bible, at that time.

If Noegel’s book is accurate, the author of Job would have wanted multiple readings of his work. If Job is considered part of the Bible, then Round Two goes to the Literarians.

Who Is The Muse?

I don’t claim to know who this Muse is, but I know her influence when I see it. If the book of Job was intended by its author to have dual meanings on many of its words, to me, that is the Muse at work. The Muse influences poetry and literature to be written in a way that many readers can get things beyond what the author could have achieved by narrowing his work to a single meaning. Muse-inspired writing is considered to serve a greater number of people, in a greater number of ways. Muse-inspired writing is considered timeless.

In Moby-Dick, the whale is a symbol of nature. Are we to gain from the book that nature is cruel and opposes human civilization? Do we get a sense in Moby-Dick that Nature should have a capitol N, or a small n? It appears the author Herman Melville intended for us to ask these questions. It appears the author did not care to give us a single judgment, as if his novel were a courtroom and after the evidence was brought before us, only one answer remains. I believe Moby-Dick was writing guided by The Muse.

I have participated in dozens of literary workshops, readings and critique groups. Here is a funny thing that I’ve seen many times. After a reading, a fan will come up to the author and say something like, “I really like how that word bee, also has the extra meaning of be, you know, to be?” And the author will nod sagely and accept the praise, even though that never occurred to him when he was writing it. Is this just authors taking credit where none is due? Not at all. The author gets credit! Why? Because he set his ego aside to allow the Muse to guide his hands. That’s not easy! You get credit for suspending your ego’s impulse to control the writing.

Muse-friendly writing attracts certain kinds of listeners and readers. It’s a thing. While you are there, at one of these things, when you say you found a new way to interpret the piece, this is a compliment to the author or artist. If the work can be interpreted on many levels: morally, biologically, spiritually, politically and so forth, then the compliment exponentially increases.

There was a word coined in the 20th century by E. O. Wilson: superorganism. We can re-read Moby-Dick today and say, “Hey, that Herman Melville was showing us that the Sea is a superorganism, and that all of Nature is a superorganism.” A certain kind of literary critic would say, “No, you can’t interpret literature that way. That would be anachronistic, since the term and concept superorganism had not been introduced yet when Melville was writing. Your interpretation is wrong.” But what if the Muse is … timeless? Could the Muse have inspired Melville in a way that his writing would have a new meaning in the 20th Century? Can a work set in printing, continue to give new meanings hundreds of years later? And would this be a good thing?

I am not saying it could, or it would–just asking the question.

The Unity Stance on Biblical Interpretation

There is a church–calls itself Christian–that has a Muse-Friendly policy on interpreting the Bible. Passages from the Bible are read on Sunday, just as in other Christian churches. But at Unity, the preacher does not interpret it for you. She encourages you to interpret it for yourself. How did you feel when you were hearing it? Did the passage remind you of anything going on in your life right now? That is the meaning! God works in mysterious ways, and the thoughts and feelings you have today while hearing the Bible read, are intended by God, as Her purpose in inspiring the Bible.

I’ve seen banners on churches that say, “God is Still Speaking.” I think they mean God would be pleased with new interpretations of the Bible for today’s issues, even with people making their own interpretations. These too, are Holy.

I am not advocating that, just reporting.

Wait—Can the Bible Have Various Interpretations?

We come to the main battle. The Holy Spirit versus the Muse.

The Bible contains sections that record the spoken words of the Prophets, who were instructed by the Holy Spirit what to say to crowds of listeners. The Bible also contains sections of work that was originally composed in writing. According to Spinoza, the Bible itself claims that the spoken prophecies came from God, but gives no such authority to the parts that originated in writing.

Is The Bible as God’s Word something that has a clear, single meaning, once true and always true? Or is The Bible as God’s Word something that had many meanings to many people at that time, and new meanings to new people in new times, just as valid as the old meanings? I hate labels but we could for a moment call the first group Biblical Singularists, and the second group Biblical Multiplists.

I do not know the answer. I do know there is a conflict and I am intensely curious to know more about this and to inspire more dialogue.

Unfortunately, whether you choose one side or the other, there are still problems.

Ehrman’s Critique Assumes God would Not Be Okay with Multiple Interpretations and Revision

Ironically, Bart Ehrman agrees with the Biblical Singluarists on one thing: For the Bible to be God’s Word, it must have singular meaning, that same meaning remaining true for all time. For the Bible to be God’s Word, it must not be swayed by editors in later generations toward new meanings that support one sect over another. For the Bible to be God’s Word, it must have made sense in the context of the time in which the story was originally told, and not in a later context. For the Bible to be God’s Word it must be multiply attested, by many eyewitnesses, and their stories must match. Ehrman and the Singularists agree on these tenets. They disagree on whether the Bible is successful at these tenets.

Apparently Ehrman has not considered that God might have been a Poet. God might have been fine with the editors and councils bending the old meanings to mean new things that support their sect. God might be fine with the debates today over abortion, homosexuality, and promised lands, all using different quotes from the Bible as their evidence. If God’s book, The Bible, is a Muse-Friendly book, He would support all the interpretations of his work, even those that may cause Him to cringe. At least that is how a Muse-Friendly Author would see it.

If God were Muse-Friendly, this would undermine Ehrman’s conclusion that the Bible is faulty. Ehrman’s conclusion rests on the idea, that God would not have been okay with multiple interpretations, nor with later tampering, slanting, adding and subtracting from the words on the page. But if God was okay with all that, if God was a Poet, the Bible can’t be de-authorized by Ehrman’s work.

Literarians Undermine God’s Commands

While the Literary View of the Bible may have been intended to rescue Reverence for the Bible from the likes of Ehrman, (and it may have succeeded), the win brings an unwanted loss. Once the Bible is God’s Poetry, then any and all interpretations are okay with God. There was never any original single purpose or point. Do Not Kill? Could have been intended as a metaphor. Love Your Neighbor? Could have been advocating sexual promiscuity, sort of like the dual meanings in the Crosby Stills Nash and Young song, “Love the One You’re With.”

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take the Bible as commanding us to love others as ourselves, in some passages, and in other passages, maybe it meant x, y or z, or new letters when new alphabets come around.

Or can you? Anyone who still advocates for a literary view of the Bible, I think, would have to explain what happened to its commands. Does the literary view nullify the commands? If the commands are still valid, exactly where and when are we supposed to apply the literary view? Is it a section by section thing—this book is command, this book is literary? This needs to be explained by those who present a literary view.

Singletarians Undermine the Book of Job and other Poetry in the Bible

Many people believe, for the Bible to be God’s Word it must have only One Interpretation. I have a question.

The book of Job. Did the author of Job intend for many words to have double meanings in Hebrew? If so, can a Muse-influenced book–one intended to have dual meanings–be included in the Bible, as representative of God’s Word? For the book of Job to be included in the Bible, must each of its dual-meaning words be deliberated over in a council of religious Elders, to concur on which of the two meanings is the one God intended?

There are practical consequences. Why can’t we read a version of Job that has preserved it’s original intention? Where are the alternate meanings—are they erased from every Bible currently in print? Is the project of reviving the Book of Job worthwhile? Is it worth the time and money to invest in its republishing? Who is responsible to provide versions of the Bible that are true to their original intentions? How soon could we read a revived version of Job? And if not worthwhile, if not republished, if not soon, Why Not? Can you give any good reasons?

 

I hope I did not offend any particular group or belief. I consider myself a reverent and respectful person. I want to know and understand more, so that I can be even more reverent and respectful going forward. If you have comments or questions that add to our understanding, please comment. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

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