Too many cooks make light work – looking at Proverbs

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

All cultures have proverbs. They often contradict each other, like the two I’ve jumbled up in the title of this post. Too many cooks spoil the broth; many hands make light work. Part of the wisdom of using proverbs is working out what the appropriate saying for any particular situation is. The biblical book of Proverbs contain a number that fall into the same category as our English proverbs. However, it also contains some more extended reflections on the nature of wisdom, which work rather better as readings.

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Sing us one of the songs of Zion – looking at the Psalms

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

With the psalms, this series reaches the book of the Old Testament most heavily used by Christians. It is the most quoted in the New Testament, and most read, sung and prayed in the life of the church. The Lectionary for Mass, which became the basis of the Revised Common Lectionary, reintroduced the psalms to celebrations of the Eucharist, and did so in a particular way.

Older eucharistic services, whether the Latin Missal or the Book of Common Prayer, only had an epistle and gospel reading, with chants or (eventually) a hymn between the two. When the new lectionary introduced an Old Testament reading (linked to the gospel) it also introduced a psalm which in some way responded to the Old Testament reading.

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Faith when the world makes no sense – the book of Job

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

Five readings from Job crop up in the Revised Common Lectionary’s continuous set of Sunday readings;1 one of these also occurs in the shared set of related readings. Most people will therefore only hear the one reading, part of God’s speech towards the end of the book. Either way it is not a lot of exposure to a long and provocative book, which wrestles with the perennial question of why there is evil in the world.

The Patient Job, by Gerard Seghers (17th century) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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A grab-bag of poetry, proverbs and perspicacity

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The third main section of Old Testament and apocryphal books is something of a grab bag, whether we focus solely on the undisputed books, or include the deuterocanonical ones as well. For some people, poetry is the dominant characteristic, although much of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are prose. For others, wisdom is the primary emphasis, although it is not the most obvious category for many psalms, nor for the love poetry of the Song of Songs.

The Hebrew books are all classified by Jewish tradition under the miscellaneous third category of Writings. They are the books that are not Law or Prophet. Christians might add to that classification, saying they are the books that are not Law, Prophet or History. Nonetheless, poetry is the predominant form, and wisdom a frequent emphasis.

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Ripping yarns – Tobit, Judith and Esther

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

As I mentioned early in this series, I am including the deuterocanonical books / apocrypha in their traditional Greek and Latin Bible order. (The main post discussing this distinction is here.) Today’s post considers a cluster of short stories grouped towards the end of the historical books.

No readings occur in the Sunday Lectionary from the two deuterocanonical books of Tobit and Judith, and only one from the undisputedly canonical book of Esther. It is worth mentioning them together, as they illustrate the kind of short story, told with a historical framework, which show popular stories in their literary versions getting into the Bible. A basic familiarity with them can help us understand the culture in which Jesus and his first followers grew up.

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National and religious identity in crisis – Ezra & Nehemiah

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

If it wasn’t for the names of the biblical books, the title of this piece could look awfully like a contemporary headline. Yet in many other respects, neither Ezra nor Nehemiah feel particularly relevant for the contemporary world. Perhaps that’s why only one reading from these books crops up in the Sunday lectionary.

Gustave Doré’s woodcut of the scene (1843: Public Domain) He imagines Ezra as a second Moses with stone tablets, rather than the scroll described in the story.
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“The things that were left out” (not more Levites please) – 1 & 2 Chronicles

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The two books of Chronicles provide a kind of alternative history to the one we’ve been exploring. It goes back to the very beginning with an opening series of genealogies starting with Adam. These lists of names and generations take us through the various tribes of Israel and with an emphasis on where the writer wants to focus: the tribe of Levi, and the work of the Levites. For most modern, and quite a few ancient, readers, it probably has – at least in its opening chapters – at least a small claim to be the most boring book in the Bible.

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From triumph to disaster: 1 & 2 Kings

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

As with the books of Samuel, there are rather more excerpts from Kings in the continuous ecumenical lectionary, than there are in the related set of Old Testament readings. This additional set brings a semi-continuous reading of the stories of Elijah and Elisha, two prophets fabled for their interventions in politics and the miracles they worked as proofs that God favoured them.1

The books of Kings take the story of Israel’s monarchy from the death of David to the deportations to Babylon that marked the end of the kingdom of Judah, and the beginning of the Exile.2 A significant amount of time is devoted to David’s son, Solomon, and particularly his building of the temple. The writer enjoys offering lavish and detailed descriptions of its construction, and he will end his story with its dismantling and the despoiling of its sanctuary.

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The problems of power: First and Second Samuel

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

There are a few carefully selected stories from the two books of Samuel which occur in the lectionary. There is a larger number in those churches which use the continuous Old Testament lectionary. This wider selection is not surprising, as these books tell the story, often quite critically, of the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. They also present a warts-and-all picture of the man who would come to be revered as the ideal king, David of Bethlehem.

King David Playing the Harp (detail), Gerard van Honthorst, 1622, via Wikimedia Commons
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Ruth: casualty of a ruthless lectionary

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The short story, Ruth, sadly gets no use in the normal Sunday lectionary. It is tempting, following on from the absence of Deborah and Jael (see yesterday’s post), to wonder if the men who compiled the lectionary were giving in to a little bit of unconscious bias against women’s stories!

Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners. Ruth meets her future husband while gleaning.
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