Song of Riddles

Title: Song of Riddles: Deciphering the Song of Songs

Author: Geula Twersky

Publisher: Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem

ISBN: 978-965-229-908-6


Review by Bob Lane



Geula Twersky has written an extra-ordinary book: start with the title, Song of Riddles, which announces immediately the approach taken in the analysis of the biblical “Song of Songs”- one of the most beautiful and, to many, puzzling, books to have been included in the collection of writings included in the Bible – and then consider the author, an award-winning artist who has exhibited in galleries around the world – go here to see some of her works – who also publishes scholarly articles in academic journals anent the study of the early Jewish texts.

The title states that the text to be analyzed is a riddle, and like any good riddle, there must be a secret meaning behind the text, pointed to, suggested, available, to the riddle breaker who invest the time and energy to unpack the “secret” meaning.

Read the review.

Sibyl of the Rhine

Throughout her life, Hildegard had experienced visions, beginning at the age of 3. (Oliver Sacks attributed these to migraines). At age 42, she had a powerful experience that radically changed her life. She described this moment in her writings:

And it came to pass … when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming… and suddenly I understood of the meaning of expositions of the books…


History lesson

Back in the day . . .from my colleague, Ian Johnston:

Ian in our kitchen after a discussion of Shakespeare – in the olden days.

In 1969 it was Malaspina College, then Malaspina University-College, and now Vancouver Island University – the name has changed over time and the place has grown bigger and bigger. What else has changed? I leave that to those still there to discuss.

Ian on education ( a few years ago):

The Rant [A Section Specially Designed for Letting off Some Serious Steam]

Ask Not What the University-College Can Do For You . . . and so on
by Ian Johnston

Qui s’excuse, s’accuse.

Last semester Ken Lyall was hauled out of his recent retirement and commissioned to conduct some sort of enquiry into research, scholarly activity, and so on at Malaspina. Dr. Lyall dutifully did the rounds talking to faculty and eventually, towards the end of his interviews, arrived at my door. We had a very pleasant conversation, near the conclusion of which he asked me the following question: “What do you say to faculty members who complain that the college does not provide them enough support for scholarship?” At the time the question struck me as a bit odd, but I muttered something in reply, and we finished our agreeable chat. Well, I’ve been thinking about that question for a while, and I think I may have arrived at a more complete answer than the one I was able to provide on the spur of the moment.

First of all, I’d ask them what they meant by “the college.” Aren’t they an integral part of this institution? Are they wondering why they don’t give themselves sufficient support? The question, thus posed, seems silly. If they are so keen to support scholarship, surely the best way to demonstrate their support for scholarly activity is to stop the endemic whining and, as the slogan says, just do it, by actually carrying out some project or encouraging and assisting their immediate colleagues in their endeavours.

But, of course, some might answer that by “the college” the question really means the college administration, those in charge of the money. The issue is that such executives don’t allocate sufficient money to what faculty want or need to do by way of scholarship. The obvious answer to this interpretation of the question is to ask those making the complaint where the money is to come from, with the proviso that they should immediately abandon any notion that there is a huge pot of money somewhere which is being withheld.

For some time around here there has existed a perception in academic circles that far too much money is squandered on useless things like physical plant, maintenance, Adult Basic Education, Vocational Education, and (on occasion) Liberal Studies. If this money went where it most properly belongs, into promoting scholarly activities, then all might be well.

This perception, although common enough, is excessively stupid for obvious reasons. Quite apart from the arrogance in the claim that other activities are useless or less important than the generally valueless work of university academics, the funds for many of these activities are often ear marked, so that if the activity were removed, the money would disappear. Moreover, there are provincial standards in most support areas (like Advising, for example), which Malaspina is expected to meet (and with respect to which, in some cases, we have been seriously deficient in comparison to other university-colleges).

Before those who expect more support from the college for their research launch into their next plangent chorus of lachrymose distress, they should be prepared to answer the following question: “Which specific area of your own department’s offerings would you recommend curtailing in order to obtain the support you are so desperate about.” Until they can answer that question, they, like pit bulls paraded in public in Nanaimo, should be muzzled.

For the largest wasteful squandering of money in this institution by far is the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually of instructional money into faculty scholarship, or rather, to put the matter more precisely, into release time for such purposes (how much scholarship, trivial or otherwise, is actually done is a moot point). Such scholarship has no pedagogical benefits whatsoever (other than projects directly linked to student activity, in which case the issue is one of workload), and the release time we provide for it is a major factor contributing to the financial plight we are in, with a series of degree programs we cannot afford to maintain.

We established this gravy train to win approval from the University of Victoria for the upper-division courses we offered in their name here, and we have maintained the transfer of funds (and expanded it slightly) in order to win accreditation. It was the price of joining the club. Now that we have accreditation, let us hope that the administration puts a firm stop to any further robbery from student Peter in order to pander to the interests of some faculty Paul.

I’m sick of the complaint that we are expected to carry on scholarly activity and yet not given sufficient support. This statement is far more a confession of the inadequacy of the complainer than a significant critique of the institution. For over twenty-five years, with financial perquisites far less generous than those presently in place, Malaspina faculty carried out all sorts of scholarly activities (however that term is to be defined precisely), publishing academic books, scholarly articles, plays, poems, novels, textbooks and carrying out a number of important practical projects. The notion that scholarly work simply cannot be done at the present level of support is a self-serving lie or excuse or confession of failure or all of the above. [emphasis added]

To make this claim is not to say that all forms of scholarship are equally easy to pursue in Nanaimo. We are a long way from the nearest nuclear generator, Sumerian archeological site, sub-Saharan mosquito (in situ), or expert in regional dialects of the medieval Serbo-Croats. But the challenge of scholarship at the university-college, for those who feel they must do it, is to adjust the nature of the project to the resources at hand, not to whinge constantly about the lack of funds for some single project requiring very specialized resources.

In my own case, coming to work in the BC college system meant I had to give up a scholarly interest in the history of modern Shakespeare productions. My PD money did not permit regular flights to Stratford-upon-Avon (the real one). So what? I shifted my attention to what could be undertaken here. Those who protest that this is not possible in their case are just indicating their own lack of imaginative initiative.

It’s true that research training often is excessively narrow, a very poor preparation for a situation demanding imaginative intellectual flexibility (I recall one application for a job here which indicated that the candidate had spent the last fifteen years or so studying full-time the mating habits of a particularly exotic insect species). To wish to perpetuate that narrow specialization is all very well (I suppose), but to ask for more instructional money (i.e., student spaces) to promote it seems entirely antithetical to what this particular institution is here to achieve.

Thus, to return to the question Dr. Lyall posed in my office: now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’d tell those making the complaint to shut up and get some sort of (intellectual) life here within the present arrangements (something like, say, teaching) or seek employment elsewhere.



Over the past few decades, American society has increased its tolerance and acceptance of differing sexualities. Those that voice opposition to acceptance of homosexuality on religious grounds often consider homosexuality to be “unnatural.” However, homosexual behavior is widespread across the animal kingdom. In addition to well-known examples such as in mammals and birds, homosexual behaviors occur in reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. Among the primate order, homosexual behavior is most frequently observed in bonobos. However, it also occurs in other species, such as Japanese macaques and capuchin monkeys. Recent observations of homosexual behavior in male spider monkeys adds to our knowledge of these behaviors and may help us answer questions about the evolutionary functions homosexual behaviors may play, as well as allow us to consider if other animals have sexual orientations similar to the identities that humans construct. SOURCE

Wisdom from the Hebrew Bible

English: Hebrew Bible text as written in a Jew...
English: Hebrew Bible text as written in a Jewish Sefer Torah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time when I was teaching a course using the books of the Bible as the main reading assignment, a student asked me why I always used the phrase “Hebrew Bible” instead of “Old Testament” when talking about the earliest books.

“Simple.  Because “Old” has a certain connotation, as in”superseded”. But for many it’s not old at all.”

Here’s an old (as in been around a while now) response to Dr. Laura.

English: Radio counselor Dr. Laura Schlessinger
English: Radio counselor Dr. Laura Schlessinger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On her radio show, Dr. Laura said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Schlesinger, written by a US man, and posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as quite informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman,

Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,

Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

P.S. (It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian.)

And watch a dramatization here: