Read the book here.
I had a conversation with a reader yesterday. He said, “Bob, I read your book. And when I finished it, I went back to the Bible for the first time in years. Thanks for that. Like you say “there are some great stories in the collection”.”
Title: Song of Riddles: Deciphering the Song of Songs
Author: Geula Twersky
Publisher: Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem
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.
Bob is interviewed on CBC a few years ago.
To listen to the interview click here.
Don’t want to listen? Click here.
Bob’s talk presented at the Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo :
Only Connect: genetics, culture, and the veil of ignorance
Grow a language, grow a morality, grow a soul
I want to thank the Fellowship for inviting me to your service today. I want to welcome friends and family.
I have enjoyed speaking to you on several occasions and once again thank you for the opportunity. Most recently both Peter Croft and David Weston were present to question me. I miss them both.
The last time I talked with you I gave you a quiz. No quiz today! Today I want to talk about roots and soil and souls and growth. You will notice that I speak metaphorically at times and that there is in the talk a subtle (or blatant) attempt to suggest that growing tomatoes is similar to growing a soul. After the last talk one of you asked me if I am an agnostic or an atheist. I answered, “Neither. I consider myself an ignostic.”
I have been thinking about that question and answer for some time now. Perhaps a parable will help:
An ignostic was asked whether she believed in God, and said, “If you mean a big man in a cloud, as some conceive of God, then I am an atheist, for we have satellites now which would have surely seen such a creature if he existed. If you mean an all-encompassing God who is synonymous with the cosmos, then I am a theist… though I see no reason for having two words for the same thing.
Ignosticism is the position that there are many different, contradictory definitions for the word “God”, so one can’t claim to be a theist OR an atheist until one knows which definition is meant. I don’t, for example, believe in or worship Thor or Zeus or Facebook.
Furthermore, if the chosen definition is incoherent and makes no predictions that can be empirically tested, then it doesn’t matter whether one believes in it or not, for how can something meaningless be true OR false? (this last part is also known in philosophy as theological noncognitivism). And yet, of course, we humans speak and write of God. Some of us die for what we think is God. Fly planes into buildings shouting his name. God, I believe, is a character in literature in the same way that Hamlet is or that Sherlock Holmes is – an interesting, complex, fascinating character, but living only in stories.
A former student asks: “Speaking of conversions, Bob, did you have a conversion experience?”
First, let me quote myself [“Never to speak about oneself is a very noble piece of hypocrisy.”] :
It seems obligatory in a book like this to state where I “am coming from.” I am not a Jew. I am not a Christian. I was raised in a Christian family. We attended an Episcopal church when I was a small boy; after my mother remarried we attended a Lutheran church where I was confirmed at a young age. Shortly after that we started to attend a Methodist church, but none of these changes was, to my knowledge, based on any matters of doctrine, but rather on social reasons. I remember getting in trouble with the Lutheran pastor as a child because in Bible class I would ask real questions. “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,” it said in the catechism. Why? The canned answer was: “The Lord, thy God, is a jealous God.” “Why is he jealous?” I would ask, “what would God have to be jealous of?” “Don’t ask questions,” the pastor would say, “just memorize the material.” That was the lesson of the church: do not ask questions; just memorize the stuff. There really was no life in the church. People came in, sat down, listened quietly, put some money in the collection plate, and then left to carry on with their lives as before. After hearing a sermon on the evils of “drink” and card playing, in which the punishments for disobedience were extremely uncomfortable, we would all get in our car and go to one of my step-uncle’s for an afternoon of drinking beer and playing pinochle. I learned to hate Jews (for they were somehow responsible for killing Jesus), Catholics (for they had all the riches), and Methodists (I cannot remember why). I learned hypocrisy, racism, and sexism (now called the “traditional” values by nostalgic writers who find the word “traditional” all fuzzy and warm). I read the Bible frequently because the stories were full of violence, sex, and mystery. I remember asking my mother what `womb’ means and she was very nervous and asked me where I had heard that word. When I told her I found it in the Bible she did not seem to know what to say. I had her! She arranged for my step-father to teach me about the “birds and the bees.” He in turn sub-contracted to a teen-aged farm hand who gave me a brief but descriptive lecture about things that I already knew. (The lecture, I remember, started like this: “So, you want to know about f…ing…,” my teacher at least exhibiting a sense of the dramatic.)
After a few years in public schools and four years in the United States Marine Corps, I learned about sex and violence in more direct ways, and stopped reading the Bible until I was in university. At the University of California in Santa Barbara I was assigned as a teaching assistant to Professor Douwe Stuurman, who taught a course on the Bible. His classes were always full of interesting people. In the front row were the nuns, who, he said, were there to spy on him. Then came the middle-aged students looking for therapy, the literature and philosophy students, and the atheists who sat in the back. I tried to sit in a different part of the room each time. Stuurman had a Freudian, Eastern, Calvinist, Proustian background and the ability to mesmerize an audience. Above all he opened up the text for me. I read it with fresh eyes. These stories were marvellous works of art! Stuurman’s lectures were inspiring (I used to call them “Stuurman on the mount”) and unlike my Lutheran pastor, he asked questions all the time. When not at the university I spent my time cleaning the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara, which meant that I had the opportunity to talk with Lex Crane, who was ministering there then. His background in literature was extensive and we used to have long talks about “meaning” while I should have been cleaning the toilets. I flirted with the idea of becoming a Unitarian minister, but never got the “call.” Because of this and more, I believe the Bible is worth reading and studying, not as moribund scripture but as living literature. – Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation
So, there you have it. Not an exciting “flash of light” conversion nor a road to Damascus experience; just a growing away from the fairy tales of childhood.
And, I still read the bible stories.