Saturday, August 12, 2017

Cuban Oregano

Thanks to the gift of a dear friend, I now have a new plant for the garden. It's called by many names, Cuban oregano being one of them. This is where the professional botanists like to chime in and remind us of the critical importance of scientific names. In this case, this plant, which is actually neither Cuban nor a true oregano, bears the catchy handle of Plectranthus amboinicus.

As I said, it's not a true oregano but it is a member of the same family, Lamiaceae, a big group that includes mints and other aromatic and tasty herbs.

Plectranthus amboinicus -- oh, let me just call it Cuban oregano -- has a taste like oregano and thyme blended, and a fatal aversion to freezing weather. Will have to come inside for the winter.

I have a decent-sized yard if not a big one, and over the years, have added lavender, peppermint, spearmint, chives, winter savory, thyme and lemon balm. Most herbs are easy to grow, many are perennials, and don't require much pampering -- so if you have dirt of your own or just a sunny patio where you can put a few pots, you should be growing some. Much better than paying good money for some limp cut herb from the grocery when your recipe calls for it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

2 Baruch, my first thoughts on a major pseudepigraphical document:

One precious manuscript, a Syriac text from the sixth or seventh century, preserves this apocryphal document – one text that flood or fire or neglect could easily have taken from us forever.

But it endured the vicissitudes of history, to be gathered up into the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan, in the 17th century or thereabouts, where it has been safeguarded ever since. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cardinal Federico Borromeo (1564-1631) for the ambitious idea to build this treasure-house of art and literature. His agents “scoured Western Europe and even Greece and Syria for books and manuscripts” for the collection, many of which might otherwise have been lost forever.

As with other ancient documents of this type, I try to picture the first century Jew, most likely of Palestine, who wrote this work. His was a world wracked with change and pain. After a century of strife, the Romans had just destroyed the second Jewish temple, tightening the vise on Jerusalem to almost unendurable constriction.

So I picture him, brow furrowed by a life of stress, bent over a table in some little room somewhere in the city or near it, carefully inking on papyrus or vellum the Hebrew characters that spell out this text, perhaps by late afternoon sunlight slanting in through a narrow window, or by the light of a clay lamp late at night.

No one would write such a book for a lark, on a whim, not in such a place or time. His words were important to him, this anonymous man of long ago. And he stands among those other men, some known, many unknown, who stood bravely and gathered from the wreckage of classical Judaism, the bricks by which modern, Rabbinical Judaism was built.

The text reveals his time by oblique references to the temple’s destruction, but also reveals his dependence on earlier writings and traditions – even, possibly, upon texts that were used around the same time to build the corpus of Christian literature.
The extant Syriac text was translated from Greek, which was most likely translated from a Hebrew original. That means that what I read in English, is three languages away from the first ink that committed it to writing. I cannot expect that the style of the original, its literary beauty, has survived the journey, and I must be content with what I have.

The Church Father Barnabas knew of this work and quoted 61:7 in 11:9 of his epistle, calling the writer “another prophet:”
In the quotation, “Baruch” spoke wistfully of the Jerusalem of old, in the days of Solomon and David.

“And the land which then received mercy, since its inhabitants did not sin, was praised above all countries.”

Listening to the shouts of Roman soldiers outside his window, or the angry debates between anti-Roman Zealots and those who sought accommodation and peace in their time, perhaps he could dream of that lost Golden Age of Israel, and eulogize it in this work.

And so preserved for us, like a fossil in rock, is this reminder of one who once lived, a human being trying to make sense of a world in chaos, bringing together all that he knew and believed and thrusting it forward like a battle shield, to ward off the terror of the unknown.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Review of The Book of Margery Kempe

The Book of Margery KempeThe Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What do I think of this book? I recognize its place in history -- the first extant autobiography by an English person. But how to judge it?

Is it simply the babblings of someone who suffered from mental illness -- who believed herself bound by God to do bizzare things that constantly put her at odds with her society? To do that puts me in the dangerous position of having to apply that label to others, from Abraham to Paul -- indeed, having to discount all religious experience as insanity.

Did she genuinely experience the visions of which she wrote? Whether she did or not,
her perseverance in the face of endless opposition, her courage, is inspiring. Her love of even her worst enemies, is humbling.

But without the constant, tiresome references to her crying spells, I think the book would have been half as long.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

One mom's great post

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The City of Ladies, Christine de Pizan, a review

The Book of the City of LadiesThe Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am going to give this book four stars, for the following reasons:

It took a lot of guts to write it.

It was ground-breaking.

It serves a huge need, that of empowering and validating women.

I withhold the fifth star reluctantly but I must. The first section of the book is incredible -- personal, powerful, excellent, as Christine first agonizes over the slights and slurs and oppression that women suffer, and lays out her plan to attack it, and goes busily to work.

But then she fills a lot of space in the second section merely quoting other writers, especially Boccaccio -- rehashing some of his most dreadful tales. What woman could possibly feel inspired by the story of a wife who is lauded as a great spouse, because she allowed her husband to have their two children killed simply because he wanted it so -- saying nothing, doing nothing?

Part three is a very medieval litany of martyred saints, laid out in gruesome detail, one after another, paired with bizzare miracles, such as severed heads bleeding milk -- Mel Gibson would be proud.

I salute Christine for the importance of her work and for the beauty of her personal expressions shining through, where they do shine through. I could have done without the rest of the book.

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

A new look at the Book of Abraham, and questions of faith

As a Latter-day Saint, do not buy into the insistence of some who are opposed to your faith, that the Book of Abraham is a goose which has been thoroughly cooked, a fraud to which only the ignorant still cling.

Most recently, note the work of Kerry M. Muhlestein, BYU ancient scripture professor and vice president of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities. Per BYU Magazine, Fall 2016, Muhlestein examines details of the Book of Abraham as a contributor to Laura Hales' book, "A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History."

He of course builds on the pioneering work of the late Hugh Nibley, which I still recommend.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


To update this blog much more than I have in the past.

To make it a learning tool that I can share with the world.

To bring more attention to it, so that we can discuss life together.

With love,

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A good cause

There are so many ways that good people in the world are working to make it a better place. I am going to start posting links to such people when I find them. Today's choice: Join My Village, a joint project with General Mills and CARE to provide financial opportunities for entrepreneurially minded women of Malawi, Africa.

See the link at right.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Pseudepigraphical Greek Apocalypse of Ezra

I have returned to my re-reading of a series of ancient documents associated with Jews or Christians of long ago. To what purpose? To learn more about the roots of my Judeo-Christian faith; but also to remind myself that men and women of every age have asked the same human questions: What of suffering? Does God judge justly? Why are we even here?

Tonight's reading was short and in essence, is the story of a man who got no answer to his burning question. But it also acquainted me with its first modern translator, the esteemed Constantin von Tischendorf, who traveled far and wide and labored diligently to prove to the world that the Bible had been faithfully transmitted over the centuries; as well as the recent translator of the work, Michael E. Stone, another great scholar,

Greek Apocalypse of Ezra

Once again, we have a strange little writing of unknown provenance, and a composition date that ranges from 150 to 850 A.D. We have no knowledge of whether it was ever accepted as a sacred writing, who wrote it or why, other than he was a Greek-speaking Christian and probably sought to build on existing Ezraic tradition, esp. 4th Ezra.

Though a 15th century Greek manuscript of the text was known to scholars, it fell to the great scholar Constantin von Tischendorf to publish the first edition for the modern age. (In Latin?) This was the same man who discovered the earliest extant version of the Bible, Codex Sinaiticus, in St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai; and who also published, in 1847, an account of his journeys, “Travels in the East.”

This edition is the work of Michael E. Stone, emeritus professor of Armenian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Another interesting scholar and a poet as well.

The writer’s God is one who can be approached, even argued with. And this Ezra does.
It begins with his request to be glorified that he may see God’s mysteries, and find an answer to his gloomy question: isn’t it better that mankind was never born?

God and Ezra both acknowledge that His judgment is just but Ezra, as noted above, wonders why sinful man was created. He gets no real response but seeks to see hell itself. The various torments bring forth his question, again, and still no answer.

Ultimately, God takes his soul to glory and the questions are never answered.