June 21, 2008


Benjamin West's Isaiah's Lips Anointed with Fire, courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero is traveling at the moment but the blog goes on. The theme is one of the world's first short stories, the biblical book of Jonah, which sits among the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament.

The terms prophet, prophetic, and prophecy are badly abused these days. Some folks consider themselves prophetic any time they rant. And other folks of the fundamentalist persuasion are under the impression that ancient Hebrews had nothing better to talk about than things that would happen 2,500 years later. These folks torture the Bible until it confesses that the end of the world is at hand.

In reality, the term is applied to a large number of people in the Hebrew Bible over centuries, so it's hard to come up with a single definition. According to the Oxford Companion to the Bible,

In general, it may be said that prophets were men or women believed to be recipients through audition, vision, or dream of divine messages that they passed on to others by means of speech or symbolic actions.

The major Hebrew prophets aimed most of their thunder at the rulers and powerful people of their day, calling them back to the Covenant and to God's demand of justice for the poor. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it,

Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet's words.

For a really good introduction to and overview of the topic, check out Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination.

Most of the prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible contain teachings attributed by the prophets with some accompanying narrative. The book of Jonah is unique in that it is all story. And it's a good one.

More on that tomorrow.

STILL TRAVELING. Regular posts with links and snarky comments about current events should resume June 30.


June 20, 2008


Innards courtesy of wikipedia.

The book of Jonah is a nugget of a short story within the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament. But before diving into that whale of a tale, a little biblical anatomy may be in order.

The Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament share the same books in the case of Protestants, although the order is a little different. Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians include other books.

Probably just because I'm used to it, the way the Protestant Old Testament is organized makes sense to me. It can be divided into the Torah, historical writings, wisdom books, and prophets.

The Torah or Pentateuch is the name commonly given to the first five books. They deal with the creation, the story of the family of Abraham, slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, the covenant on Sinai, wanderings in the desert, and various laws.

The historical writings come next, starting with Joshua and ending with Esther. Note: these represent the historical stories told by and about the Hebrew people from the time of Moses' death to the resettlement of Judah after the Babylonian exile. It's theological rather than "objective" history (whether any kind of history can be objective is another subject) and some versions disagree with each other.

Then comes an interesting collection of songs, stories and wisdom writings that include Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (which totally rocks), and the Song of Solomon, an earthy love poem that people have tried to twist into a spiritual allegory for centuries.

The rest of the books, 17 in all, are the writings of and about the Hebrew prophets and it's here we'll find our fishing buddy Jonah.

The terms prophet, prophetic, and prophecy are pretty spattered in modern discourse and need a little cleaning off. More on that tomorrow.

STILL GONE. El Cabrero should be in Mexico by the time you read this. The link/current event feature will resume around June 30.


June 19, 2008


Image courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero has noticed a strange paradox about people's attitudes towards the Bible. On one side, quite a few people seem to be pretty biblically illiterate and, on the other, quite a few people seem to worship it as some kind of textual deity. The weird thing is, there's quite a bit of overlap between two groups.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, where the Bible is taken seriously but not necessarily literally. Every service consisted of several readings from it, including a psalm, a reading from another part of the Hebrew Bible, and selections from the gospels and epistles. Many of the other words in the liturgy were derived from the Bible.

I couldn't help soaking up a lot of it just by being there, even though I wasn't raised to regard it as a science book or infallible oracle. I had plenty of pals who did, but they often had only the vaguest ideas of what it actually said.

If I had my druthers, there would be way more biblical literacy and way less literalism. It really is a great book or collection of books and, like many BIG STORIES, the themes therein influence our lives and culture whether we're aware of them or not. To miss all that is to miss out on or be misinformed about something that has shaped us all...kind of like Shakespeare only more so.

Reading or hearing it has been pretty much a constant in my life, even while my moment to moment religious (or non-religious) opinions bounced all over the map. I would encourage you, Gentle Reader, whatever your theology or lack thereof may be, to crack it open every so often and give it a non-sectarian look.

That's going to happen over the next stretch at Goat Rope, with a special focus on the little gem that tells the story of Jonah. Stay tuned.

NOTE: El Cabrero is on the road, so the current event/link feature is down.


June 18, 2008


Coptic icon of Jonah, courtesy of wikipedia. Looks more like a carp than a whale to me. And I've seen some almost big enough to swallow a person.

El Cabrero is about to head south of the border for the next several days, but fear not--your daily dose of Goat Rope will continue, minus the links and comments about current events.

Since I'll have limited internet access, allow me to say in advance that I extend my condolences if anything really bad happens and congratulations if anything really good happens.

Otherwise, the theme for this stretch of time is the Goat Rope Vacation Bible School. I've been thinking a lot about the short but charming book of Jonah lately, which is rich in story, associations, and humor, and I'd like to explore it in a non-sectarian manner.

Here's part of the reason for the timing. A good friend of mine who is a regular reader of this blog breaks out in hives anytime I discuss the Bible or religion. But, since this person is going on the same trip, I should be able to get away with it.

Stay tuned.


June 17, 2008


Recent scientific discoveries point more and more to the evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and birds (search the Goat Rope archives for more). And the contemporary animal that shows up in articles about the above is the peacock.

Not long ago, there was an announcement that some dinosaurs had feathers, along with speculation that these performed the same display functions that you see in peafowl. Recent DNA tests have found that the tyrannosaurus had more genes in common with peafowl and chickens than with crocodiles and Komodo dragons.

Based on those premises, here are El Cabrero's thoughts on what you need to know about keeping dinosaurs.

1. Dinosaurs are LOUD. Especially in the summer when thoughts turn to love.

2. Dinosaurs are all about showing off. Especially the guys. (Note: they may not have a monopoly on this.) But they dress casually in the off-season.

3. Dinosaurs are kind of smart but really emotional when their hormones are ramped up. Sometimes boy dinosaurs get jealous of each other and chase each other around like a scene from the Benny Hill Show. But they can be really parental--even the dads (when the chicks are little).

4. Dinosaurs like to take dust baths.

5. Dinosaurs like to walk around and pick at things, but they usually sleep in pretty much the same places given the opportunity.

6. Dinosaurs are all about courtship, except for the chicken-related branches, for which consent is not required.

7. Dinosaurs read entirely too much sociobiology.

One final word about peacocks from the realm of religion. In a book I recently read on Buddhism, I was reminded that Prince Siddhartha grew up in a palace complete with peacocks in the garden. Now I know why he left home...

All I really wanted was a cat.

TOOL KIT for extreme inequality is here, by way of The Nation.

RISING FOOD PRICES are forcing many agencies to cut nutritional corners.

SEX ON THE BRAIN. Scientists have found a possible link between sexual orientation and brain symmetry.



ONE FOR THE ROAD. El Cabrero is about to hit the road for a while. Goat Rope, like the show, must go on, but without links about current events.


June 16, 2008


Caption: Wu is all about non-dualistic thinking.

While perusing a little book on Buddhism, I came across a nugget on the perverse connection between dualistic thinking, morality and violence that's worth passing on:

...The fundamental cause of violence is when one is fixated on an extreme idea, such as justice or morality. This fixation usually stems from a habit of buying into dualistic views, such as bad and good, ugly and beautiful, moral and immoral. One's inflexible self-righteousness takes up all the space that would allow empathy for others. Sanity is lost...--Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, What Makes you Not a Buddhist

Gee, wouldn't it be terrible if we had a national leader who has consumed by dualistic and self-righteous thinking?

THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT. Here's an item from Alternet on the new Gilded Age.

IF IT'S ANY ECONOMIC CONSOLATION, CEO pay is through the roof.

WHAT HE SAID. Here's WV's own J. Davitt McAteer on coal mine safety.

GETTING RELIGION ABOUT E.T. This item from Wired Science revisits the theological implications of extraterrestrial life (if there is any).

IT'S ABOUT TIME HE STARTED BLOGGING. Allow El Cabrero to present the musings of the Hermit, a wise old friend interested in science, spirituality, and the state of the world. I've been bugging him to do this for years.

SCARY RANDOM THOUGHT. What if terrorist sleeper cells in the US conspire to skew the voting in So You Think You Can Dance?