Saturday, May 8, 2010

Essay: Bible

Here is another essay I wrote for school. This one was written for my Bible as Literature class in the fall term of 2008. In addition to the Bible itself, I also talk about Northrop Frye's The Great Code. I post it here with only a little editing.

Please note, its style is very casual because the professor wanted us to focus more on what we were saying than on things like smooth transitions.

I know I might be stepping on some toes here, talking about the Bible. I hope I don't offend anyone.

This essay might not be completely understandable unless you're already familiar with Frye's book when I reference it, or the Biblical stories when I mention them.

Frye's book, Book of Esther, and Jonah

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As a Pagan I find it fascinating to read Frye's explanation of Paganism. I appreciate how he emphasizes the cyclical aspect, and shows how it is so involved in the mythologies. In fact, his description reminded me in particular of the neo-Pagan religion Wicca when he described the myth of the Goddess and her companion: “This companion may be her son, her lover, or a ‘dying god,’ a victim either of herself or some aspect of the ‘dead’ time of year,” (69.) Some Wiccans reject this myth as sexist, but it is nonetheless a myth which I expect any Pagan is familiar with.
Of particular interest to me is the transition from natura naturans to natura naturata. I naturally think in cyclical natura naturans terms, though I also easily translate my thinking into linear natura naturata terms – perhaps because of the Christian dominated society in which I have grown up. Nonetheless, even though I can move to linear thinking easily, it feels somewhat alien to me, and I find it fascinating to look at how Frye describes how cyclical thinking turned to linear thinking. Frustratingly I do not fully understand yet his explanation yet, even though I have read his explanation multiple times. Perhaps the reason I am particularly interested in this particular topic is that I feel somewhat caught between the two modes of thinking, since I naturally think in cyclical terms and yet am in a linear thinking and working culture. It’s a quandary I keep coming back to.
Abrupt topic change – the Book of Esther. I can’t help but wonder why queen Vashti didn’t come when king Ahasuerus commanded her to. No explanation is provided, and apparently Ahasuerus never bothered asking for one. So, that leaves me to brainstorm ideas. Was she sick? Was she PMS-al, and in a bad mood? Was she having a bad hair day, and couldn’t bear the thought of appearing in public? Or was she tired of being at Ahasuerus’ beck and call, had an idea of what would happen when she refused his command, and welcomed the freedom she would gain by being banished from his presence? I admit, I like this last idea the best, though I highly doubt that it was the case.
I also noticed that king Ahasuerus seemed to always do what was recommended to him. He seems to be no more than a figure head. When Memu suggested Vashti’s punishment, Ahasuerus simply says “sure thing!” When Haman suggests that the Jews be persecuted, and gallows set up, Ahasuerus simply says “sure thing!” yet again. Then Ahasuerus is reminded of the good deed which Mordecai did for him, and finally makes a decision for himself: to reward Mordecai. Yet, he decides to reward Mordecai in a manner which Haman suggests. Then Ahasuerus’ new queen, Esther, asks for mercy for her people, yet again he says “sure thing!” Then Ahasuerus gets angry with Haman when Esther points out that it is Haman’s fault that her people, the Jews, were so poorly treated. Then Ahasuerus finally makes another decision of his own, and decides to hang Haman – ironically at the gallows which Haman himself had made for the Jews. I could continue somewhat further. The point is, it seems that it is not in fact Ahasuerus himself who is ruler, but rather whoever happens to be closest to his ear at any given moment. He does make two decisions himself, in all that I have mentioned, but everything else he simply does as he is told.
I noticed that Ahasuerus gave his ring to whoever was his “second in command” at any given moment: first Haman, and then Mordecai. I also noticed that it was simply referred to as a ring, and not called a signet ring.
Changing topic to Jonah now. I have been familiar with this myth (who isn’t, in this part of the world?) but this was actually my first time reading. I hadn’t realized before that Jonah had tried to refuse God’s bidding, and that if not for that he might not have been eaten by the fish. Also, I’ve always heard before that it was a whale that ate Jonah – I guess it depends on the translation as to what it is. I wonder what Jonah thought, when he was thrown overboard by the frightened sailors during the storm, and especially what he thought when he saw this giant fish bearing down on him, its mouth agape. I noticed that he was in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights. Three is a number which occurs often in Celtic mythology, I know.
Lastly, I want to go back to Frye. Mentioning Celtic mythology just now reminded me that I am so delighted with Frye’s definition of the word. I myself don’t look at mythology and say “this is true!” or “this is false!” It simply is. It is a story, and has truth in it one way other. Perhaps it is something that you would have literally seen if you were there (weltegeschichte) or perhaps, as is more likely in my opinion, it is what was really going on, though you might not have realized it from simply viewing events (heilsgeschicte). In any event, it is something to be enjoyed, and learned from. This is the mind frame with which I myself approach the Bible. There are parts which might seem laughable to me, such as how easily Ahasuerus is manipulated. But there many other parts which I take seriously, though not literally. (And really, perhaps I should take Ahasuerus seriously – that I’ll have to think on.) One example of something I take seriously is the myth of Jonah. I have not fully digested it yet, but there has got to be something to him spending three days and three nights in the whale of a fish.
Perhaps it is ironic that I take it seriously when a man is in a fish’s belly for three days and nights but comes out alive, but I laugh when a king is merely a figure head.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Good to see that Northrop Frye is still a leading authority in this area. It's been donkey's years since he wrote The Great Code. But I guess Biblical scholarship doesn't move as quickly as, say, computer studies!

Sarita Rucker said...

lol Definitely. If it moved that quickly then my Bible as Literature class in 2008 would be totally outdated by now. :)


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