Inspired – The Bible as Story – Part 2

By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan


January 22nd, 2023

Gilgamesh Master Of Animals



Lectio Divina – Divine or Sacred Reading-(Download)


Opening Prayer – Prayer of Awareness
Light - golden light, fresh from the source.
Colors - creation’s colors calling our senses.
Life – life in its oneness, life in its manifold oneness all from You.
You are the Sun from whom the morning shines; You are the River in whom each life-form flows,
Each face, each race, each cell within our ever-living soul. This new day we greet You.
  • John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 10.


Part I - “Origin Stories”
   [“Inspired – Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans.]
     If you’re curious, you will never leave the text without learning something new. If you’re persistent,
you just might leave inspired.

     Our Bible was forged from a crisis of faith. Though many of its stories, proverbs, and poems were undoubtedly passed down through oral tradition, scholars believe the writing and compilation of most of Hebrew Scripture, also known as the Old Testament, began during the reign of King David and gained momentum during the Babylonian invasion of Judah and in the wake of the Babylonian exile, when Israel was occupied by that mighty pagan empire.
     One cannot overstate the trauma of this exile. The people of Israel had once boasted a king, a temple, and a great expanse of land – all of which they believed had been given to them by God and ensured to them forever. But in the sixth century BC, King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, destroying both the city and its temple. Many of the Jews who lived there were taken captive and forced into the empire’s service. Others remained, but without a king, without a place of worship, without a national identity. This catastrophic event threw everything the people of Israel believed about themselves and about their God into question. Many assumed their collective sins were to blame and that with repentance their honor might be restored. Others feared God had abandoned them completely. Priests wondered how to conduct rituals and sacrifices without a temple or an altar, and parents worried their children would grow enamored by the wealth and power of Babylon and forget their own people’s most cherished values.
     The words of Psalm 137:1-6 capture the agony. {A portion of Psalm 137 is read.]
     It should come as no surprise to any writer that all this emotional suffering produced some quality literature. Jewish scribes got to work, pulling together centuries of oral and written material and adding reflections of their own as they wrestled through this national crisis of faith. If the people of Israel no longer had their own land, their own king, or their own temple, what did they have?
     They had their stories. They had their songs. They had their traditions and laws. They had the promise that the God who set all of creation in order, who told Abraham his descendants would outnumber the stars, who rescued the Hebrews from slavery, who spoke to them from Mount Sinai, and who turned a shepherd boy into a king, would remain present with them no matter what. This God would be faithful.
     Today we still return to our roots in times of crisis; we look to the stories of our origins to make sense of things, to remember who we are. The role of origin stories, both in the Near Eastern culture from which the Old Testament emerged and at that familiar kitchen table where you first learned the story of how your grandparents met, is to enlighten the present by recalling the past. Origin stories are rarely straightforward history. Over the years, they morph into a colorful amalgam of truth and myth, nostalgia and cautionary tale, the shades of their significance brought out by the particular light of a particular moment.
     Contrary to what many of us are told, Israel’s origin stories weren’t designed to answer scientific, twenty-first-century questions about the beginning of the universe or the biological evolution of human beings, but rather were meant to answer then-pressing, ancient questions about the nature of God and God’s relationship to creation. Even the story of Adam and Eve, found in Genesis 2 and 3, is thought by many scholars to be less a story about human origins and more a story about Israel’s origins, a symbolic representation of Israel’s pattern of habitation, disobedience, and exile, set in primeval time.
     As much as we may wish them to be, our present squabbles over science, politics, and public school textbooks were not on the minds of those Jewish scribes seeking to assure an oppressed and scattered people they were still beloved by God. To demand that the Bible meet our demands is to put ourselves and our own interests at the center of the story, which is one of the first traps we must learn to avoid if we are to engage the Bible with integrity or care.
     Indeed, one cannot seriously engage the origin stories of the Pentateuch – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – without encountering ancient and foreign assumptions about the nature of reality. The first creation account of Genesis 1, for example, presumes the existence of a firmament, a vast dome into which the stars and moon were affixed, believed by the Hebrews and their ancient neighbors to keep great cascades of water above the earth from crashing into the land below. An entire day is devoted to the creation of this “vault between the waters” (Genesis 1:6) with no mention of the fact that modern science proves no such atmospheric contraption exists. In addition to sharing a cosmological worldview with their neighbors, the Jewish scribes who compiled the Hebrew Scriptures shared literary sensibilities with them. If, like me, you read the “Epic of Gilgamesh” in college, you already know there are striking similarities between that Akkadian poem, which likely predates Genesis, and the story of Noah. Both involve a worldwide flood and a noble character who builds a boat, rescues the earth’s animals, releases birds to see if the waters subsided, and eventually survives when the boat comes to rest on a mountain. Questions regarding which community borrowed form which are less important than simply acknowledging the fact that Israel shared a conceptual world with its neighbors and used similar literary genres and stories to address issues of identity and purpose.
     You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to recognize these genre categories for what they are.

For this week with the “ear of your heart”: Read Genesis 1:20 – 2:3 and practice Lectio Divina.
“Thought for Extending the Practice”: In the second half of the creation story, God moves from making inanimate objects to making living things. Humans are sacred. They are not only good but also blessed with qualities that enable them to share in God’s power of creation and oversight of the world. What would it mean to act as an image of God to all those I meet in my daily routine?
     Source for “Thought for Extending the Practice”: “The CEB Lectio Divina Prayer Bible”
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Closing Prayer – Prayer of Blessing
On this day the blessings of heaven. On this day the blessings of earth. On this day the blessings of sea and sky. To open us to life, to ground us in life, to fill us with life and with wonder.
On those we love this day, and on every human family the blessings of heaven, the blessings of earth, the
blessings of sea and of sky.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul. May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
  • John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 12.

“Inspired”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2023.

Posted by Mark Hamby at 06:30
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