Monthly Archives: March 2016

Mother Angelica’s Passing

She passed away on Easter Sunday, which is certainly fitting.

With God’s help and for His glory, she started with a tiny apostolate and a garage, and ended up with two religious orders and a media empire.

Grant eternal rest unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.

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Good News, Bad News

The good news is that I have a day off.

The bad news is that I woke up with a cold.

I am now drinking soup with lots of garlic and chicken in it.

PS – Wednesday is the spectacular two-part season finale of Rebels. Be there or be square!

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The Legend of Serah, Daughter of Asher

Okay, I definitely have never heard about this female Biblical character before. I’m afraid my eyes went right over her name.

According to the Bible, Serah or Serach was a daughter of Asher who traveled to Egypt to live there under Joseph’s patronage (Gen. 46:17). And also according to the Bible, there was a Serah, daughter of Asher, who went out of Egypt during the Exodus. 210 years later. (Num. 26:46) (1 Chron. 7:30)

This of course was noticed by the ancient rabbis, and made her the subject of a lot of speculation and stories. (Hint: she was a good guy.) She was supposedly the one person who was able to identify Moses and Aaron as sent by God to save the Israelites, thanks to a prophecy passed to her by Asher. She was also the one who remembered where Joseph’s coffin was kept. Some legends even connect her to the “wise woman” in the Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 20:16) who negotiated with Joab and agreed to get the townspeople of Abel Beth-Maacah to execute Sheba son of Bikri, according to an interpretation that reads “I am peaceable and faithful in Israel” (2 Sam. 20:19) or “I seek the welfare of the faithful in Israel” [shelomei emunei Yisrael] as “I completed [the number of] the faithful of Israel.” [shelumai emunei Yisrael] Furthermore, it was said by some rabbis that because she was so good and wise, God allowed her to enter Paradise without dying first (just like Enoch).

The women of the tribe of Asher were traditionally supposed to have been very beautiful, refined, modest, devoted to their kids, and wise (and hence very popular as wives for priests, and for high status men of other tribes). The prophetess Anna daughter of Phanuel, whom Luke tells us never left the Temple and was waiting for the Messiah to be born, was from the tribe of Asher. Asher tribeswomen were all known as “daughters of Asher,” so obviously it might not have been the same Serah before and after the Exodus! But it is a cool story, and shows yet again that Mary’s Assumption is part of a long tradition about righteous Jews going to heaven body and soul.

The downside of the popularity of Asher tribe girls was that the tribe of Asher never got very big!

Here’s another article recounting legends about Serach, such as that her brothers and cousins looked to her to break the news that Joseph was still alive, without giving Jacob a heart attack. 🙂 Read the whole thing, including the footnotes, to find out about how Serach was supposedly a prophetess, and about how pious Jews invoked her name for a safe journey, and for protection against being harmed by wicked people.

More about Serah bat Asher. This article names her as the one who saw angels at the crossing of the Red Sea/Reed Sea, and elaborates further on the legend that she was able to tell later generations what it looked like to have the sea rise up on the right and left. It also elaborates on her fate: perhaps she still wanders the earth keeping an eye on the Jews (like some stories about Elijah); and perhaps she runs a women’s Torah school in Heaven, where all the saintly women who worked hard as caregivers can finally sit down and learn Torah instead.

This Jewish encyclopedia article has more about Serach’s legend, including the association of her name with the expression “serah ha-odef” [“something left over”, or “the remnant remaining”] in Ex. 26:12.

There’s also a rabbinical list of all the people who went to Paradise alive: “Enoch, Elijah, Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah (1 Chron. 4:17-18), the three sons of Korah, King Hiram of Tyre, Jabez, Jonadab son of Rechab and his descendants, Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, Abraham’s servant Eliezer, the slave of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi.”

And that’s a very mixed bunch!

Serah bat Asher on Wikipedia.

“Serah Bat Asher in Rabbinical Literature”: PDF. An academic article about Serah’s legend, which points out that unlike Dinah and Miriam, the other famous and named unmarried women of this part of the Bible, tradition never provides Serah with a husband or children. She’s a virgin all her life. This article goes into detail about the Persian tradition that she died in a horrible medieval synagogue fire in Isfahan, and that her mausoleum was a place of pilgrimage for Persian Jews. Only people of good character could get past the doorposts of the tomb, because the doorway shrinks to keep out the unrighteous. She also shows up as a character in Thomas Mann’s novel, Joseph and His Brothers.

This article says that during the Exodus, Serah was the only one able to look upon God and live. She showed David the Foundation Stone for the Temple, and she helped Jeremiah to hide the Ark and the sacred vessels. This article gives a different version of the Persian synagogue fire: it was caused by a fiery chariot coming to pick Serah up, the fire did not harm the Isfahan synagogue, and the grave is just a memorial cenotaph with no body in it.

This article talks about the connection between Joseph’s words in Gen. 50:24-25, and Moses’ words in Ex. 3:16, as well as Gen. 21:1 and the story of Sarah and Isaac. Traditionally it is Serah who points out the similarity of words.

An interesting analysis of the meaning of the Hebrew name “Serah.” It would seem that her name means something like “free” or “unrestrained” as well as something like “abundance” and “overlapping, excess.”

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Interesting Talk about Wright Field’s History

There is now such a thing as the Fairborn Historical Society, and they held a very interesting talk today about the history of Wright Field. There were two speakers. The first one had written several short histories about Dayton aviation and Wright-Patterson AFB, and the second one was the architect in charge of restoring Wright-Patt’s historic buildings. There was a lot of good information.

One thing that was new to me was the existence of a POW camp at Wright Field during WWII, almost literally next door to several classified research areas. The German and Italian POWs unloaded train cars. They also left a 120 foot mural behind.

One of the base’s contributions to the war effort was Project LUSTY, which stood for LUftwaffe Secret TechnologY. (Yeah, a little bit of acronym torture….) Captured planes and documents were brought over to the US and studied. One pristine Messerschmidt jet plane was delivered fresh from the factory to the Americans in France, courtesy of its ferry pilot’s decision to defect. Thanks to test flights, this plane eventually ended up as wreckage in a field two miles outside Xenia. The farmer held out for money from the government before permitting retrieval… and he’s still waiting! It’s still there!

We also learned about the amazing airminded skullduggery of Colonel Deeds, something that I certainly had never heard about. What was really amazing was that he was never indicted. Dayton’s local heroes are a very mixed bag!

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The Petty Habits of Losers

I recently learned that a certain Republican Women’s Club in Greene County has directed its members not to write the standard congratulation letters to Republicans who won the primary or who won posts in the state Republican Party — if they are connected with the Tea Party in any way — even if they had been members of this particular club for many years. Nor is this a new club policy, one understands.

Really? Could you be any more passive-aggressive and petty?

Basically, you’re saying “we support Republicans whom we like, but we won’t even be civil to lifelong Republicans we don’t like. In fact, we will be less civil than we would be to Democratic Party members.” (And indeed, this club has invited Democrats who have county jobs to come speak, and treated them with hospitality and friendliness.)

If you want to lose both elections and political influence, this is the way to go.

If you don’t want to represent Republican women who vote and run, this is the way to go.

Be serious about party politics and binding yourselves to work together to win, or go home and lose on your own time.

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That Margaret Barker Person Is Creepy

I wondered where the weird Episcopalian raisin cake thing was coming from. Now I know.

Basically, she is a Methodist theologian who wants to paint every mysterious figure in the Bible as referring to Asherat, and apparently that doesn’t except Melchizedek. I feel like I am back reading neopagan feminist fantasy novels from the Eighties, crossed over with Jack Chick tracts.

Her basic theory (and that of some other feminist theologians) is that “El Shaddai” does not mean “my all-mighty/all-sufficient god”, but rather “goddess of the breasts”. Obviously there are problems with this, starting with “el” being the masculine word for a god; the feminine form is “elat” or “elath”. Also as you would predict, she calls this notional deity “the Lady” and “the Queen of Heaven”. Supposedly, all Biblical references to Wisdom are really about this female El Shaddai. (I’m not sure how the Shekhinah glory fits into all this.)

Everything was all happy (instead of mother goddesses being a sign of female oppression and sex slavery, as they often are… but that’s another post) until EVIL King Josiah threw out all the symbols of feminine divine power, substituting a lot of FAKE stuff about Moses and Aaron. Everything that was ever lost from the Temple was not hauled off by God or by Egyptians and Romans, but was actually a SEECRRETT goddess worship thing that bad Josiah destroyed. But the SEEECRET TRAADITIONNNNNNN was handed down in secret wisdom among those who still followed the old religion, and eventually we got Mary worship.


The non-hilarious thing is that Mormons have taken up this stuff as proof that there really are multiple gods and goddesses, including both “the Heavenly Mother” and their cousin Bob who now has his own planet, and that all of their Temple stuff is really true.

The other non-hilarious thing is that obviously there is a lot to say about Temple theology and about the roles of women in Temple Judaism, as well as about what was expected about the Messiah and how early Christians interpreted the OT. Instead of writing those books, Barker is wasting her time on crap and on being a bad guide to others.

Finally, it would seem that Marquette actually invited this woman to give a Marian lecture. The University of Dayton has had some terrible speakers, but at least they’re not playing “Insults to Mary R Us.”

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Sensus Fidei

I really like Fencing Bear at Prayer’s range of sources and quotes about Marian hermeneutics of Scripture, and I think she is onto something. Yes, the early use and the use in so many sources of so many of the same abstruse Biblical references means something big.

The problem is that she has hitched her wagon to this Margaret Barker person and her theories, who wants to turn the known presence of Asherat worship in Israel and the raisin cake thing into an actual inspired theology and Scripture tradition that was killed off by evil evil Josiah and those darned rabbinical vowel pointings, and which came to life again through Virgin Mary worship.

(Seriously, people, is there a rule that every anti-Catholic lie has to be repeated twice: once by non-Catholics as condemnation, and then by other non-Catholics as praise?)

Well, I have been reading patristics and Marian Scripture interpretation for a long while too, and I have the advantage of knowing in my gut that Catholics and Orthodox and Copts are not Collyridian goddess worshippers. So what am I thinking about this?

  1. The entirely human gebirah or queen mother was important in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. She appeared in king lists and interceded with the king (and Esther also acted similarly in the more precarious Persian cultural position of king’s wife). Chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs is quoted from a gebirah. The dad’s mom was in a similar position of influence in most Jewish families, down to the present day, and so was the mom’s mom.

2. Since the royal gebirah was important to any king, people expected any Davidic king to have one. If the Messiah was going to be a Davidic king, his Davidic gebirah was also important, and possibly prophesied. If the Messiah was going to be more like a prophet or a Nazarite, his mom would dedicate him like Samuel or Samson’s mom (or Elizabeth). If the Messiah was going to be more than just human (as Daniel hinted with the God-like powers of the “one like a Son of Man”), his mom would have to be a special Daughter Zion figure. We do see a few Jewish apocalyptic texts attributing  mighty powers to the Messiah’s mom, while still portraying her as a human given these powers by God.

3. OTOH, since Asherat worship seems to have been a common temptation for Jewish women, and since a lot of early Christians may have mixed not entirely ex-paganism with their new religion (a la Roman occult synthesis of everybody), it is possible that some people wanted to turn the Messianic mom into a goddess, and hence the Collyridians. It is possible that one might wrest unorthodox interpretations of Scripture from such people, by teaching orthodox Marian stuff more heavily; but really we see more Marian stuff showing up versus Nestorianism, as a guard against bad Christology. We don’t know any bad interpretations from those Collyridian folks, so it would be just guessing now.

4. On the other side, however, the niche of “God’s highest creation and perfect human who is not God” is extremely persistent among people who don’t want to concede it to Mary. From the Arians on, a lot of people put Jesus there. The Muslims claim Mohammed is the Perfect Man. So it makes more sense to think Mary is important as being a human who manages to do it right, than having her be some goddess figure.

5. Actually, most patristic sources seem to use Lady Wisdom as referring directly to Jesus (not the Holy Spirit or Mary), although obviously it got important later and many Christ verses can also refer to Mary or the Church or the Christian soul. (I would be curious to see any stats showing otherwise about early use.) But yup, Song of Songs is used early for both the Church and Mary.

6. The Scriptural figure of Israel as wayward or faithful wife, of Daughter Zion, of the Valiant Woman and the various wise (or stubborn) Matriarchs, Esther, Judith, and the Jewish tradition of the Torah and Sabbath as spotless women or brides, would seem to relate more closely to Marian readings of Scripture than any guesswork goddess. (The presence of women in semi-liturgical roles at Jewish festivals, and the prayer roles of  both ordinary Jewish women in in the home and of priests’ wives in their homes, may tie in, too.)

So without reading this Bear’s actual book, or indeed any Barker books, I do not know if that is the orthodox direction she is going, or if she has another orthodox direction. I would hope so. If she is taking this in a weird heretical way (which was what the Marquette talk sounded like, at the end and unexpectedly), I hope she turns it around. Listening to Mary brings one toward Christ and the Church, not out into the darkness or into the company of Jezabel. Mary is the proto-Christian.

Just to be clear, however, I still like the cut of Fencing Bear at Prayer’s jib. I just hope she knows where she’s sailing. Even if she doesn’t, I’m pretty sure her observations will continue to be interesting!


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