Why Evangelicals Don’t Read Philo Judaeus

It’s the New Year again, time to look at something substantive.  This topic may seem a little arcane, but rest assured there’s a grenade with a pin waiting to be pulled.

Evangelicals are generally suspicious of the whole concept of relating the Bible to the ancient world around it, except archaeologically.  But there are two Jewish authors more or less contemporaneous with the New Testament that get mentioned frequently: Flavius Joesphus and Philo Judaeus.  Getting past mention, Josephus gets quoted frequently, although he sold out God’s Chosen People at Jotapata during the Jewish War.

Philo is another matter.  When Hendrickson published The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition, the publisher noted “the relative lack of availability of Philo’s works.”  The internet has solved that problem (although reading the hard copy is a lot easier than doing so on an iPad, for instance) but Philo is still someone you don’t hear cited very often.  Lack of availability isn’t the problem: what Philo has to say is.

One issue that hasn’t quite been tidied up is Philo’s influence on the New Testament.  Simply put, did the New Testament’s authors (especially John and the author of Hebrews) read Philo and be influenced by him, or did all of them simply work out of the same Platonic play-book? The jury is still out on this question; I tend to side with the latter.  The idea that the New Testament has any Hellenistic philosophical or cultural influence–and the whole subject of Hellenistic vs. Palestinian Judaism–is a complicated one that spills into our understanding, for example, of the early part of the Book of Acts.  These days its more fashionable to denigrate any Hellenistic influence, and this denigration runs from the successors of Darby to N.T. Wright.  So chalk up one reason why Evangelicals leave Philo to gather dust on the shelf.

Philo’s writings cover the interpretation of some important parts of the Old Testament, especially the early parts.  His influence on Patristic Biblical hermeneutic, especially with the likes of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, is enormous, if, like Tertullian, not gratefully acknowledged.  So what did he have to say?

Let’s start with the easy part: Philo had a high view of the truth content of the Scriptures.  He routinely refers to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, and in that context states the following:

And this same man (Moses) was likewise a lawgiver; for a king must of necessity both command and forbid, and law is nothing else but a discourse which enjoins what is right and forbids what is not right; but since it is uncertain what is expedient in each separate case (for we often out of ignorance command what is not right to be done, and forbid what is right), it was very natural for him also to receive the gift of prophecy, in order to ensure him against stumbling; for a prophet is an interpreter, God from within prompting him what he ought to say; and with God nothing is blameable. (On Rewards and Punishments, 55)

Philo pushes toward what we would call a “mantic” concept of the inspiration of the Scriptures, which is discussed elsewhere.  That may not be what Evangelical scholars think when they consider inspiration, but a mantic concept is implied in most everyday Evangelical teaching and preaching.

So much for the easy part: so how does this play out in Philo’s commentary on the Scriptures? Let’s consider the six days of creation–a hot topic these days–and here is where things get interesting:

And he says that the world was made in six days, not because the Creator stood in need of a length of time (for it is natural that God should do everything at once, not merely by uttering a command, but by even thinking of it); but because the things created required arrangement: and number is akin to arrangement; and, of all numbers, six is, by the laws of nature, the most productive: for of all the numbers, from the unit upwards, it is the first perfect one, being made equal to its parts, and being made complete by them; the number three being half of it, and the number two a third of it, and the unit a sixth of it, and, so to say, it is formed so as to be both male and female, and is made up of the power of both natures; for in existing things the odd number is the male, and the even number is the female; accordingly, of odd numbers the first is the number three, and of even numbers the first is two, and the two numbers multiplied together make six.

It was fitting therefore, that the world, being the most perfect of created things, should be made according to the perfect number, namely, six: and, as it was to have in it the causes of both, which arise from combination, that it should be formed according to a mixed number, the first combination of odd and even numbers, since it was to embrace the character both of the male who sows the seed, and of the female who receives it.

And he allotted each of the six days to one of the portions of the whole, taking out the first day, which he does not even call the first day, that it may not be numbered with the others, but entitling it one, he names it rightly, perceiving in it, and ascribing to it the nature and appellation of the limit. (On the Creation, 13-15)

Philo basically turns the whole narrative into a numerological exercise, extracting the meaning from the numbers that come up.  It should be noted that Philo wasn’t just making all of this up on his own; the significance of numbers was intertwined with Greek mathematics, as anyone who has read Nicomachus of Gerasa (who came from the Decapolis and lived in the years after the New Testament) will attest. It was a tradition that went back to Pythagoras himself.

“And on the sixth day God finished his work which he
had made.” It would be a sign of great simplicity to think
that the world was created in six days, or indeed at all in
time; because all time is only the space of days and nights,
and these things the motion of the sun as he passes over the earth and under the earth does necessarily make. But the sun is a part of heaven, so that one must confess that time is a thing posterior to the world. Therefore it would be correctly said that the world was not created in time, but that time had its existence in consequence of the world. For it is the motion of the heaven that has displayed the nature of time.

When, therefore, Moses says. “God completed his works on the sixth day,” we must understand that he is speaking not of a number of days, but that he takes six as a perfect number. Since it is the first number which is equal in its parts, in the half, and the third and sixth parts, and since it is produced by the multiplication of two unequal factors, two and three. And the numbers two and three exceed the incorporeality which exists in the unit; because the number two is an image of matter being divided into two parts and dissected like matter. And the number three is an image of a solid body, because a solid can be divided according to a threefold division. (Allegorical Interpretation, I, 2-3)

Here he basically denies the creation in six literal days.  After you pass Ken Ham the smelling salts, you might ask: how can he state in one place that Moses put this all down without error and in the other deny the six literal days? The answer is the key to understanding how both Philo himself and those who came after him interpreted the Scriptures.

Virtually any Neoplatonist–and that includes Philo and many others–held as axiomatic the idea that the ultimate reality of the universe was beyond the physical world.  That may seem odd to us, but the one place where that concept is entertained in the sciences–mathematics–developed in the same milieu with Neoplatonic philosophy, as a quick perusal of Philo’s quotes above will attest.  That in turn was not only infused into Judaism and Christianity but also Islam, especially in Persia, where it appears in many of the Sufi writings.  (A Persian was also one of the first to write a book on algebra).

Given that, the primary role of the Scriptures is not as a proof-text but as a window to God’s truth.  In this context the words of scripture and the acts recorded there are merely signs of the heavenly, incorporeal truths that are behind them.  Philo’s method is allegorical, i.e., the words of Scripture are allegories for a spiritual truth behind them.  In fact, in this context a good argument can be made that allegory/typology as the first meaning of Scripture is also a sign that it is inspired.

This method, for all of its well-documented weaknesses, has one main advantage: it simplifies the interpretation of texts when the “literal” meaning is difficult.  We see this in the passage on Genesis above; the same passage is often interpreted in a more-than-literal way by “old earthers” of all stripes.  In a New Testament context, Origen frankly discusses this subject in favour of an allegorical method.  “Difficult” can also include things that no longer are favourable to a new audience, such as the wars in the Old Testament.  These problems existed for the ancients as well, albeit they prioritised the problems differently than we do.

Additionally the method enables the interpreter to apply historical passages to the moral, personal and spiritual betterment of its hearers.  Most people (especially Americans) don’t have a really good sense of history; this application enables people to relate the truths of Scripture to their own lives when they otherwise would not.  This part of the method is alive and well, especially in the Charismatic world.

The viable alternative to this is to use the “progressive revelation” concept, such as we see in Daniel-Rops’ Sacred History.  Most evangelicals are even more afraid of this than allegory, in no small measure because a) it too is hard for people to understand and b) many liberals have misused it for their own foul purposes.

Instead what we have these days is a hermeneutic which is literal, in concept at least, which has as high of a view of inspiration as Philo had but insists that the literal interpretation (which doesn’t necessarily equal the author’s intent) is it, difficulties or not.  The largest drawback to this is that, in instead of seeing the Old Testament as a type and preparation for the New, they elevate the commands of the two to a nearly equal level, which is one reason why we end up with “synthetic Judaism” more often than not.

The Bible deserves better than what we’re giving it these days.  Philo’s method has problems of its own, but it’s time that we look for a better way than the one we’re using, and in that regard Philo–and the whole Patristic tradition that, to varying degrees, drew from him–is as good of a place to start as any.

The Silly, Masonic Debate on Whether We Worship the Same God

It seems that some things never go away, and the running battle over whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God is one of those.  The day I picked to take on this subject is deliberate: it’s the feast of St. John the Evangelist, which is also one of the great holidays of Masonry.

As I’ve noted before, Masonry runs deep in both sides of my family, especially my father’s. Yet, in part because of the secret nature of the Lodge, Masonry’s influence on the way Americans look at things is consistently overlooked.  This is a subject where Masonry has had a very significant impact.  So, on their holiday, I think it proper to take it on.

Let me begin by going back to an earlier post where I look at the running attempt by Malaysian Muslims (you heard it right) to suppress Christian usage of the word “Allah” for God:

In this country, it’s “politically correct” to assume that a) both Christians and Muslims worship the same god and b) by extension, it’s permissible to call him by names common to both religions.  This is the line encouraged by CAIR and other groups.  However, I have seen this attacked in Muslim literature as Masonic, not Islāmic.  Evidently that, in a roundabout way, is the position of the Muslim protesters in Malaysia.

The court, on a factual basis, is correct.  Christians in Muslim countries (especially Arab ones, but also in places such as Indonesia) routinely refer to God as Allah and this is reflected in Biblical translations.  Conversely all English “interpretations” of the Qur’an before the last century translated the Arabic Allah as “God.”  It was left to Marmaduke Pickthall to transliterate the term “Allah” because, in his opinion, “there is no corresponding word in English.”  Evidently he felt that the Christian and Islamic conceptions of God were so different that different names were necessary.

Having set that up, let’s turn to the Lodge. Masons often defend themselves by saying “We don’t believe that,” but that’s the Masonic way: take a position and then hide it behind the secret ritual and deny it. (Perhaps that explains the game of bluff of American politics, but that’s another post…) But Masonry has two underlying tenets that anyone who is honest about the subject will admit:

  1. All religions are the same, have the same goal and ultimately lead to the same god.
  2. The Lodge offers a way to the “Great Architect of the Universe” that transcends all the other religions, via good works.

The first is falsifiable by a casual examination of different religions.  We cannot worship the same god when the number is different, i.e. polytheistic Hinduism, non-theistic Confucianism, Buddhism which can go either way, etc..  Islam, as a monotheistic religion, is a little more complicated, but we’ll get to that.  The second basically makes Masonry a religion in its own right, something it has worked hard to deny for many years.

A culture which has been permeated by the first proposition–and American culture certainly has–is vulnerable to confusion based on the first point. If both religions are monotheistic, then they must worship the same god, and thus both will get us to “heaven”, right?  It’s little wonder that Christian leaders are so quick to differentiate two “Gods” in a culture soaked with this kind of thinking.

But such a concern is really unnecessary.  The easiest way to explain this is to look back on all the years that the European Christians and the Muslims fought via the Crusades, the reconquest of Spain, the Ottoman conflicts, etc.  Islam was portrayed in Europe as a Christian heresy, as any reader of Dante is aware of. Christians were called “infidels” not because they were atheists or worshipped a different God but because they rejected the revelation that Mohammed received.  In both cases, access to God was as important as the existence of God himself; both sides took as axiomatic that bad access led to bad eternal consequences.

The problem with pushing the “two Gods” idea is that it not only undermines the concept of monotheism; it opens the door for other interlopers such as the Lodge to make inroads, and as we see they’ve already done a good job in that regards.

Access is really the key issue here. Christian–and Islāmic leaders for that matter–should stop and consider things carefully before they take positions that are antithetical to the ones they’re supposed to hold.

The Place Which Watches the Grass Grow Gets a Pass on Shari’a

Brunei slides past our sybaritic elites:

The sultan of Brunei has issued an edict that threatens Muslims with five years in prison if they celebrate Christmas. Christians are told that their celebrations must remain secret or they can be jailed as well.

One of my family business‘ customers was Brunei Shell, as the state sanctioned oil monopoly was called at the time. (Note that the Dutch were complicit in creating this Islamic money machine, as were they and other Western countries in just about all of the world). Our personnel would visit from time to time; my brother stopped by about a quarter century ago.  His comment was that Brunei was “a good place to watch the grass grow”. Now we have a situation that, with Shari’a law, that’s about the only legal thing left to do.

You think that our “freedom-loving” government would want to do something about this? Think again:

But while most Americans don’t know about Brunei, the Obama Regime does know about Brunei. Members of the Obama Regime loves Brunei. In fact, they love Brunei so much, they included Brunei in the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade deal…Under this deal, there can be no labeling to tell you a product is made in America. Do you want to boycott Brunei because of the way it treats Christians and because it is implementing Islamic law? Good luck finding labeling that tells you products were made in Brunei. Under the TPP, it is even arguable that citizen boycotts of the products of a certain nation could open the individuals up to litigation.

Everybody knows that the current Occupant has little use for Christians.  But wait: didn’t the Shari’a-loving Sultan get into it with the LGBT community because he owns hotels in the Los Angeles area? Guess they’re out of luck too on a boycott. This is especially strange since our government has made a great effort for same LGBT community in Africa, with dubious results for everyone.

The really sad thing this about this is that we have yet another Muslim monarch giving way to the brainless, Saudi Arabian policy of enforcing across-the-board Shari’a in a way that not even the early caliphs did.  They could have taken a cue from the earlier Ottomans, but that, sad to say, is out of fashion in Islam.

Anglicanism Without Canterbury

The Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, Kenya’s Anglican primate, lays it out:

It has been suggested that the way forward is for the Anglican Communion to abandon the idea that there should be mutual recognition between the provinces and that it should instead find its unity simply in a common relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This is not historic Anglicanism; the See of Canterbury is honoured and respected as the Mother Church of the Communion, but the unity of the Communion does not depend upon the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rather, it depends upon the various provinces being able to recognize each other, with all their differences of culture, as truly apostolic and committed to the faith as it has been received. Tragically, that recognition has now broken down and affection for Canterbury is no substitute.

I have felt for a long time that the North Americans on both sides are too heavily invested in Canterbury and need a reality check, both about the current state of the Communion and what a Christian church is really supposed to be all about.  Wabukala evidently has figured out both; hopefully both he and his North American counterparts will arrange for “open return” travel arrangements for the meeting next month.

The Non-Nestorian Theology of “Mary Did You Know”

Jordan Smith’s stunning performance of “Mary Did You Know” on “The Voice” is a reminder of the fact that this song–written by Baptist comedian Mark Lowry–is American Evangelicalism’s “official” Christmas carol.

What Evangelicals probably don’t know is that, for all of their reputation for sloppy theology, Lowry nailed it on this one:

Did you know
that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

One of the first heresies the church had to deal with after it picked itself off of the floor after Arianism was Nestorius’ contention that Jesus Christ was very dual in his being, that the human and the divine persons were very separate. Nestorius himself contended that “God is not a baby two or three months old”.

And so, Evangelicals, when your Orthodox friends (assuming you have any) rail at you when you don’t know the Thrice-Holy Hymn, or that you do not cross yourself at all let alone with two or three fingers, or that you do not recite the Creed during your worship of God, you can say that you’re not a Nestorian.

Which shows, I suppose, that Evangelicalism is where the comedians have a better grasp of theology than the pulpiteers.

Home is Where the Heart Is, But the Wallet Cannot Go

Christmas is the time of year when we think of “home”. Home for many Americans generates warm fuzzy feelings of a place where things were simpler and life was, somehow, better. It brings memories of places we’ve left, assuming we’ve left them behind at all.  And it’s a place where, for all the saccharine sentiment, most of us wouldn’t want to move back to, because where we’re at is better materially than where we started.

For those of us who grew up in a place like Palm Beach, life is different.

To start with, Christmas in South Florida is something of a mind bender. When we South Floridians (or anyone who grew up in a tropical or sub-tropical place) hear of people waxing about “sleigh bells in the snow” our first question is simple: snow? For me, memories of Christmas turn to a Christmas day when my brother, first armed with a driver’s license, and I cruised down the streets of West Palm Beach in 75 deg. F weather, windows down, and sunny.  Who needs snow?

Being on our side of the lake–the barrier between us and the riff-raff–was even stranger.  People go on about many things they experienced where they grew up, but honestly the best thing about being a kid on the North End of Palm Beach was (and probably is) Lake Trail. A bicycle/pedestrian trail that runs most of the length of the Town of Palm Beach along the shore of Lake Worth, it was a two-wheeled interstate down to more interesting places (including, after 1971, Publix). To get there from our house, we went up and over Palm Beach’s fabled coral ridge and down a paved path at a vacant lot which put us on the Trail.  Our cat was likewise enamoured with the area, but he reached it by imperiously sauntering down the streets of Palm Beach as cats are wont to do. One time he came home with blood in his eye, which led us to suspect he came in contact with something bigger than he was.

The years have come and gone, and so has the vacant lot. The Palm Beach Country Club built a house on the lot and sold it in the 1980’s, and that house is now on the market for a paltry USD37,450,000.  From the looks of it the access to Lake Trail has been cut off as well, although there are alternatives.

Our abode was nowhere near that magnificent, and it wasn’t on the water either. Nevertheless, while many of my contemporaries wouldn’t go back to the place they came from because they have “advanced” (their material circumstances have, the mentality has not) I could not go back because, frankly, I can’t afford to.  As my grandmother would say, we are “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash“, by current Palm Beach standards.

Some of that is the fate of multigenerational success; sooner or later it fades. But another reason is the stratospheric rise of real estate prices in Palm Beach and other places like it. It’s kind of like the debate over sea level rise: is the sea rising or the land falling? That’s the case with several places I or my ancestors called home at one time or another.

God is good and so is life; I don’t mean this to be a gripe session.  Palm Beach’s social system may be the one I reference all others by, but then it wasn’t much fun. I still find all the obsession many of my contemporaries have with “moving up” distasteful, especially if they profess and call themselves Christians. But Christians especially would be well advised to lose the obsession with “moving up” in this life at least.  We live in a time when technology and the productivity it can produce great improvements in life, but our economic and political systems tend to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few while making the rest of think that we’re in charge though a dubious electoral system.  With the downsizing of life our elites plan to mandate in the name of saving the planet, there will be many more who will find the “old home place” out of reach financially.

And that will probably include the place we’re at now.

Tribalism All The Way

I saw a Facebook post which characterised the Jr. Jerry Falwell’s recent comments about concealed carry and Islam as follows:

This is probably what most people expect of Fundamentalists– hyper conservative, right wing bigots who see anyone who disagrees with them as godless enemies. This is religious tribalism at its most basic element. We are right. You are wrong. Our God is God. Yours is not. Be assimilated or, if you provoke us, we will kill you.

As is the case with bad foreign policy, must be something in the water, as this post observes about the departure of Yale professor Erika Christakis:

Secular progressivism is not a developed intellectual position that seeks out followers by honestly setting forth its premises and challenging rational adults to contest or accept its conclusions. Instead it’s a tribal marker, like a tattoo or feather headdress, that marks off “insiders” from “outsiders,” appealing not to the cogitative centers of the brain but the deeper, older and murkier parts. These dark places in the mind have no room for “true,” “false,” or “arguable,” but deal only in “Us” and “Them.” For all that they are the fruits of advanced rational thinking and astonishing technical achievement, both academia and social media are exquisite mechanisms for training millions of people to regress from intelligent discourse to brutal, herd-like groupthink.

From Free Speech to Filthy Speech

This little tidbit emerged from Geo-Strata‘s interview with Dr. J. Michael Duncan of Virginia Tech, justifiably characterised as a legend in his (and my) profession:

Q. What was it like at Berkeley during the ’60’s? “Berkeley in the ’60’s” is typically required reading in U.S. history classes now.

A. (Laughs). I’m surprised you ask this question. When I got to Berkeley in 1962 to do my PhD, that was about the beginning of the free speech movement, which became the filthy speech movement, and so on. For the most part, we engineers were not the drivers of the protests; we were mainly observers. The civil engineering building was on the opposite side of campus from where most of the protests were happening.  We just wanted to stay on our side of campus and do our interesting work.

That changed eventually as a result of the Vietnam War and especially President Nixon’s Hanoi bombing campaign, which fostered anti-war sentiments and changed things for a lot of people. So back to your question, there was an evolution in the movement from the “flower child” atmosphere over the course of those years. We did understand that we were in the middle of history, but we felt more like observers rather than drivers of the changes that took place.

As Derek Leebaert noted in his book The Fifty-Year Wound, there were two revolutions afoot in the 1960’s: one anti-war and Luddite in the streets, the other the birth of “high-tech” that would transform American life in the 1980’s and beyond. Although Duncan’s field of study doesn’t strike people as “high tech”, it certainly involved computerisation, as his fellow Cal graduate Raymond Seed attested to.

Unfortunately the revolution taking place on Duncan’s side of the campus and elsewhere in science and technology has been overtaken by the Luddites. The “can-do” and problem solving ethic of our profession has been beaten down in a morass of regulation and a refusal to consider really scientific solutions. The global warming debate is a good example of this: the obsessive allergy to nuclear power (not universal, I might note) has blocked solving the problem in a reasonable time, leaving solutions which are not fast enough to prevent major dislocations in our civilisation.

As as for free speech…we have come full circle.  But it was always this way.  The campus radicals of old had no intention of making speech really free, just what they wanted to hear.  And it was filthy. The ones now are no different, and in some cases are one in the same, although I see they have plenty of disciples to carry on the repression.

Our Foreign Policy Block

Damon Linker starts out his piece on American foreign policy with this predictable assertion:

Unlike so many of the blustering Know Nothings trying to become the Republican nominee for president, Clinton and Kagan know a tremendous amount about the world. Clinton, in particular, sounds comfortable talking in granular detail about the intricacies of international affairs, and her confident grasp of the complexities of the Greater Middle East far outstrips what any of the GOP candidates are capable of.

But then he comes back with this:

Yet Clinton’s speech and Kagan’s essay manage to inspire very little confidence. Both are deeply mired in a delusion that began to spread through the American foreign policy establishment at the end of the Cold War and has risen to complete dominance since 9/11. This is the delusion that the United States can and should act as the world’s “indispensable nation,” leading not just the “free world” but the entire world, using “smart power” to get numerous powerful, independent nations to do exactly what we think must be done to enforce global order as we conceive it.

Foreign policy is the perennial disappointment of the United States.  For all the knowledge that our “knowledge classes” have, and how much superior they are than the provincial yokels of That Other Party, the solutions they come up with are at best no better.  There’s something in the water–or the culture–that, for the education and travel we have regaled our ruling elites with, they’re still provincial boobies at heart.

I suppose that you can be a great American or you can be an expert in foreign policy, but you can’t be both.

Perusing My Parents’ Bookshelf

Boomers have always had a love-hate relationship with the generation before them, transitioning from “don’t trust anyone over thirty” to calling them “the Greatest Generation.”  Most of those who brought us into the world are gone now, and the ones who are left are “full of years” to use the Bible’s expression.

Part of the problem was that our parents’ weren’t very forthright about what they were really all about.  Products of more than a decade of adversity in the Depression and World War II, they wanted to put it all behind them and create an ideal place for their children to grow up in.  That was a mistake; it resulted in a generation that lacked a sense of reality that has plagued our country ever since.  Understandable, but still consequential.

One place I have turned to to see what “made them tick” was my parent’s bookshelf.  My parents were intelligent, sharp-tongued people, but neither of them earned an undergraduate degree.  (My mother, I found out later, quit high school to run off and get married, but that didn’t dull her smarts either).  Like generations of Americans, they were literate but not literary.  The library at home reflected their interests and not a cultural aspiration.

Obviously it is impossible to recreate that library, long broken up with moves and a nasty divorce.  But university library sales and other sources have allowed me to savour some of the books that sat on the shelves, many of which I never read before.  (At the time most of my interest in the bookshelf was centred on the World Book encyclopaedia).  So let me do some “miniature reviews” of some of these titles.

Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Seven Seas
is his delightful and encyclopaedic account of human history at sea.  Freuchen, a Danish explorer who was part of the last generation to make really new discoveries on the earth, is the “Herodotus of Marine History”, not always precise with his facts but so entertaining and engaging in his narrative and sweeping in the scope of knowledge that his work is still the best place to start a study of the subject.  It conveys better than anything else why the sea is so compelling with a sense of awe that we’ve really lost.

An entirely different experience at sea–well, sort of–is William Brinkley’s Don’t Go Near the Water.  A satire on Naval public relations in the Pacific during World War II, his book has been criticised for its desultory organisation and lack of connecting plot (like the 1960’s art movies that shortly followed).  To some extent that criticism is justified; it is more a loose progression of short stories with a running undercurrent of one Naval officer’s attempt to romance an island girl with more culture that he had.  With World War II satires Boomers preferred Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, but this novel was a major best seller when it came out in 1956, the choice of the participants rather than their offspring.  The language is very salty (as one would expect in the Navy, my father’s similar speech came from the Coast Guard) but it shows a willingness–indeed a need–to make fun of the military that has been lost.

More for the coffee table than the bookshelf is the National Geographic classic Men, Ships, and the Sea (The Story of Man Library).  The text was written by the Australian mariner Allan Villiers, but it was loaded with the gorgeous photographs that were the trademark of National Geographic publications.  I grew up on what is now known as “NatGeo”, the monthly magazine was a staple at our house.  (I strongly suspect that my grandfather, in his years in Washington, got to know the Grosvenor family and the Society).  In some ways it parallels Freuchen’s book but the photographs don’t make up for Freuchen’s narrative.  In the back is a good summary of small craft operation and navigation that we, er, could have used…(this post’s date is the fiftieth anniversary of my father sending the check back to NatGeo for the book).

The strangest–but in the long run the most important–book I got from their bookshelf was the Bible.  Most Evangelicals have the Bible handed to them, literally and in the life of the church.  As an Episcopalian, that didn’t happen to me.  It took an encounter with God to impress upon me the need to find out what was there.  So I went to the bookshelf and found a little white one, only to be informed that only girls had white Bibles.  I quickly substituted that for the black cover, red-letter King James that became my first Bible.

That Bible was older than I thought; it was only as an adult that I found out why the maps in the back looked strange.  But it was a start.  For five years it was the only Bible I had, until I acquired a New English Bible and started looking at more modern translations (and older ones too, like the Vulgate and Tyndale’s).  But my voyage with God was one where I at least started out somewhere ahead of an impressed deck hand, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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