Now It Came to Pass….


Recognizing deadlines. The realness of the story. The humanness of deadlines. Of starts. Of finishes. In my battle with time.

Human wants. Human needs. Divine desires. The divine need . . . to share something. For others.

The realness of the story. As in any relationship, the sacrifice. The engaging with the world. In the FINITE world. With corruption. There had to be conflict. Any time the human comes in contact with the divine, there had to be conflict.

Conflict in old stories. The old stories about hunger and about fertility of the land. Stories about drought and famine, families and fertility, fighting for survival on a very personal level. From generation to generation, “Mostly they are the same lives. The same stories, over and over,” wrote David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker. Remnick had chronicled as a reporter for the Washington Post what had happened in Russia during the collapse of the Soviet Empire, along with the collapse of its currency. Real life stories where it was always the hunger which sent people in one way or another in search. With ruthless governments demanding documents of people, concerning where they were born and how long they intended to stay. If they survived.

It was either my teacher in first grade or second grade, a nun, who read us the story: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” And so the story began. In one interpretation . . . The International interpretation. There were other interpretations.

The King James version. “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” It sounded a lot about money.

The English standard version. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” This was like some kind of rite for selective service.

The American version was “Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled.” So much like early childhood development.

The Bible in basic English. “Now it came about in those days that an order went out from Caesar Augustus that there was to be a numbering of all the world.” It sounded like the Noah version. Where Noah went looking for mates for each species. Sex mates. The basics, before the annihilation, with the destruction of the earth, with the conflict in the story about the loss of innocent children (babies?) in what was an extermination of evil.

I never thought about the sex part of life –or the virgin birth. Not in the first or second grade . . . Even though the songs made a big deal about it. I did not recognize any miracle in a virgin birth. I was more concerned about the decree. In those days. I think the decree was emphasized to throw the first and second grade kids off. In those days, no one knew what exactly the virgin birth was.

Births. Though the sex part of life was the reason why I was here. There was a connection of course between sex and birth. Those questions, about the order of birth — who might get the birth right — were left for another day. The Who? The what? The when? The where? And the how, in what was the underlying relationship which came out of fertility, which was the basis of the registration?

The decree. Under the authority from the leader. There went out a decree, because a certain amount of order was needed, to maintain the law? To enamor a sense of loyalty, from the people? Or to figure out, for the ruling authority, how many humans there were? With a local connection, to real lives.

How can you govern, if you did not KNOW who you were governing? And so the story about being counted on this earth. By the authorities. In a story about identities. To be unknown, in a census, was to be left without an identity card? Not to be recognized. Ask the Hispanic cleaning lady what that was like. About just one of the rules implemented addressing the “how.” To become human.

And so the story that started about enrollment, registration, numbering? About empires of Rome. About what you did? With whom. When you did it? And where? But with little concern about the “how?” Where in this Promise Land – this Holy Land – was God in this census?

And about virgin births. In the middle of the numbering. How many even knew?

Amidst this Roman decree – the decree by a governmental body. Always and everywhere, government and power. Over people’s lives. Death and taxes. Starts. Finishes. To be recognized. And births. It all seemed a part of the Christmas story, in the middle of nowhere. In Bethlehem. And God wanting to be counted, but not recognized. Wanting to change the world and not be known? When the Greatest Commandment in the Promise Land was to KNOW God. Somehow.

To teach and explain how to read carefully to young students who demanded relevancy in everything? In a story about starts, which began with a birth. And a virgin birth. The tribes and their numbers all seemed a part of the Christmas story, which started with the decree. About either enrollment, registration, or numbering. The book of ‘Bemidbar,’ Numbers of the Hebrew Bible, opens with a population census of the tribes of Israel, as one by one, the Torah lists in a seemingly standard, run-of-the-mill census, the tribes and their numbers — were it not for the one aberration, as one tribe is missing from the census. The absence of the tribe of Levy with a special status, is of course not an oversight, but one of the commandments of God. Levites do not dwell with other tribes but live as an independent unit around the Tabernacle, to guard the sanctuary, with their special functions relating to the care of the ‘mishkan.’ The Levites therefore are, according to the Rashbam, incapable of going to wage war. So the purpose of the census taken, in the Book of Numbers, was to determine the number of troops in the Israelite camp. Therefore, not included in the military census, the tribe of Levi replaced the first-born — the children consecrated by God — of every Israelite family.

So, the tribes and their numbers, and the decree. And it came to pass – the what. In those days – the when. That all the world – with a local connection, for the where. To teach and explain  an interpretation. . . . or a viewpoint, to the young who demanded relevancy. To teach and explain about character, point of view, in order that a viewpoint of the reader might change. That the reader might be changed.

The story about the decree. Based upon a sense of authority, about either enrollment, registration, or numbering. To create in all of the known world, a sense of order for the tribes and their numbers. In a story about power and the power which came from the blessed bond, as ruthless governments demanded documents of people, concerning where they were born and how long they intended to stay. If they survived. To expand the Promised Land, to compete in the future – in love, with the quite personal bond – against the brutality of the Romans, who were Nazi-like in their day. So to expand the bonds – all the old themes, with the new ones – in what was going on at that point in time, in the Promised Land . . . and beyond. In this story about another firstborn son.

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2 comments so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    Taken. “Aviya Kushner was taken from the intimate world of her close reading of Hebrew Scriptures to a first-time encounter of the [Hebrew] Bible in English translation, at her Masters in Fine Arts studies at the Iowa Writing Program. Luckily, the dissonance that she encountered, [like a lack of harmony among musical notes] caused by translations, was met with understanding – nay happy encouragement – by her teacher, Marylynne Robinson. Their discussion led Aviya Kushner to write The Grammar of God over a period of many years. A poet and an exegete [textual interpreter or one who expounds], Kushner is particularly sensitive in her desire to show how through the centuries English translators struggle to open ancient text so revered to believers. Aviya Kushner reads the Hebrew in direct English interlinear translation, commenting on what the BARE substitution of English for Hebrew can never reveal. She then lists seriatim — five or more differing English translations of the same text — suggesting how each attempt tries to capture what the Hebrew says. All translators betray what they attempt to convey – this is a truism – as every reader comes to the scriptures with a history. With a philological study which is not barren, rather meditative and prayerful, Aviya Kushner has shaped The Grammar of God into a personal account of meeting an interpretive world which has had only fleeting resonance [in the quality in the sound of vibration] with the Hebrew [the deep, full, and reverberating Hebrew off a neighboring object] that she knew from her childhood.” — Edward Wheeler, November 16, 2015 in Commonweal

    Having lost an editor, the mistakes are more obviously bare.


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