Tag Archives: Bible

Long time ago in Bethlehem

The custom of naming years after whoever wore the crown lasted well into the time of the Roman Empire.

Two thousand and some years ago, a baby was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea—in the country we now call Israel. The baby was Jesus, son of Mary, the Holy Spirit in human form. He would grow up to begin a ministry that led to His crucifixion and resurrection—in order to save all of humankind. Jesus is the Redeemer; the Christos in Greek; the Mashiach in Hebrew.

The Christian evangelist Luke wrote about the Nativity before there were numbered years. How could he put a date on Jesus’ birth? Here’s how: Luke tells us that Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome and Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Luke knew his readers would remember when those guys were in charge and place Jesus’ birth in that time.

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In fact, it would be 5 more centuries before someone thought of numbering the years.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

https://biblehub.com/library/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/chapter_11_quirinius_the_governor.htm

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh subduing a lion who was probably minding its own business.

I decided Gilgamesh deserves his own post. It helps to get a handle on a culture by looking at its heroes and stories. Gilgamesh the king was an actual historical figure. Gilgamesh the hero of the epic was two-thirds divine and one-third mortal.

The story begins in Uruk, a city in Ancient Sumer (Mesopotamia) where Gilgamesh rules as king. Though Gilgamesh is known to be stronger than any other man, the people of Uruk complain that he abuses his power. The gods hear these complaints, and the god Aruru creates Enkidu, a man as strong as Gilgamesh. Aruru forms Enkidu out of water and clay, out in the wilderness. Enkidu lives in nature, in harmony with the wild animals.”

So Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet, wrestle, become best buds. They defeat the awful giant Humbaba. The goddess Ishtar proposes marriage to Gilgamesh—when he turns her down she sics the Bull of Heaven on him and Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat him, too. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh works out his grief by searching for the meaning of life and the source of immortality.

I taught a unit on Gilgamesh to high-schoolers in Sunday school, just because there are so many echoes of Bible stories in Gilgamesh, particularly in Genesis. There’s a Great Flood; a guy who survives the flood by loading his family and animals into a big boat; a plant that holds the essence of Life (with a treacherous serpent hanging around nearby); Enkidu is a hairy strongman who is tamed by a seductress and loses his hair. My point in teaching Gilgamesh wasn’t to diminish the Bible stories, but to show how the Bible stories grew from a tradition of ancient MidEast literature into a narrative that tells the story of all us mortals, not just divine, semi-divine and immortal characters. The Bible is a radical departure from that tradition.

We get Gilgamesh from pieces of clay tablets that have survived through the ages. A library fire, which would mean a disastrous loss of literature today, actually preserved many ancient books by firing the clay they were written on. Gilgamesh is a fun read, although there are adults themes in there, so be warned.

Action!

A couple of posts ago I told you I’m having trouble with the dialogue between Job and his comforters. Though I stick pretty closely to the conversation as it unfolds through Chapters 11 – 31 (each chapter gets summarized down to one or two short lines), there doesn’t seem to be a build-up to a punchline. For this to work as a comic, the tension should build to a climax just before the next scene, when a new character enters.

One solution is to add some action, although there is none during this sequence in the Bible. I thought about how Job’s three comforters could literally beat up on Job while they interpret Holy Writ. I’ll have these scholars bring their scripture with them. I drew a quick sketch of Bildad hitting Job over the head with a scroll. I like it a little better than just heads talking for two pages.

If you’ve seen the Broadway musical West Side Story, you’ll remember the Officer Krupke number. The gang members sing about how the system has failed them, from the police to the courts to the social worker to the psychiatrist. Each hits one juvenile delinquent with a rolled up newspaper as they condemn him: “The trouble is he’s lazy (smack!); the trouble is he drinks (smack!); the trouble is he’s crazy (smack!); the trouble is he stinks (smack!)”

Could something like this work for my comic about Job?

Bad Things 4

After letting this sketch sit awhile, I’ve decided I need to rework it. The content of the dialogue is a drastic shorthand of what’s in each chapter of Job—as if I tried to reduce each chapter to a single 140-character Tweet. So it more or less follows along with the book. All four characters say pretty much what they say in the Bible. But…it doesn’t feel right yet. It needs something. The conversation doesn’t lead up to a climax.

I’m not sure what I need to do.

job.04sk

Zophar, so good!

More from my Book of Job project—a sketch of Job’s pal Zophar who came to comfort Job in his hour of need. Job sits in a dung heap and scrapes at his loathsome boils with a potsherd (a piece of broken pottery), while he wonders where it all went wrong.

Bad Things 3

Yet another sketch from the Book of Job comic I’m working on.

Even after being afflicted with horrible, disgusting, festering boils, Job refuses to curse God. He tears his robe, shaves his head and goes to sit in the ash-heap—taking a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself with.

Bad Things 2

Here’s one of the most surprising things about The Book of Job—the Lord and Satan appear together as if on the stage of a morality play. To top that, Satan makes a bet with the Lord—that deprived of his wealth, Job would curse God.

I’m trying to keep the dialogue here somewhat casual & conversational—after all, one point of this comic is to make Job’s story easier to read. I have God say: “How about that Job?…” The good old King James Version goes: “And the Lord said unto Satan, ‘Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?'” How I love that! Satan’s lines in the KJV are delightfully impertinent: “Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, ‘From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.'” (“Where’ve you been?” “Oh, out.”) This scene has echoes of ancient Near Eastern storytelling, where the gods and demi-gods have their squabbles. Gilgamesh and the gods and goddesses seemed always to have some tiff going on. Likewise in stories from Greek mythology.

As with the previous post, this is a sketch which will get inked in.

Bad Things

Yep, I’ve been working on some more of that Bible stuff I’m into. I was going to reduce the Book of Job (rhymes with ‘robe’) to a single page, as I’d done with the Major Prophets series. I didn’t feel a single page would do Job’s story justice. There’s simply too much story in Job.

So here’s the opener for an 8-page comic. This is merely the sketch, of course. I’ll ink it in like a proper comic. Maybe I’ll figure out how to color it, too.

Ezekiel

ezek72dpiHere it is, the fourth in my series (actually Ezekiel comes 3rd in the Bible) of Major Prophets of the Old Testament. Boiling down Ezekiel to a one-page cartoon took longer than I’d expected. As with all the prophets, he uses lots of visual imagery to make his messages memorable. There was tons of material that I left out, as when God charges Ezekiel to prophesy by commanding him to eat a scroll.

Would you like fries with that?

Would you like fries with that?

The Book of Ezekiel can be divided into three sections: God’s judgment of Israel, God’s judgment of Israel’s neighbor nations, and prophecies of better days ahead for Israel. The Chosen People have surely tried God’s patience—but before we gloat, let’s take a look at our own behavior! The words of Ezekiel and his pals aren’t merely for those long-ago times.

(Side note on vocabulary: PROPHECY/PROPHESY. “Prophecy,” the noun, (pronounced “PROF-a-see”) is a prediction. The verb “to prophesy” (pronounced “PROF-a-sigh”) means to predict something. When a prophet prophesies he or she utters prophecies.)

Of course, the big show-stopping image is Ezekiel’s vision of the wheel. This was the most fun to draw and I hope I stuck pretty closely to the biblical description. It is definitely the weirdest image in the Bible. I was tempted at first to make it a UFO but decided that would be too cheap a gag. I gave the human form enthroned atop the whole contraption a touch of John Steuart Curry’s John Brown.

A passage worth mentioning is Chapter 17, where the eagle plants a seed. It deals with God’s anger that a king of Israel broke his word to a Babylonian king—an enemy of Israel. How about that? Even though this Babylonian king is an enemy of God’s people, he must be dealt with honestly. The Jewish king’s covenant is an extension of God’s covenant. Each of us has a responsibility to behave with integrity no matter whom we deal with.

The last image I drew promises that David will be set up as the shepherd over God’s sheep. It’s possibly another foretelling from the prophets of Jesus’ coming. The evangelist Matthew begins his gospel with Jesus’ family tree showing that He descended from King David.

What did I forget? Oh, yeah—The Valley of Dry Bones! It’s the other big visual that Ezekiel is most remembered for. An entire valley of dried-up old bones brought back to life. How about some music? Here are the Delta Rhythm Boys singing Dem Bones. You want some more? Here are The Charioteers singing Ezekiel Saw The Wheel. Satan wears number 11 shoes. Yessir, I do love that old-time gospel music.

Now you know everything you need to about the Major Prophets. With your fund of Major Prophet info, you certainly will be the life of every party.

UPDATE—I’ve mentioned old-time gospel groups elsewhere on this blog. I should point out I first heard them and jazz groups from the same era on Rich Conaty’s radio show The Big Broadcast. Swing over and listen—and if you have a couple of extra samolians, drop something in the tip jar. Thanks!

Daniel

Continuing our everything-you-need-to-know-about-the Major-Prophets series, here’s Daniel.

Daniel lived to see the end of the Babylonian empire and the rise of the Persian empire—directly serving Emperors Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius. From Daniel we get expressions like ‘feet of clay’ and ‘the handwriting on the wall’ (do people still say that?) As a girl my mom learned to remember Daniel’s pals Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego by memorizing ‘Shake a bed, make a bed, and to bed we go’, so I pass it along. The Larks have a pretty snappy take on the story. Here’s Satchmo’s version. ‘Seven times hotter, hotter than it oughta be!’

 

Layout 1