Read the Bible in a Year

A challenge to open our Bibles

The Challenge

In 2011 the English-speaking Christian world will celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. It wasn't until the mid-twentieth that other translations of the Bible were in English. To mark the anniversary, members of the Robertson-Wesley congregation are invited to read the Bible in one year; beginning 2011 Jan 1.

Participants' Sign-up List

Interested persons can sign up in Memorial Hall to receive occasional articles and news of get-togethers for all participants.

Bible Versions

The first question for some is, "What version of the Bible should I read?" To help with this, we have prepared a page describing the most important Bible Translations. There are also paraphrases and children's bibles which have their place and value, but for reading the Bible in its entirety, we recommend using a real translation. Copies are also available in the literature racks at the church.

The Bible is available on the internet, on several sites. The one that is usually used by our church office to print the readings for each Sunday is Oremus. And it included several different versions, including the New Revised Standard Version which we use most commonly (but not exclusively).

A Reading Plan

There is also a Reading Plan available, with a segment scheduled for each day of the year. This includes the "Apocrypha", books that are not included in all Bibles. While this segment is not as important as the rest of the Bible, we do read from it in our worship, because it is included in the lectionary, so we do recommend reading the Apocrypha. (If you choose not to, you get a break from mid-August to mid-October!)


Reading Revelation

Celebrate the end of READ THE BIBLE IN A YEAR with a potluck meal and the reading of the Book of Revelation!!
2011 Dec 28
Wednesday at 6:00 PM
in the Memorial Hall
at Robertson-Wesley United Church

All are welcome including those who never participated in the program, those who fell of the wagon, and those who persisted.
There is a sign-up sheet in Memorial Hall, or contact the church office to register. Participants will be contacted to see if they wish to be assigned a chapter to read at the event.

Covenant and Law

The next get-together takes place on Tuesday March 29 at 7:00 PM in Room 11.
We will view two episodes of Amy-Jill Levine's DVD Old Testament series entitled Covenant and Law. Discussion follows. All are welcome. Refreshments served.

Lecture Series

Those who want more in-depth knowledge, the DVD series The Old Testament, presented by Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt Divinity School, will be shown on Wednesdays at noon starting on 2011 Jan 5. Bring a bag lunch. Coffee and tea provided.

The Story of Israel: Background of the Bible

2011 Feb 9 Wed, 7:30 pm.
Jim Allan lead us on a walk through the story of the people of Israel and their God. This is the background and framework for the Old Testament, the "back-story" of Jesus' faith tradition. The purpose is to enable people to fit the diverse bits and pieces of the Bible into a coherent whole. Everyone is welcome. Hand-out material will be made available.

Week by Week

(Click on each heading to display the comment)

January 1 to 9 - Genesis 1 to 32
These short chapters are the stuff of soap operas -- two accounts of Creation, the appearance of a serpent, banishment from the Garden of Eden, fratricide, confusing stories of a flood, and the building of a Tower. Read about incestuous relationships, betrayals, husbands who pass off their wives as their sisters, a woman turned into salt, a man hoodwinked into marrying the elder sister, the attempted murder of a favourite son, and frequent promises of numerous descendants.
January 10 to 16 - Genesis 33 to Exodus 5
And so the soap opera continues. First, a rape, and a rapist asking to marry the victim; a son whose brothers, jealous of his dreams, plot to get rid of him; a woman accused of prostitution who narrowly escapes death; and an Israelite who works for the Egyptian pharaoh. Then comes famine, a family reunion, and slavery. Finally we meet Moses, who should have been killed in infancy by order of the Pharaoh, but who is miraculously rescued.
January 17 to 24 - Exodus 6 to 33
Government-sponsored infanticide, murder, a shrub that bursts into flame then talks, water that turns to blood, a God who seeks to kill a man, more blood, dead fish and dead frogs, hailstones, a sea whose waters part, broken chariots, the miraculous appearance of food......then comes water from a stone, rules and more rules, and elaborate instructions to build a tabernacle. Sounds like Indiana Jones but it’s not. It’s the book of Exodus!
January 24 to 30 - Exodus 28 to Leviticus 13
Last week we moved into the Book of Exodus. The first half of Exodus is all about liberation from Egypt, whereas the latter half is concerned with Covenant and how the Hebrew people might maintain their special relationship with God. This book includes the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses.We will read the Ten Commandments again in Deuteronomy.
This week too we explore the first half of Leviticus. Readers will soon nickname Leviticus the Book of Smells, because there are lots of instructions about the burning of incense and the the sacrifice of animals. And for added interest, we read about the proper management of childbirth and what to eat and what not to eat. The priesthood is established, beginning with Moses’s brother Aaron and his sons, but God, angry that Aaron’s sons are doing something NOT commanded by God, has them burn.
January 31 to February 7 - Leviticus 14 to Numbers 8
Purification rites, Passover, blood, blindness and deafness, tattoos, sexual conduct, corpses, livestock, festivals, banking. All these and more are found in the remaining chapters of Leviticus. And in Numbers the wilderness trek continues, with many stipulations about how the people are to behave. We read too that age fifty is an ideal time to retire!!
February 14 to 20 - Numbers 28 to Deuteronomy 13
This week we read yet another procedure manual about how to perform sacrifices, and we learn what needs to be done to properly celebrate the proscribed festivals. Moses orders the Israelites to do battle against the Midianites, and we are left to wonder why. After all, isn't he married to a Midianite, and isn't his father-in-law Jethro a believer in monotheism? Two of the tribes want to settle on the east side of the Jordan, but Moses won't let them. He reminds them that they are to take over the Promised Land, which lies west of the Jordan River. We also pick up a few urban planning ideas that are typical of the ancient Near East. Moses prepares his people for entry into the promised land, so we hear a reiteration of their history since leaving Egypt that includes the Ten Commandments.
Introduction to Deuteronomy
This book has been called Moses's valedictory address, Moses's final sermon, as well as the longest piece ofrhetoric in Scripture. The audience for Deuteronomy is not the people of Israel in the Wilderness at Mt. Sinai, but the Israelites at the time of, or just after, the Babylonian exile. The reader/hearer will observe that whereas in Numbers Moses's father-in-law Jethro suggested to Moses that he establish a group of elders to help him administer the affairs of the Israelites, Jethro is not mentioned in that role in Deuteronomy. In this book, sacrificial worship is to be localized in one place. We hear the Ten Commandments again, and we learn that in order to have a just and humane society, we must treat everyone just and humanely. We also learn about the attributes necessary before a monarch can be chosen from among the Israelites. The writer(s) of Deuteronomy are different from the writers of the first four books ot the Torah. Richard Elliott Friedman believes that Deuteronomy and the net six books of the Bible were written or arranged by someone living during the reign of King Josiah. In face he believes the writer was the prophet Jeremiah.
February 21 to 27 - Deuteronomy 14 to Joshua 7
This week we finish reading Deuteronomy, the last of the Five Books of Moses known as the Torah. Deuteronomy is considered to be a kinder, gentler Leviticus, although punishment by stoning is still condoned for some crimes, and blood and gore abound. Finally, the Torah ends with the death of Moses. In the sixth book of the Bible, the book of Joshua, we learn about the conquest of the Promised Land. A prostitute puts in an appearance and negotiates a deal on a roof top. The Israelites cross the Jordan, get re-circumcised (!!!??), loud trumpets bring down the walls of Jericho, and the spoils of war are distributed.
February 28 to March 6 - Joshua 8 to Judges 8
Last week we read about the siege of Jericho, and this week the conquest continues with much spillage of blood and the carrying away of livestock and booty. The sun stands still and the moon stops, regicide is rampant, land is distributed by lots, cities of refuge are established, and Joshua gives his farewell speech just before he dies at the age of 110. Amputation of thumbs and toes, Jerusalem on fire, a left-handed murderer having plenty of adventure, a couple of cunning women, near-starvation, a military hero who can cook matter your taste, there is something for everyone!
March 7 to 13 - Judges 9 to 1 Samuel 12
A cynical poem about kingship, loosened tongues at a wine festival, death by a falling millstone, intrigue, donkeys and donkey-riding, angels, a riddle, wife capture, tragedy and more tragedy, rape and more rape, odd instructions from a mother-in-law, theft and return of the ark, and much wickedness are in store for us this week.
March 14 to 20 - 1 Samuel 13 to 2 Samuel 7
This week's readings continue to enthrall us. A jealous king, a couple of young men with homosexual tendencies, death by slingshot followed by a beheading, guerillas who camp out in the countryside, a woman who sees ghosts, a cloak ripped by a sword while its owner relieves himself in a cave, more beheadings, and an unsettling encounter with an ex-wife. A real page-turner for sure.
March 21 to 27 - 2 Samuel 8 to 1 Kings 6
This week's readings resemble the headlines seen in magazines on display at supermarket check-outs:
clouds of unknown origin fill new Temple, payment to Solomon's contractor is twenty backwoods villages, Queen of Sheba impressed by appearances, Israel and Judah locked in civil war, dead holy man guarded by lion and donkey, Naboth's vineyard coveted, slow death due to fall from balcony, prophet Elijah "raptured" into heaven, pestering children eaten by bears, and an oily way of paying one's debts.
March 28 to April 3 - 1 Kings 7 to 2 Kings 4
This week's readings resemble the headlines seen in magazines on display at supermarket check-outs:
clouds of unknown origin fill new Temple, payment to Solomon's contractor is twenty backwoods villages, Queen of Sheba impressed by appearances, Israel and Judah locked in civil war, dead holy man guarded by lion and donkey, Naboth's vineyard coveted, slow death due to fall from balcony, prophet Elijah "raptured" into heaven, pestering children eaten by bears, and oily way of paying one's debts.
April 4 to 10 - 2 Kings 5 to 1 Chronicles 3
An ax head that floats, a gatekeeper trampled to death as people rush to buy cheap food (the world's first Boxing Day Sale?), repairs to the Temple that take much longer than expected, a prophet who controls the length of the sun's shadow, repentance of the king and his people when a lost law book turns up, a man who sees his sons murdered before his eyes are gouged out, and the beginning of the Exile in Babylon. Definitely NOT bedtime reading.
April 11-17 - 1 Chronicles 4 to 26
Much of this week's readings sound like a Who's Who of ancient Israel and Judah. We hear again of the actions of King David, most of which are battles fought against his enemies. We read about the many workers necessary to "run" the Temple - the singers, gatekeepers, stewards, accountants, judges, etc. Satan puts in an appearance. We learn the name of the only woman in the Bible to found cities. But most of all, we notice many of the accounts of David's deeds as strikingly different from the stories as told in 1 & 2 Samuel... hmmm.
April 18-24 - Chronicles 27 to 2 Chronicles 29
These chapters are similar in some ways to Samuel and Kings, but there are striking differences which the reader will discover. David is no longer the mafia leader; instead the Chronicler portrays him as a man of God at all times. It is he who designs the Temple before turning the project over to his son Solomon whereas in Kings it was all Solomon's doing. We meet the Queen of Sheba once again, and we are reminded that Solomon was a real estate mogul and a horse trader. There is regicide, child sacrifice, much promotion of idolatry, and kings who suffer bowel disease or leprosy because of their behaviour. Finally, we meet Hezekiah, one of the few great kings.
April 25 to May 1 - 2 Chronicles 30 to Nehemiah 10:39
Good king Hezekiah wants to re-introduce Passover, but when his couriers announce this throughout the countryside, they are scorned. There is enough food for all because tithing is being practised again. A series of evil kings draw the people away from God, Jerusalem is destroyed by the Persians, and many of the survivors march to Babylon. Once the people are released and sent back to Jerusalem, we hear about the NIMBY syndrome when restoration of the Temple begins. Marriage to anyone NOT descended from acceptable ancestors is forbidden, and wives and children of mixed marriages are banished from the land.
May 2 to 8 - Nehemiah 11 to Job 18
We gallop through a lot of time and territory this week on our jaunt through the end of Nehemiah and on through Esther and into Job! Our journey begins in Jerusalem, which, it appears is a posh address. Everybody who's anybody lives there. It is such a popular address that there are lottery draws for residency. Our travelogue includes notes about the villages surrounding the great city, several of them not populated by Jews until the Hellenistic period (that's later than Nehemiah's time) - so we get a sneak preview of what is to come. Then it's off to Persia where a Jewish woman, through a series of dramatic events, becomes Queen and uses her influence to win for her people the right to fight off a threat of genocide! The Jewish holiday of Purim, described at the end of the book, celebrates this victory. For the remainder of the week our reading takes us on retreat through a substantial part of Job's sustained reflection on God's governance of the world of human beings and asks - is that governance just? Don't get too caught up in the book's ideas about justice on this round through, but rather, enjoy the book as a story.
May 9 to May 15 - Job 19 to Job 42
Our reading has taken us into the heart of the Book of Job. This is tough stuff. Far from making himself the centre of the universe and far from hunting with words, Job is being hunted by God's net and besieged by God. His family life is gone and he can only plead with his friends not to pursue him pitilessly as God does. Job characteristically interprets his friends' persistent exhortations to seek God - in a legal sense - appearing before God in a court of law where he could lay out his case. But Job admits he cannot meet God in a court and even if he could, he would be struck dumb with terror.
May 15 to May 22 - Psalm 1 to Psalm 50
This week's readings take us into the Book of Psalms which in the Hebrew Bible is the first book of the third division, "Writings." In the past, divided into five parts (1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106 and 107-150) this is the hymn book collection of Israel. The word Psalm comes from a Greek work meaning "to pluck," referring to the understanding that the Psalms were sung to harp accompaniment. Although some of the Psalms have a reference to a particular accompaniment, this music has been lost to us. Many of the Psalms are ascribed "to David", (king and noted harpist,) but the Hebrew of the ascription is ambiguous. The phrase l'dvd could mean "by, for, of, or to David." Some have said that the Psalms reflect the voice of the people of Israel during the time of the monarchy and first Temple period. We have already seen Psalm 18 in 2 Samuel 22. With their combination of praise, thanksgiving, complaint and instruction, the Psalms provide the emotional echo to the narrative through which we have already come.
May 23 to May 29 - Psalm 51 to Psalm 89
This week we continue in the Book of Psalms, completing the second and third of the traditional divisions of this book. These divisions are thought to reflect the existence of earlier smaller collections of Psalms that were ultimately combined. You will notice that Psalm 14 and Psalm 40: 13-17 are repeated almost word for word in Psalms 53 and 70 respectively. But there is a difference. In the Hebrew of Psalms 14 and 40 the name of God is YHWH, often rendered in English as "the LORD." In Psalm 53 and 70 this unpronounced name of God has been replaced by the term Elohim, which is usually rendered in English as "God." It would appear that the second division of the Psalms is a later collection with earlier Psalms edited to reflect contemporary Hebrew usage. In this week's readings we also encounter the Psalm from which the Canadian motto, "A mari usque ad mare" was taken. Can you find it?
May 30 to June 5 - Psalm 86 to 119
This week we are well into the book of Psalms. This book of the Bible is believed to be a collection of poems and songs that were written over several centuries. Eventually these writings were compiled into a collection that brought together many diverse traditions of the people of Israel. By reciting the Psalms, the Hebrew people and later, the Christians, participated in an alternative view of the world, one that honoured God as the creator and sustainer of life. Because God is the One "from whom no secrets are hid", participants were free to lament and to protest as well as to praise. Although much of the original Hebrew rhythm and simplicity is lost in translation, the Psalms have always had an important place in Christian worship.
June 6 to 12 - Psalm 119:105 to Psalm 150, and Proverbs 1 to 9
This week we come to the end of Psalms. The last few in the collection, Psalms 145 to 150, are doxologies, or expressions of praise to God. Beginning in the second century, it was common practice to recite this group of psalms every day during regular morning services in synagogues throughout the world. They were always spoken before prayers of supplication were offered to God. Later on this week we begin our reading of Proverbs, part of the Wisdom literature of the Bible. The purpose of this book is to pass on the ancestral wisdom of the people of Israel. Some of it is very confusing to the reader - perhaps we are meant to ponder each saying before we arrive at understanding!!
June 13 to 19 - Proverbs 10 to Ecclesiastes 6
This week we finish reading the book of Proverbs, which is part of the Bible's Wisdom Literature. Proverbs is a collection of collections, although the context and dates of its origin are unknown. The writings in Proverbs contain no reference to Israel's covenant with God, but instead resemble wisdom literature found in other Near-Eastern traditions.
Readers will notice that some of the proverbs are repeated, just like in a community cookbook where the same recipe appears again and again so as not to offend the contributors! Some proverbs are puzzling, and lend themselves to lively discussion. The last chapter is odd in that it contains words of wisdom from an unknown queen mother to her equally unknown son.
Later on this week we begin reading Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth in Hebrew. Ecclesiastes is one of the later books included in the Bible, having likely originated in mid-fourth century BCE. It is a book which has as its theme the futility of all of life, a theme that isn't in keeping with the theology presented in the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. Ecclesiastes chapter 3 is familiar to us in the beautiful language of the King James Version....." to everything there is a season......"
June 20 to 26 - Ecclesiastes 12 and Song of Songs 1 to Isaiah 31
This week we read from three books in the Hebrew scriptures. We finish the book of Ecclesiastes, and move to Song of Songs. This short book of poetry is always read in the synagogue during Passover. It has been understood to be an account of love between a man and a woman, between God and the people of Israel, or between the church and Jesus Christ. Readers can decide for themselves which interpretation is the most plausible.
We then begin our journey through Isaiah. This book begins as a response to the threat from the Assyrian empire in the 8th century BCE and ends with the exile and return from Babylon in the 6th century. Because it is not the work of a single author, it is customary to refer to First, Second and Third Isaiah. The first 39 chapters comprise First Isaiah, chapters 40 to 55 belong to Second Isaiah, and the remaining chapters, 56 to 66, are considered to be Third Isaiah. The placement of Isaiah is different in the Hebrew Bible than in the Christian Bible; whereas Isaiah is placed immediately following 2 Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures, it appears right after the Song of Songs in the Bible used by Christians. In Chapters 24 through 27 we are introduced to a new idea - YHWH is so great that by being faithful we can overcome death and experience resurrection!
June 27 to July 3 - Isaiah Chapter 32 to Jeremiah 2
Most of this week's readings are in the Book of Isaiah. The text is beautiful and riveting in its language - some readers will wish they were hearing it read aloud. The oracles in Chapters 32 and 35 offer a picture of hope whereas previous chapters contain warnings and threats about the future of the people of Israel. We hear how the angel of the Lord actively participates in the defense of Jerusalem against King Sennacharib of Assyria, and we learn as we did in 2 Kings of the piety and faithfulness of King Hezekiah of Judah.
The next threat we hear about, more than one hundred years later, comes from the Babylonians who are successful in destroying Jerusalem and scattering the population. However, there is always a message of hope for the future.
The last few chapters speak about the nature of community, and how religious renewal might be achieved through meaningful worship and acts of compassion,
Finally we complete this week's assignment by reading two of the oracles in Jeremiah, the focus of our attention for until early in July.
July 4 to 10 - Jeremiah 3 to 30
This week we are deeply immersed in Jeremiah. Scholars believe that Jeremiah was an "outsider" amongst the power mongers of Judah and for that reason he was very sharp in his criticism of the establishment. The book is like a series of conversations as the people come to terms with the impending demise of Jerusalem, its destruction by Babylon, and the taking into captivity of many of its citizens. Jeremiah tries to make sense of all of this - he believes God is punishing Judah but that the nation will survive if they listen to the voice of the one true God.
July 11 to 17 - Jeremiah 31 to Lamentations 5
We read about Jerusalem's last king, Zedekiah, who, in the final days before the destruction of the city, refuses to accept Jeremiah's advice. Some Israelite politicos "accommodate" or "sell out" to the new empire and acquire wealth and power for doing so. Gradually the Book of Jeremiah comes to celebrate Babylon's victory over Jerusalem as a punishment from God for failure to keep the covenant. In the midst of conflict with Babylon, God informs us that houses and fields will be bought and fortunes will be restored. The covenant will be renewed, and although the Israelites are unsure of what lies ahead, by trusting in God there WILL be a future for them. We finish the week by reading all five chapters in the Book of Lamentations. We soon discover that in our suffering God is always with us. We are never abandoned to suffer alone.
July 18 to 24 - Ezekiel 1 to 27
For the next twelve days we are deeply immersed in the Book of Ezekiel. Here we find the writer(s) wrestling with the question of why God allowed Jerusalem and the Temple to be destroyed and the people to be transported as captives to Babylon. Ezekiel himself was descended from Zadok, one of David's priests. He served at the Temple in Jerusalem until the destruction of the Temple put an end to his career in that city and he began his exile in Babylonia. Ezekiel's visions and oracles are known as apocalyptic literature. Their purpose is to make some sense out of the sufferings of the people. Many of the visions are obscure and confusing to us, which has given rise to lots of weird and wonderful explanations amongst some segments of Christianity. Ezekiel concludes that the Israelites were punished by God for failing to keep the covenant, but they are forgiven and can return to their homeland.
July 25 to 31 - Ezekiel 28 to Daniel 5
This week finds us finishing the book of Ezekiel and reading almost halfway through Daniel. Whereas in Jeremiah God (YHWH) showed compassion for Israel, in Ezekiel God's reputation is of primary concern. By restoring Jerusalem to the Israelites YHWH would have earned a good name amongst the enemies of Israel. Salvaging YHWH's reputation would have been very important for the prophet Ezekiel who had been a Temple priest before his exile in Babylon. Also in Ezekiel we encounter the famous narrative about dry bones that come to life once again.
Our journey into Daniel takes us to the court of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon where we encounter veganism as a form of resistance to power. We hear too about fantastic dreams that can be interpreted only by one of the Israelite exiles, and we read of three men and an angel who walk around in a fiery furnace.
August 1 to 7 - Daniel 6 to Micah 3
This week we complete our reading of the Book of Daniel. The early Christian community believed Daniel was a prophet, and when the Christian Bible was compiled, Daniel was located immediately behind Ezekiel, the last of the great prophets. The Jews, however, didn't consider him to be a prophet, and for that reason included the Book of Daniel in the Writings.
In mid-week we begin to read the Minor Prophets, so called because each of the books is short compared to the more lengthy Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Each of the Minor Prophets has its special characteristics - the reader will be amazed/shocked/delighted at some of the metaphors utilized by the authors.
August 8 to 14 - Micah 4 to Tobit 14
Last week we began our journey through the Minor Prophets. We were introduced to the concept of Israel as an unfaithful wife, we read a scathing pronouncement against the gap between rich and poor, and we learned that God's love extends to non-Israelites including the people of Nineveh. We began to read Micah, which we will finish tomorrow. Readers may find themselves pausing to reflect on his famous question "what does the Lord require of you?"
The remainder of our reading for this week takes us through the last six of the minor prophets. Here we encounter oracles of divine judgment against Israel followed by promises of restoration. And for the last couple of days we will be entertained by Tobit, a short novel about a blind man and Sarah, his future daughter-in-law.
August 15 to 21 - Book of Judith , Greek Esther, and the Wisdom of Solomon to Chapter 5
Last week beginning with Tobit we started our journey through some of the books of the Apocrypha. Found in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, the Apocrypha are not included in Protestant editions. (We will address this difference at a earning event in the Fall of 2011).
The Book of Judith holds our attention for much of this week. An example of a Jewish novel, it was written during the second century BCE but takes place several centuries earlier. The main character, a woman, is the epitome of all that is good, whereas Nebuchadnezzar represents all that is bad in both the Assyrian and the Babylonian empires. On Friday and Saturday we read the Greek version of Esther. In May we read a shorter version - be on the look-out for noticeable differences between the two.
We finish the week with the first few chapters of the Wisdom of Solomon. Scholars agree that Solomon was not the author, and that it was most likely written around the time of the first millennium.
August 22 to 28 - Wisdom of Solomon 6 to Sirach 15
Yesterday's reading assignment included the first few chapters of the Wisdom of Solomon. No doubt the reader noticed the distinction between body and soul. Because there is no separation between body and soul in ancient Jewish literature, we know immediately that the Wisdom of Solomon was written at a time when the Jews were exposed to Greek, or Hellenistic, ideas. The split between body and soul - dualism - is NOT a Jewish concept. Much of the Wisdom of Solomon is a reminder of events foundational for the Jewish people, including the plagues against the Egyptians before the Exodus out of Egypt.
Most of this week is taken up by the Book of Sirach, a.k.a Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach. It was written about 180 BCE, and like the Wisdom of Solomon, at a time when the Jews were highly influenced by Greek culture. The language is delightfully poetic, and draws much from Jewish traditions and Scripture in order to "pass on" Wisdom for all.
August 29 to September 4 - Sirach 16 to 39
This week's reading begins with "Do not desire a multitude of worthless children". Hmm, but didn't the ancient Jews consider lots of children to be a gift from God? Not so according to the writer of Sirach, if the children have no fear of the Lord!
Later on this week we encounter words of wisdom regarding a range of things including dreams, travel, property, and healing - all in all, Sirach is a most delightful read.
September 5 to 11 - Sirach 40 to 51, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Song of Three, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon
This week we find ourselves half-way through the Aprocrypha. Sirach, which we started on August 25, doesn't have much good to say about wives and daughters. Baruch, named after Jeremiah's scribe, and the Letter of Jeremiah, were written hundreds of years after the time of Jeremiah and the Exile in Babylon. The authors, like many other ancient writers, considered it a sign of respect to name their works after someone well-known. The satirical Letter of Jeremiah is really a sermon and not a letter; it is best appreciated if it is read aloud.
The remainder of this week's readings- The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon are not part of the Jewish Bible although they are found in the main body of the Roman Catholic Bible and in the Apocrypha of the Protestant Bible. Azariah is a poem of lament and the Song is a psalm of praise. The Song repeatedly blesses God, which contrasts with our modern use of the word "bless" in which WE ask God for blessings. Susanna is an early example of feminist literature although her legal case gets much-needed assistance from Daniel. Finally we read the story of Bel and the Dragon, an exciting tale for young and old alike.
September 12 to 18 - 1 Maccabees 1 to 12
This week we read through most of 1 Maccabees. It is in Maccabees that we learn about the Syrian invasion of Israel, and how this gives rise to Jewish resistance movements. These movements eventually develop into the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes.
1 Macabees views the Israelites' actions against the invasion of Syria through the eyes of the Hasmonean (aka Maccabean) family, who believed that God approved of their use of violence and militarism to achieve their goals. Like much historical writing everywhere, 2 Maccabees offers another view of the resistance. We shall see this when we move into 2 Maccabees on September 21.
September 19 to 25 - 1 Maccabees 13 to 2 Maccabees 15
This week's readings conclude with the last chapter of 2 Maccabees. We will read Books 3 and 4 in October.
It is unfortunate that the Books of the Maccabees are not in the Protestant Bible because they contain important information about the revolt that eventually lead to the Jesus Movement. The Seleucid king Antiochus IV decreed in the mid-second century BCE that all people within his kingdom had to adopt Greek ways and give up their ancestral customs. Some Jews complied and others did not. Antiochus IV was so zealous in his demands that he re-dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem to Zeus!! The result was a very bloody and violent uprising under the leadership of Mattathias Maccabee and his family. Many of the Jews who lost their lives, including several members of the Maccabean family, became known as martyrs who would be resurrected to Eternal Life. With the death of Antiochus IV, his forced conversion of the Jews was overturned, only to be replaced by forced conversion TO Judaism.
Readers will discover that when a Maccabean military leader is named to the position of High Priest, observant Jews are outraged - no one with blood on his hands could occupy such a position. We will follow the Maccabean family into the Christian Scriptures where they are known as the Hasmoneans. King Herod was a Hasmonean through his father who was forced to convert to Judaism. These facts will play out in the next one to two hundred years, with the coming of Jesus.
September 26 to October 2 - 1 Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 51, and 3 Maccabees
1 Esdras is included only in the canon of the Orthodox Church. It is a Greek version of Jewish history from the time dating from the saintly King Josiah to Ezra.Similar in many ways to the writings in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, it has in it the additional Story of Three Youths.
The Prayer of Manasseh asks for God's mercy and forgiveness. Although it is attributed to King Manasseh, a man of questionable character, it was probably written seven hundred years later.
Psalm 151 is presumed to be the work of David but its true origin is unknown.
3 Maccabees describes life for the many Jews who inhabit lands beyond Judah. We hear of their attempts to balance their loyalty to the covenant with their desire to live peaceably amongst the Gentiles. The rulers "controlled" observant Jews through acts such as branding by fire, forced evacuation, and trampling by elephants. Although the action takes place 2200 years ago, the theme continues into the modern era- how much should we conform to the ways of the world and how much should we resist in order to spare our lives?
October 3 to 10 - 2 Esdras 1 to 13
Esdras is a puzzling book that is found only in the canon of the Armenian church. Like so much Biblical apocalyptic literature, it takes place hundreds of years before it was written. This genre of literature arose during the Greek domination of Palestine at the time of the Maccabees. It is marked by its anticipation of an apocalypse that will clean up the world and save only the righteous. Such an idea arose because of the difficult living conditions experienced by the Jews.
Scholars believe that 2 Esdras is really three books put together and for that reason the middle chapters should be read before the first two. Much of the book questions whether or not God's covenant with Israel has moved to another "nation" because of the Jews' disobedience.
Observant readers will note that chapter 7 is very lengthy and that many of its verses have two sets of numbers. This is because some of the book was rejected by early Christians because the content didn't match their theology. The missing verses were restored many centuries later, along with an extra set of numbers.
We will finish 2 Esdras early next week and end our tour of the Apocrypha with the Book of 4 Maccabees.
October 31 to November 6 - Mark 12 to Luke 12
This week we finish the Gospel of Mark and read one third of the way through Luke. Although Matthew is the first of the Gospels in the Christian Scriptures, the New Testament, Mark is believed by most scholars to be the earliest of the four. Mark 13 is known as the Little Apocalypse, because it belongs to the literary genre known as apocalyptic literature. This genre is characterized by its visions and dreams, its predictions of destruction, and its violent end to this world.
Readers will observe that Mark has two endings. The first, at Mark 16:8 ends abruptly. The second at Mark 16:28, seems to combine features from Matthew, Luke, John and Acts.
The writer of Luke's Gospel is believed to be writing to a Gentile audience because we find two birth annunciations in the text, that of John, then of Jesus. Annunciations of a hero or a divine being were well-known in Gentile or pagan literature.
November 7 to 13 - Luke 11 to John 2
Our tour of Luke finishes this week, then we start the last Gospel to be written, the Gospel of John. Some of the highlights we will encounter include another version of the Lord's Prayer that is shorter than the one recorded in Matthew 6. We hear again the stories we first heard in childhood, many of which are based on nature- lilies that don't toil or spin, mustard seeds that grow into bushes, vineyards that need tending, and of course figs.
Invited for dinner to the home of a Pharisee, Jesus refuses to wash before the meal. He also insults some of the other guests. Could this be the beginning of the Pharisees' contempt for this man, a contempt that leads to the cross and resurrection?
As we end this week, we are drawn into John, where we find Jesus turning water into wine and losing his cool in the Temple. Who is this Jesus anyway???
November 14 to 20 - John 3 to 19
This week readers immerse themselves in most of the Fourth Gospel, the Book of John. This Gospel is quite different from the Matthew, Mark and Luke. The baptism of Jesus is not mentioned (why would someone whose existence dates from the Beginning need to be baptized?) nor is the Last Supper marked by a Eucharistic meal. Instead Jesus washes the feet of his disciples the night before he is killed. Jesus says "very truly" and "I am" over and over again, he walks on water, heals a lot of people and raises Lazarus from the dead. Although he irritates the Temple authorities, he usually manages to keep one step ahead of them. Much of what he says is spoken with great authority although his words about eating flesh and drinking blood are confusing. This Gospel contains the most dramatic of the passion stories. Readers will find themselves aching with sadness at every word.
Nov 21 to 27 - John 20 to Acts 17
We finish our journey through the Gospels early this week with these words: "There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down.....the world itself could not contain the books that would be written". (John 21:24) On Tuesday we begin our tour of the Book of Acts which will occupy our attention for the remainder of November. Acts is thought to have been written by the author of Luke's Gospel because both books display knowledge of the Greek language, Jewish law, and Roman political organization. We find much preaching, healing, baptising, and sharing of resources, but there is also stoning and imprisonment for those who teach that Jesus is the Messiah. Rushing winds, scales falling from eyes, speaking in tongues, and divination by a slave-girl are a few of the actions that add to the week's excitement.
Nov 28 to Dec 4 - Acts 18 to Romans 14
Our reading assignment this week will see us finishing the Book of Acts and most of the Letter to the Romans.
Paul practises his tent-making skills, he cuts his hair and takes a vow, and he begins preaching to the Gentiles. He heals many people, including someone who falls down three storeys while listening to one of Paul's lengthy sermons. Books of magic are burned, a silversmith complains of dwindling sales of his statues of Artemis because people are switching their allegiance to Jesus, and Paul and his companions are shipwrecked.
The letter to the Romans is likely written in the mid-fifties, CE, in the latter part of Paul's career. Scholars believe that it is an authentic letter of Paul, unlike several others attributed to him. We learn that the Gospel message of Jesus is not only for the Jews but is for ALL people. And because Paul has converted many Gentiles, there is much discussion about circumcision!
December 5 to 11 - Romans 15 and 16, and 1 and 2 Corinthians
This week we will finish the Book of Romans where we will find encouragement about how to live in response to God's faithfulness to us. We will also learn the names of some of Paul's relatives!
Much of our tour through Corinthians is marked by familiar passages such as ....."Love is patient, love is kind", "if I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels.", and "now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit". The followers of Jesus in Corinth are advised that they speak God's wisdom and not the wisdom of the age or of the rulers. They receive instruction regarding behaviour around the opposite sex, and they learn the importance of self control and how to respond to issues of marriage. They hear how to deal with internal disputes and dissent regarding food regulations, they learn the order of service for the Eucharist, and there is some discussion of speaking in tongues. And in both 1 and 2 Corinthians, there is reference to the collection of money Paul is taking to Jerusalem to distribute amongst poor Christians in that city.
Dec 12 to 18 - Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, to 1 Timothy Chapter 4
Modern scholars believe that some of the letters we will read this week are not the authentic letters of Paul. These "inauthentic" letters, written by unknown authors, include Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, and a few verses in 1 and 2 Corinthians.
Paul, a zealous Pharisee, was a renowned persecutor of the Jewish followers of Jesus. He believed in punishing them because their opinion of Jesus was wrong. After all, a real Messiah would never suffer a shameful death, one that rendered the victim unclean by Jewish standards. But when Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision, Paul changed his understanding of God. He now saw God as one who accepted the impure and the unclean. Paul's mission to the Gentiles began soon after. Because the culture of the day respected and defended tradition, Paul's radical message was often met with resistance and hostility.
Dec 19 to 25 - 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter 1-5
1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are known as the pastoral Epistles. It is doubtful that the author of these letters was the Apostle Paul. More likely they were written in the late first century CE or early in the second century CE, long after Paul's death. These writings are not the voice of radical Paul but instead support the status quo. Included are lists of people to avoid, vices to discourage, and warnings against false teaching.
Philemon is considered to be authentic Paul and is unique in the New Testament for identifying a slave by name.
We tackle the book of Hebrews in the middle of the week. Some scholars believe that Hebrews is the most anti-Jewish of books of the New Testament, whereas many Messianic Jews think it was written for Jewish, not Gentile, followers of Jesus.
The author of James was once thought to be the brother of Jesus, but that opinion is changing. After all, Jesus is barely mentioned in the Book of James whereas his name appears frequently in the other writings that make up the New Testament.
Our last reading of the week, the Book of 1 Peter, was written in beautiful literary Greek, and for that reason the author is believed to be someone other than the simple Galilean Simon Peter. The believers to whom the letter is written are portrayed as being outside mainstream society, which is in keeping with the knowledge we have about many of the early followers of Jesus.