Friday, March 11, 2016

The Lion and Its Two Whelps

One of the people I follow on Twitter is writer Reza Aslan, the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I became aware of Aslan when he got attacked on Fox News for writing about Jesus even though Aslan is a Muslim. So naturally I read the book, and can recommend it for those who like biographies and history. A lot of what was in the book I am familiar with from reading earlier works by other authors, but Aslan gave a more thorough history of the Zealot movement than I had seen before and is very good at conveying details that let you see what is happening.

So when Aslan began tweeting about an upcoming project of BoomGen studios, a television series called Of Kings and Prophets, based on the book of Samuel, I decided to watch the first episode.

I had forgotten that I tend not to like historical dramas. It’s not a bad show, and I’ll probably watch at least another episode, but I couldn’t really get into the story. And because I couldn’t get into the story, little details that I might otherwise have overlooked began to nag at me, and one of those details involved a lion.

Following the old dictum of “show, don’t tell”, the writers concocted a portion of the story about David waking up one night to find that a large number of the flock of sheep he had been tending had been attacked by a large predator. As a result of the attack, his family was unable to pay their taxes. When David went to the tax collector to explain the situation, the tax collector ordered him to be flogged. David was able to escape flogging by volunteering to go and kill the animal, a lion. David was able to track it, kill it, and bring its pelt back to court.

Now, practically none of this is in the first book of Samuel. What we have is the account, in chapter 17, of David going to the Israelite camp to bring food to his older brothers just as Goliath has issued his challenge to fight a single champion. As David finds out, “And it will be, that the man who will kill him, the King will enrich him with great riches, and he will give him his daughter, and he will make his father's house free in Israel.”  (Schmuel 1, Chapter 17, verse 25 from the online Tanach at

Rashi’s* commentary, a very nice feature of the online Tanach, explains “and he will make his father’s house free: from the things mentioned in the laws of the kingdom,” one of which things is the obligation to pay taxes.

David does not take just one person’s word for it. He asks several other soldiers and gets the same answer. So as we all know, he goes to Saul and offers to fight Goliath. Saul is dubious that a shepherd lad can fight a man who has been a warrior since childhood, at which point David claims, “Your bondsman was a shepherd of sheep for his father, and there came a lion and also a bear, and carried off a lamb from the flock. And I went out after him and smote him, and saved it from his mouth. And he arose upon me, and I took hold of his jaw, and I smote him and slew him. Both the lion and the bear has your bondsman slain, and the uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he taunted the armies of the living God” (verses 34-36)

So here we have the elements of the story that OKAP tells: David concerned about freeing his family from taxes; David slaying a lion to rescue a lamb. Unfortunately, as several reviewers have pointed out, in the OKAP version, David comes off as the worst shepherd ever: he’s asleep when a large portion of his flock was slaughtered: enough so that his family is unable to pay its taxes. In the Bible version, of course, David is watchfully protecting his flock to the point of killing an animal as large as a lion or bear if need be to rescue a single lamb from its jaws.

But here is where we get to the detail that bothers me. The animal that is harassing David’s flock is a male lion, not a lioness. This doesn’t make a huge difference to the story in the Bible version. While the job of hunting to feed the tribe usually falls to the lionesses, not the males, male lions can hunt. Both male and female cubs are taken on hunting trips with their mothers and taught to hunt. Males, however, when they do hunt usually hunt larger game, like gazelles, not smaller domestic animals, like lambs. In the Bible version, David has rescued a single lamb from the lion’s jaws. It is not impossible that a young male, leaving his birth pride to find a new one, gets hungry along the way and grabs a lamb from a flock. But a full grown male harassing a whole flock of sheep? I dunno. That sounds to me more like the kind of hunting a lioness or two or three would be doing.

So being me, and following Reza Aslan on Twitter anyway, I tweeted him to ask why, given that lionesses are the hunters, it wasn’t a lioness killing David’s sheep. I did not get an answer.

Okay, I can understand that, in one way. It is hard to convey in 140 characters that a question is not a rhetorical one whose object is saying, “Nyaah, nyaah, you screwed up, and on a detail that anyone who ever saw The Lion King would know.”

The thing is, it wasn’t a rhetorical question, because actually, I could see some legitimate reasons for making the sheep killer a male lion, and I really did want to know if one of them applied. 

Certainly one possibility is ignorance - not knowing that the lioness does the killing, but that’s not exactly abstruse knowlege, so that to me was the least likely explanation. 

Another possible reason is translation - maybe the Hebrew word used excludes lionesses and only applies to males. It turns out that Hebrew does have separate word for lioness, but once again we have Rashi’s commentary to turn to: “Both the lion and the bear: These three words (גם את גם) are of inclusive nature, meaning a lion and its two whelps, and a bear and its two cubs.” I think the example he gives means the words are inclusive of males, females, and children of the animals named, so even though the word David uses is translated lion, it could include the lioness, just as the English word “lion” does. 

Okay, so what about tradition? David is of the tribe of Judah, a tribe whose symbol is the lion. Maybe there is a future plot point in which the lion skin that David brings back to court becomes the symbol of his tribe. Or not - the association between Judah and a lion goes back to the book of Genesis: specifically, the blessings Jacob gave to his sons at his death. “A cub [and] a grown lion is Judah. From the prey, my son, you withdrew. He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him?” Rashi considers this to be a prophecy of the coming of David, “He prophesied about David, who was at first like a cub: 'When Saul was king over us, it was you who led Israel out and brought them in' (II Sam. 5:2), and at the end a lion, when they made him king over them.” Well, maybe something will be done with that in future episodes.

So the one explanation left in my mind is visual impact. Lions have manes. A male lion’s pelt makes more of an impact than a female’s pelt when you stride into a court holding it draped over your shoulder.  

By the time I had arrived at this point in my thinking, I had googled enough about lions to be reminded that the lion in Narnia is named Aslan, a connection I had honestly not made before. So I tweeted Dr. Aslan again, but still didn’t get an answer to my question. Okay, perhaps I should have thought a bit about how tired anyone with the name Aslan could get of Narnia references, Muslim or no. Perhaps no response is not the worst possible outcome. At least he hasn’t blocked me, which means I was able to see the link he tweeted to an interview in the Huffington Post with OKAP’s executive producer Mahyad Tousi, and while I didn’t expect an explanation of why a lion to emerge from it, I read it anyway, and encountered this exchange:

Q: On the one hand, Hollywood excludes minorities and women and, on the other hand, it has a history of perpetuating stereotypes. Women are often shown as two-dimensional sex objects. Do the show's female characters defy this stereotype in any way?
A: Yes, absolutely. Our job as dramatists is to breathe life into all the characters. It's no secret that the Bible generally doesn't provide much in terms of character psychology or motivation for its women, with a few exceptions of course. So from the start in our conversations with Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (the show's creators) and subsequently with our showrunner Chris Brancato, we were in agreement that the women of Of Kings and Prophets must play a far more central role than they are provided with in the Bible. Personally, I operate from the perspective that even in the most patriarchal societies women have been key players, even when the history books don't reflect that. I believe this is also true of scripture.
A quick search for Chris Brancato reveals that despite the promising first name, he’s a man, too. So from the start, three men agreed that, “The women of Of Kings and Prophets must play a far more central role than they are provided with in the Bible” and decided how to do that.

I was wrong. The interview did, in fact, answer my question about the lion.

*Rashi is an acronym for Shlomo Yitzchaki, 22 February 1040 – 13 July 1105), Latin name  Salomon Isaacides, a medieval French rabbi and author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud and commentary on the Tanakh.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


This is a video of Canadian children welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada by singing a historical song that was sung to the Prophet Mohamed when he sought refuge from Makkah to Medina.

Now pardon me while I go hunt up a hanky.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Egyptian border, somewhere around 1 AD, give or take

Egyptian official: Okay, you two with the baby, hand over your papers.

Joseph: Papers? I’m not sure what you mean.

Egyptian official: Identification papers, proof of citizenship . . .

Joseph: We don’t have any of that. I’m Joseph, and this is my wife Mary and our son Jesus. We are looking for refuge.

Egyptian official: So you say. Where are you from, anyway?

Joseph: We came here from Bethlehem.

Egyptian official: Bethlehem? Why do you want to leave Bethlehem?

Mary: It’s Herod. He’s killing all firstborn infants. If you don’t let us take refuge here, Jesus could be killed!

Egyptian official: You’re from Herod’s kingdom? In Judea? Look, the last time we let in any of your kind in it ended with plagues, locusts, our own firstborn being mysteriously killed. You all left saying you wanted your own country and your own language, and your own religion, and now you want to come back? 

You’re troublemakers, all of you. The Babylonians couldn’t control you, the Assyrians couldn’t control you, I bet not even the Romans could control you. If Herod is cracking down on dissidents in his own country, I’m sure he has his reasons.

Mary: If you can’t let us in, could you at least let our little boy in? Surely some family would want to adopt him. If you don’t, he’s going to die!

Egyptian official: No, ma’am. Nobody here wants him. He needs to be with his own parents. Just not here, is all.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


A few weeks ago, I saw someone I follow on Tumblr use the neologism “conversate” in place of “converse” and got to thinking about the process of “back formation” - the process of creating a new lexeme (roughly, a new word) by removing actual or supposed affixes.  Since many words that end in the suffix “ation”, the way “conversation” does, do derive from root words that end in “ate”, (think dominate/domination, navigate/navigation, celebrate/celebration) “conversate” isn’t a bad guess if you don’t know that the word you are looking for is “converse”. actually dates it back to 1970-75, which surprises me. I would have been willing to bet that “conversate” didn’t exist back in the 1990′s.
There are a number of words, however with the suffix “ation” that do not have roots that end with “ate”. We have imagine/imagination, accredit/accreditation, denote/denotation, discolor/discoloration, expect/expectation, to name a few. I wonder if we are ever going to see the use of “imaginate”?
I think we are stuck with “conversate”. It sounds both less formal and more extensive than “converse” does. Besides, there is precedence. In American English, at least, we have both the word “oblige” and the word “obligate”, and each takes the noun form “obligation”. “Obligate” is also an adjective, but the verb form dates back around five centuries, according to my googling, and has been found in the novel Pamela, contradicting the charge that it is purely an Americanism. There are a few guesses as to why we have both words, but the one I find most convincing is that “obligate”, like “conversate” and “orientate”, is a back formation, in the case of “obligate” from the word “obligation”.
Interestingly enough, though, my reading also revealed that in American law, at least, the words “obligate” and “oblige” have different degrees of force, and it does make a difference which one you use.
So maybe a few hundred years from now,  linguists will be arguing over the  the nuances of using “conversate” versus “converse”. So be it.
I just hope we never, ever get the word “imaginate”.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Party

This being the wedding day, I am posting the last of the three true love stories that I originally wrote for my friend on Tumblr.  If someone that I know reads my blog and is a character in the story wants to quibble over details, just let me remind that person that I got the story second and third hand because he tends to tell these things to other family members and then assumes he has also told them to mama. No matter, the details aren't what's important, anyway. 

This is a true story. It happened to two people I know.

She wasn’t supposed to be at the party. 

She was from Venezuela. She and her husband met in high school, attended college in the United States, married and had a baby. She thought she knew everything about him, but it turned out she didn’t. Now she was living in London and he was living in Scotland, and their divorce was almost final. She brought her little boy up to visit him and then they were going to spend three days seeing Loch Ness.

But there was a mix-up with his driver's license, so she went back to London. After all, there was that party.

He wasn’t supposed to be at the party.

He was from the United States. In 2008, he had taken a job with a start up company. The owners’ plan was to build the business up enough to be tempting enough for a larger company to buy, but then the recession of 2009 hit, so the owners had to run the company themselves. There was enough European business for the company to send him and his boss to live in London as their European branch. 

His cousin was getting married back home that weekend, and he was supposed to be there, but he couldn’t get the time off.

But there was that party. That was how they met.

A year later, she got a promotion and a transfer, back to Houston. Around the same time, his company told him that having him based in Europe was too expensive, and that when his visa ran out, they wanted him home, back in Austin. Since he mostly worked either from home or onsite, he asked if really needed to live in Austin. Could he maybe live in Houston, and just go to Austin the few times a year he was needed there?

So now they both live together in Houston. They are building a house and making wedding plans.

He says he wasn’t supposed to be at the party. She says she wasn’t supposed to be at the party.

I say they were.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Flowers

This is the second of the true love stories I wrote for my Tumblr friend. By the way, that's "true love stories" as in love stories that are true, but I certainly hope they also depict True Love. All of the stories were written last summer.

The picture showed up in my Facebook feed, a dozen roses and a card with pictures of the two of them from over the years. The caption was of course in Hungarian, “Szerelem, boldogság 10 év után is” followed by a heart, which Google Translate renders as “Love, happiness, even after 10 years”.

Ten years? Ten years ago in May? Ten years ago this coming August she arrived in the US from Hungary, our third foreign exchange student, sixteen about to turn seventeen. I sat with her while she unpacked and watched her pin a picture of her and a young man to the oversized bulletin board we kept for just such mementoes. “Who is that?” I asked.

“My boyfriend.” He looked a little old for a high school student, but I remembered high school well enough to know how differently the young men in it had matured. Still, I had to ask, “How old is he?”

“Twenty-six.” Anna laughed at the expression on my face. “My parents were worried when I first met him, but once they got to know him, they said it was okay for us to date.”

“And then they sent her to the U.S. for a year,”  my husband  pointed out to me later that night. Not quite a year, but still. The handsome young man in the picture would have no trouble meeting interested women closer to home, and closer to his age.

Anna quickly talked my husband into buying a microphone and some software for his aging computer and used it to talk with J, the boyfriend, every afternoon. She also talked to her parents, her brothers, and several friends. American Field Service guidelines suggested discouraging much contact with home, maybe a letter a week and one phone call a month, but Anna had bonded to us like Superglue within days of meeting us, and easily made friends at school. She found young men to escort her to the Winter Formal and the Junior-Senior Prom, and even held a party at our house to entertain her friends at the end of the school year. It would have been petty of us to interfere with her communication to those back home.

The year after she left, we visited her in Hungary, and met J. We could see why her parents were impressed. He wasn’t immature, he treated her with affection and respect, and they just seemed right for each other. I was amused by one story Anna told us. She and J had gone to Croatia for vacation the summer before, after she returned from the US, and while there she got a henna tattoo. When she returned home, she convinced her parents it was a permanent tattoo, and they were furious with her.

“So let me see if I get this,” I told my husband later. “Her parents don’t mind her spending her vacation alone with an older man, but they have a hissy fit over her getting a tattoo.” I reminded myself again that I’m not her real mom.

Anna moved to another city to go to college and J got a job there and moved with her. They lived together in an apartment. We visited Anna again a few years ago while spending a long visit with my son in Paris, and then two years ago they came to spend time with us while we were on another visit with my son, this time in London. By this time Anna had graduated and was working. I asked if there were any wedding plans and she said that J was worried about getting married because he had friends who broke up soon after marrying, but that he knew it was important to her and was saving up for a ring. Last fall they announced their engagement. They bought a house this year, they are coming to visit us for a few weeks this fall, and the wedding is next year*.

Ten years. Ten years between them. Ten years together. Ten years since she last was here with us.

Ten years.

*This August, and we're going.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How I Met My Husband

While looking for some medical information that I hoped I had scanned into my computer, I found a folder called "True Love Stories", written to give to someone on Tumblr who was collecting stories of unconventional meetings and couplings. Since I have been too preoccupied with my son's upcoming wedding to write lately (not too busy, mind you, just too preoccupied), I decided I can post these, at least. This is the first one.

Some background to the story: when I was in graduate school, I met my first husband. He was an Eagle Scout and enjoyed camping, so he volunteered as an assistant scoutmaster with a scout troop near the university we attended. Our first real date was to a covered dish dinner award ceremony (Court of Honor) for scouts achieving merit badges. I don’t remember any of the scouts I met that night, but keep in mind, there were a lot of them there.

Next background bit: ten years later, my husband and I were invited to a party for the troop’s 50 year anniversary. By then we had a two and a half year old son. Our marriage was getting a little rocky, given that he had a hair trigger temper, but I was in it until death do us part, and not looking for anything more than a few minutes conversation with the cute young man with curly brown hair standing next to me at the refreshment table. In fact, by a day or so later I had forgotten him.

By four years later, it had become apparent that the death that was going to part my husband and me was likely to be untimely, likely to be violent, and likely to be mine. I tossed him out of the house and filed for divorce. Eventually I joined a singles group that, among other activities, held a weekly volleyball game. One night, I looked across the volleyball net and saw a cute younger man with slightly splayed feet, a feature that for some reason I found totally adorable. I also thought he looked ten years younger than me, and figured he wouldn’t be interested.

It turned out he was interested, and only six years younger than me. After a few weeks of volleyball, he asked me out for dinner. We talked the usual getting acquainted chit-chat people do on first dates, and I learned he was a) from New Orleans and b) an Eagle Scout.  “Where in New Orleans?” I asked, suspecting I knew. “Uptown.” “What troop were you in?” I wasn’t surprised to hear the answer. “Did you know (ex’s name)?” “Yes, he was one of our assistant scoutmasters.” “He’s also my ex-husband.”

By this time I decided if I had spent my first date with my ex-husband watching this kid get his Eagle Scout award, there wasn’t going to be a second date for the two of us. In his zeal to prove to me it wasn’t so, the next week the cute young man showed me the dated certificate that came with his Eagle, and along with it he had a program from the 50 year anniversary party.

Oh, my gosh! The curly haired young man  (now less curly haired, and starting to gray) from the party!

Eight weeks later we were engaged, and slightly less than a year from our meeting at the volleyball game (the meeting I refer to as “the one that took”), we were married. Twenty-seven years later, we are still married. I fondly imagine Fate pushing us together two or three times, saying, “Will you idiots just get it, already? I have other business to attend to.”

And it took 2 or 3 tries, but we finally got it.