In my experience, bats are like Marmite. They tend to divide opinion. Some people detest them while others are enchanted by them. Perhaps this is because they literally flit on the peripheries of our lives. The darting dots, like fireflies in reverse, that fly in the gloaming in such apparently random and unpredictable ways. The bat is a liminal creature in so many ways. Then there is that archive of folktales and family stories. The (always distant) relative for whom a bat got caught up in her (it usually is a ‘her’) hair. As a child I was assured that this could never happen, the bat’s skill at echolocation, as well as at flying, was far too good for that. Although, in later life, I found that the swarms of midges, drawn by my body-heat, just above my head, provides a very rich hunting ground and, on more than one occasion, I have felt the rush of air from the wings of a swooping bat.
There is a general air of ambivalence surrounding the caterpillar… France (1986:35) suggests that, being “nurtured with the notions of the woolly caterpillar of Little Arabella Millar and the amiable [really??!] and bumbling creature of Alice in Wonderland“, we have a somewhat romanticised view of the humble caterpillar. While it is true that this literary tradition continues to the present (with the popularity books like Eric Carle’s (1969) The Very Hungry Caterpillar), I am not totally convinced that most people view them quite so benignly. Despite the love that is often accorded to butterflies, my experience is that people tend to be rather squeamish of them and react in a similar way to spiders or worms.
What is noticeable is that, although there are possible references to caterpillars in the Bible, there are no references to butterflies at all. Israel hosts a large number of resident and migrant species – as well as moths (which do receive mentions in both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and New Testament.
Most people tend to encounter spiders indoors rather than outside. However, sit on a piece of grass for even a short length of time and you will soon see this, tiny and often overlooked, scurrying figure. Dewy late summer mornings, when the sun is still low, or frosty autumn and winter days can provide us with a wonderful display of webs that show how abundant and prolific this creature is. Sunrise can turn some meadows into fields of shimmering silver.
There is something special about encountering deer. Increases in population has meant that, in many woodland locations and at certain times of the year, they are fairly easy to spot. Many country parks and estates also keep herds and can allow some very close encounters with them. Despite their antlers, and the rather fierce reputation of stags, deer seem to hold a very special place within the British psyche. This attitude appears also to be reflected by some of the biblical writers.
Although it is not a native to the UK, the acacia or the name ‘acacia’ (to my mind at least) is indelibly connected to suburbia and leafy, neatly trimmed, privet-lined gardens of Middle England. Loved by bees, the acacia carries with it the scent of the exotic, which is not surprising as it is more usually associated with much warmer climes.
The tree of the wilderness
The Bible lists שִׁטָּה (shittah), usually translated as ‘acacia’, twenty-eight times. However, as Tristram (1898:392) cautions, we need to be careful not to confuse it with the acacia commonly found in Britain. The types of acacia normally found in the UK generally originate from Australia rather than the Middle East. Continue reading →
Possibly the most redolent sound of summer is that of the soft, lazy hum of bees among sun-warmed lavender. Out of all flying insects, it could be argued that bees are the most well loved – or at least well tolerated. I’ve known people renowned for distractedly swatting away flies, wasps and all kinds of insects, sit for (what seems like) hours patiently coaxing a grounded bee to with sugar water or honey.
The recent concerns over declining population has also helped to promote a re-assessment of the bee and our attitudes to it. Tracey Thorn’s recent tweet exemplifies this beautifully.
Nettle – חָרוּל (charul), סִרְפָּד (sirpad) and possibly קִמּוֹשׂ (qimmos)
Over the years my attitude to nettles has changed. As a lad, they were ubiquitous, lurking menaces that, no matter what I did to avoid them, inevitably stung me and sent me racing to find a nearby dock leaf. Moreover, they were found in areas that I tended to associate with the least conducive for play; those boggy, shadowy, overgrown areas, thick with snail and slug slime. In those days they were just ‘stingers’ and the places they were found were the strange and dank-smelling ‘stingers patch.’ However, more recently, I have grown more and more attracted to these places and, particularly on hot, dry days, actively seek out these proud plants with their delicate, understated flower heads, and their heady, fresh scent. When so much is appearing to struggle for life, it is good to find something that celebrates its hardiness and its tenacious and spiky hold on life.
The sound of the dove on a late summer’s afternoon, when velvet shadows begin to stretch over a freshly cut lawn, is one of those magical, lazy, sounds of summer. There is something special, something strangely soporific and hauntingly melancholic, about the dove’s call. As we shall see, it is something that also touched the heart and imagination of the ancient Hebrew writers of our biblical literature too.
Students of religion and politics have had a mountain of material to consider recently. One particularly notable theme is the use of Christian/biblical language by the Trump administration and its supporters.
One noteworthy example emerged in the spring of 2017 when allusions to Donald Trump as a messianic figure began to circulate both mainstream and social media. For many, this appeared strange and provocative language. Within Christian tradition, the Hebrew word ‘messiah’ (מָשִׁיחַ – mashiach) , which literally means ‘anointed’ or ‘anointed one’ (rendered in Greek as χριστός – christos), has primarily come to denote the specific figure of Jesus Christ, with its allied associations of sonship, moral perfection and divinity. Consequently, any attempts to attribute messianic status to Donald Trump could be viewed as inappropriate and even blasphemous. Nevertheless, certain religious groups have continued to refer to him in this way. This is particularly interesting as it occurs against a backdrop of an increase in use of religious (Judeo-Christian) language to articulate and justify policy decisions (see earlier post – Weaponising Romans 13), suggesting a closer convergence between religious and political spheres than we have seen in recent history.
Although, many of the Christian leaders who support Trump specifically avoid using the term ‘messiah’ when speaking of him, they frequently refer to him as being anointed by God to lead the nation. This is exemplified by evangelist Paula White‘s comments recorded in2017:
The First Immanuel: Good news to a frightened people
As we approach the season for carols and Christmas cards you will probably come across one of the names of Jesus that is particularly associated with Christmas; Immanuel or in some translations that follow the Greek it is written as Emmanuel. However few people are quite so familiar with the first Immanuel whose birth had been announced some 700 years earlier during a very dark period in Israel’s history. For those living through these desperate times the future looked extremely bleak. They faced the very real prospect of imminent of captivity and death. These were people who needed good news; to know that their God had not deserted them. They were a frightened people in need of hope to take them through the devastation they were facing. Learning a little more about this period might provide an extra layer of texture and colour to the story that many of us celebrate at Christmas. Continue reading →