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The Bible as Literature

Education Podcasts

Each week, Dr. Richard Benton, Fr. Marc Boulos and guests discuss the content of the Bible as literature. On Tuesdays, Fr. Paul Tarazi presents an in-depth analysis of the biblical text in the original languages.


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Each week, Dr. Richard Benton, Fr. Marc Boulos and guests discuss the content of the Bible as literature. On Tuesdays, Fr. Paul Tarazi presents an in-depth analysis of the biblical text in the original languages.




The Function Little Crow

The West Side is a haven for immigrant communities arriving in St. Paul, Minnesota. Historically, it has included people of German, Roma, Polish, Swedish, Irish, Jewish (fleeing Russian pogroms), Latin American, Middle Eastern (among them after 1948, Palestinians), and African heritage. It is a place where different languages, religions, and cultures coexist in the womb of God’s earth without colonial integration, though not free from its ire. The latter is felt in the absence of the native Mdewakanton Dakota people, who sojourned locally along the river in a seasonal encampment under a succession of chiefs known as “Little Crow.” After Minnesota became a territory in 1849, colonial merchants were eager to “expand” and “build” bigger “barns.” (Luke 12:16-21) So, by 1851, the nomadic tribes of God were driven out of nearly all of Elohim’s earth in Minnesota and eastern Dakota in the Traverse des Sioux and Mendota treaties. The same colonial resentments resurfaced first in the suppression of the German language by the “Minnesota Commission of Public Safety,” and later in the 1930s during the Great Depression, when, in several attempts to address the “Mexican problem,” Ramsey County officials repatriated no less than 15% of the Mexican population, many of whom were U.S. citizens. “This was the West Side Flats, and for about a hundred years, from the 1850s to the 1960s, life bloomed there. A unique neighborhood in Minnesota and the wider U.S., the Flats were dense, low-income, polyglot, striving, unpaved, and unpainted.” In this sense, despite its material (and at times extreme) poverty and because of its mix of languages under constant outside pressure, it is reminiscent of al-Andalus, the fleeting memory of a golden age of tolerance, cultural exchange, and common sense. Despite regular flooding in the old neighborhood, city officials did nothing to address the issue or assist West Side residents. Only after the demolition of the Flats and the deportation (integration into the Melting Pot) of its residents in 1963 did the “community builders” of Ramsey County install flood control mechanisms on the Riverfront. “What they did to the Mexicans down on the old West Side—to make them move like that, and not compensate them, and give them the bare minimum. What they did to destroy a community like that is wrong.” —George Avaloz Richard and I discuss Luke 4:38-39. (Episode 501) Today's introduction is an excerpt from Fr. Marc’s new book, Dark Sayings: Diary of an American Priest (OCABS Press, 2023). Available on, Barnes and Noble, and many of your favorite online booksellers. Check the show notes or visit to learn more. References: Roethke, Leigh. Latino Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society, 2009, pp. 40-41. ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


What is Being Offered

This week, Fr. Paul explains that the book of Leviticus begins with what is being offered in order to belittle the priests, in contrast with our attitude and that of all religions, which begin with the functionary, the human being, as their reference. (Episode 293) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


The Staff of Levi

The biblical text is epic, expansive, and integrated in specific and articulate ways. After 500 episodes (over 800, if you add in Tarazi Tuesdays), I am convinced that the biblical genre’s complexity is far beyond the reach of contemporary literature and artistic expression. This is not intended as hyperbole. People get excited about modern literature because we always seek “new” ideas. But there are no new ideas. Just old ideas repackaged and half-baked. The well-written old ideas repackaged in some of the new books are useful, but they are still limited with respect to what matters most because, in the end, they all share the same premise as the tired opinions the average person posts online. So you read, hunt for useful knowledge, and test it against your reference, but you are selective with respect to where you place your trust. It is one’s reference that counts. The Bible, too, is old. But it is more than that. It stands out from the crowd in how it has disagreed with all of us, our ideas, and the things we fashion from days of old. In his essay “The False Promise of ChatGPT,” Noam Chomsky explains that the inability of machine learning to go beyond description and prediction to provide an explanation of “what is not the case and what could and could not be” the case “exhibits something like the banality of evil: plagiarism and apathy and obviation. It summarizes the standard arguments in the literature by a kind of super-autocomplete, refuses to take a stand on anything, pleads not merely ignorance but lack of intelligence, and ultimately offers a ‘just following orders’ defense, shifting responsibility to its creators.” Chomsky is describing machine learning. From my perspective, his words describe a culture that has fashioned something digital in its own image. Impressive? Maybe. Useful, profitable? Sure. Entertaining? Yes. Intelligent? No. Wise? No comment. Hopeful? Definitely not. What does Levi have to do with Luke? (And please, don't ask ChatGPT until after it's had a chance to plagiarize my brief essay.) In epic literature, it’s a long journey from Genesis, where we first hear about Melchizedek, to Numbers, where we are told about the staff of Levi, from among twelve staffs, from all the leaders of the households of Israel to Deuteronomy, where we hear twice, “Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 10:9;18:1, Numbers 18:20, Joshua 13:33, Ezekiel 44:28) The same statement pops up In Numbers, Joshua, and, of all places, Ezekiel. The word Is “epic.” It is epic literature. You have to hear the whole story. Likewise, in Luke, Jesus does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers in Nazareth. “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.” (Luke 3:22) But as Paul explains in Hebrews, Jesus is beyond even Levi, for Levi “was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” (Hebrews 7:10) You had better believe Jesus speaks with authority. Richard and I discuss Luke 4:36-37. (Episode 500) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


The Ecclesia is Moving

This week, Fr. Paul explains the interconnection between the Hebrew term qahal and the Greek ecclesia, from the verb kaleo—to call out—not to be confused with ʿedah, which corresponds to the Greek synagōgē. (Episode 292) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


To Muzzle, Dominate, and Overhelm

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul, with all authority, does not speak on human authority, “for it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? … but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ…woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.” In the same manner, in the Gospel of Luke, the Lord Jesus Christ, with all authority, enters into Capernaum under orders from his Father to muzzle, dominate, and overwhelm all opponents of the gospel, exercising absolute divine authority over them, silencing the false teachers, the demons found in the village of grace, akin to Paul’s opponents, the “false brethren” in Galatians and the outside authorities in 1 Corinthians who work against the Lord’s gospel to increase their glory on the backs of the weak, for whom Christ died. Richard and I discuss Luke 4:31-35. (Episode 499) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Let the People Hear It

This week, Fr. Paul notes the distinction between sin and guilt in the original text of Leviticus, lamenting the unwillingness of English translators to let the people hear the text. (Episode 291) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


The Semitic Triliteral

To understand the power of the Semitic triliteral root, consider the grammatical, functional, empirical, and, thus, anti-Platonic literary interconnection between DaBaR (word), keDoBRam (pasture), yaDBeR (subdued), watteDaBBeR (destroyed), beDaBBeRo (at his speaking), miDBaRek (your mouth), and miDBaR (wilderness). Only in the original Semitic do we hear and see the consonantal link between the shepherd’s pasture, the utterances of God, the wilderness, and the subduing—even the destruction—of those who hear his words. “His dabar,” Fr. Paul Tarazi writes, “is administered in the wilderness and proceeds from his shepherd’s mouth while the sheep’s dilemma lies in that the utterly non-Platonic, non-Shakespearian ‘to obey or not to obey’ is not even the question. It does not matter whether a ‘baa’ is emitted or not. Obeying maintains the life that the sheep is already enjoying, while disobedience posits the same sheep as ’obed (unto destruction) as an Aramean by himself in the wilderness.”; Tarazi, Paul Nadim. The Rise of Scripture. OCABS Press, 2017, p. 296. Richard and I discuss Luke 4:28-30. (Episode 498) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


A Portion for the Priest

This week, while explaining the terms qurbano and minha, Fr. Paul calls to mind the admonition of Metropolitan Philip to his priests in the U.S., that when offered a gift from someone for priestly service, be they rich or poor, take it and use it for your children. “It is your due, by command of the Most High.” Do not give freely. Only the Apostle gives freely, and you are not an Apostle. (Episode 290) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Keep Your Hands Off

The same Hebrew word, shebet, refers both to the staff of a shepherd and the tribe. It is the exact same word. The staff of God is the premise, the reference, and the totality, not the community. In the land of Scripture, which is not your land, does not speak your language, does not conform to your norms, does not eat your food, and does not care about your values, there is no such thing as a flock, let alone a community. There is a shepherd-of-flock, in Hebrew, ro‘eh ṣon, who carries a staff. In Luke 4, when God uses the mouth of Jesus to proffer his grace in Nazareth, the people of his own tribe turn their backs. They do so because they imagine that Jesus belongs to their tribe and is the son of their Joseph. Yet, from the moment Jesus said “no” to the Devil, God put his hand on him to control him “by the power of the Spirit…to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” But the people from his own tribe were not satisfied because he did not speak by their hand, and it was not by the authority of their staff, under their control, for the benefit of the home team. Truly, Truly I say to you, only a blinking idiot would pick a fight with the almighty, terrifying, and terrible God of Scripture over who owns the Lord Jesus Christ and who controls what comes out of his mouth. Don’t laugh. People do it all the time. Richard and I discuss Luke 4:20-27. (Episode 497) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


The Meaning of Terms

This week, Fr. Paul explains the functional meaning of the term holocaust, deferring to the original Semitic and consonantal Hebrew text, noting both the utility and shortcomings of the Septuagint. (Episode 289) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


God Does Not Speak English

A listener wrote us this week to share a passage from Letter 57 of Jerome that captures (with respect to the terrorism of translations) what we said recently about Semitic languages in opposition to Hellenism and what we explain in today’s episode about Semiticized Greek in opposition to imperial Latin: “Time would fail me were I to unfold the testimonies of all who have translated only according to the sense. It is sufficient for the present to name Hilary the confessor who has turned some homilies on Job and several treatises on the Psalms from Greek into Latin; yet has not bound himself to the drowsiness of the letter or fettered himself by the stale literalism of inadequate culture. Like a conqueror, he has led away captive into his own tongue the meaning of his originals.” “Like a conqueror, he has led away captive into his own tongue the meaning of his originals.” The spoken language of a people reflects a practical reality, meaning the way things work in daily life out of what God himself forms in the womb. Spoken language is not manufactured; it is found. In Semitic languages, this is especially powerful because of the phenomenon of the triliteral root. The special value of a sacred written text, specifically the consonantal Hebrew of the Bible and the Arabic Quran, is that the practical reality of its language at the time of its writing is fixed. To the extent that the biblical text itself concocts its scriptural Hebrew as “a cross of the different (extant) Semitic languages,” it is not so much the Hebrew language as it is the Semitic language of God encoded in the Bible. In other words, the Bible, and ultimately, even the New Testament, is written in God’s Semitic debarim. Combined with the living tradition of spoken Arabic, whose functionality is preserved in the fixed text of the Quran, this fact makes the everyday spoken Arabic of simple people of more value in the study of consonantal biblical Hebrew than the most expensive theological degrees from the fanciest schools. If you do not believe me, just listen to a secular teacher of Arabic from the land—as Jerome said, “led away captive,” explain lexicology and grammar as she teaches Arabic. Even if she is not interested in the Bible or the Quran, she cannot help but teach the Bible and the Quran more effectively than modern religious scholars because of what is found in the etymology of the language, which is itself sacred. “Translation,” Robert Carrol explains, is a “transformation” that “wrenches the text from its home in the ancient cultures and languages, deports that text, and exiles it in foreign languages and cultures.” Richard and I discuss Luke 4:16-19. (Episode 496) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Music and War

This week, Fr. Paul notes the diabolical link between the bards and troubadours, those who go from town to town, building the stories of cities, playing music on instruments of bronze and iron, in Scripture, the things that make for war. (Episode 288) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Abjad Languages

In his 1990 article, “Fundamentals of Grammatology,” Peter T. Daniels proposed the Arabic term “abjad” to describe a type of Semitic script “that denotes individual consonants only.” Such languages force the reader to infer vowel sounds as they read the text. The term abjad is derived from the original (pre-Islamic) order of the first four letters of the Arabic alphabet (ʾalif, bāʾ, jīm, dāl), which correspond to other Semitic languages, notably, “Hebrew and Semitic proto-alphabets: specifically, aleph, bet, gimel, and dalet.” For most, when discussing the Hebrew text of the Bible, the Masoretic text is an assumed reference point. However, insofar as the Masoretic was vocalized by someone else, its fidelity to the original is as much an interpretation as any English translation. The answer is not a better translation. The solution—rather, the challenge—is for modern disciples of the Bible to submit to the original, unvocalized Hebrew text. This means learning to read Hebrew texts without vowels in the same way that modern Arabs read the morning newspaper, which is printed without vowels. Only then will students of the Bible be liberated from the tyranny of the tower builders of Genesis 11, who impose control through their interpretations, part and parcel of their imperial languages. Richard and I discuss Luke 4:14-15. (Episode 495) Wikipedia contributors. “Abjad.” *Wikipedia*, July 2023,; Daniels, Peter T. "Fundamentals of Grammatology." *Journal of the American Oriental Society*, 1990, Accessed 18 Aug. 2023, pp. 727-731. ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Do Not Pray

In today's episode, Fr. Paul reiterates difficult words that few acknowledge. Plain words, even when rendered by translators: “As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me; for I do not hear you.” Jeremiah 7:16 (Episode 287) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Jesus Says, "No!"

Christians love to talk about glory and victory because we are all Roman imperialists in our secret hearts—in the thoughts that we imagine God cannot hear. We lust after victory. We want to conquer and control. We are the colonial occupiers. We plan and strategize on how to spread our dung piles around. What is especially ugly about our brand of empire is that we do it in the name of the one who was hung in shame, naked on the Cross—the preferred implement of imperial terror in late antiquity. As such, the storyline of the New Testament is a rejection of both us and Roman imperialism. Jesus rejects all of it, which is not good news for you and me. In Luke 4, the Devil, who avails himself of a kairos under the purview of God the Father, offers it to Jesus, and Jesus says, “No.” Jesus rejects it. He says no to victory, no to glory, no to achieving heights, no to standing out, no to self-importance. No to all of it. No to everything that we strive for and treasure. Listen carefully to what I’m saying. No, to triumph and no triumphalism. All the things that we love to chant about. Yes, those ugly Roman things that Julias put on a pedestal after he crossed the Rubicon. Jesus says, “No!” Richard and Fr. Marc discuss Luke 4:13 (Episode 494) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Right in the Eyes of the Lord

In today's episode, Fr. Paul highlights the stark dissonance between what humans perceive as right and what is deemed right in the eyes of the Scriptural God. (Episode 286) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


The Most High is Your Dwelling

In Luke 4, it is striking that the text refers to the opponent of Jesus, not as Satan, the “obstacle” or “roadblock” of the gospel, but as the deceiver, the Devil. It’s easy to dismiss this as poetic license or other such nonsense, but that is the point in the discussion when your English teacher (if she was worth her salt) would have dismissed you as lazy. The Devil is not trying to block Jesus. He is trying to help him evolve into something greater. He wants to help Jesus achieve that for which every human being pines. He wants Jesus to grasp equality with God; achieve heights; seize power; to attain glory. So he tells Jesus a lie: It is not Elohim who provides shelter for you, but you who shelters him. Luckily, Jesus is not a member of your Parish Council. Nor does he host symposiums on Temple growth, development, and expansion. He just places his trust in “the shelter of the Most High,” abiding “in the shadow of the Almighty,” Elohim, the only God whom he trusts. Richard and Fr. Marc discuss Luke 4:9-12 (Episode 493) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Love Those Shiny Buttons

This week, Fr. Paul highlights the presence of the teraphim, hidden in plain sight on Aaron’s vestments, daftly woven by Scripture as a test for those of us who love shiny buttons. (Episode 285) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


The Colonial Plague

Everyone’s shit stinks. To your “civilized” ears, this sounds like a high-minded critique. It’s not. It’s just an observation about mammalian life. All animal life makes dung piles, yes. But eventually, the wind blows, rain falls, and our dung piles disappear. It may stink for a bit, but sooner or later, it is gone, and the place thereof knows it no more. As all farmers know, our dung fertilizes the ground as God intended, and something beautiful grows in its place, for example, the lilies of the field Matthew’s Gospel. But in the storyline of Luke, the “kingdoms of the world,” cut from stone by Solomon’s hand, are glorious up the earth and impressive to your “civilized” eyes but obnoxious in God’s. Yes, everyone’s shit does stink. But what really smells is the campaign to make something impressive out of your dung pile. To scale it. To build it up. To spread it around. To impose it on others. Such is the plague of Alexander the Great, Julias Caesar, and their colonial heirs, who love making something out of nothing and saying, “Look what I built.” Richard and Fr. Marc discuss Luke 4:5-8 (Episode 492) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★


Statutes of Your Fathers

In this week’s program, Fr. Paul begins his discussion of Leviticus, drawing on passages from Ezekiel and Numbers to illustrate how characters in the story twist the command of God. (Episode 284) ★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★