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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

One of the recurrent yearnings among some Christians is the desire to get to Heaven and meet the famous people from the Bible. While this is a laudable goal, showing a very direct faith and a very literal acceptance of the Good Book, it does make me wonder...

What were these people really like?

As card-carrying members of a Mediterranean Bronze-Age society, they would have had some characteristics that would be startlingly different from our 21st century norms.

For instance, on meeting, their overall fitness level would have been far greater, for the obvious reason that the only labor-saving devices were the horse and the wheel. Many of us will drive if faced with a trip of more than a couple of blocks - these folks most certainly did not. Not that they didn't want to, but their horses were kept at some remove from their living quarters, and getting a horse ready to go is more than a turn-key operation.

They dressed differently. Robes are just easier to make, and they have the advantage of being warmer in winter and cooler in summer than our form-fitting clothes.

To put it delicately, standards of hygiene were...uh, different. The rich bathed frequently; the poor, rarely. It simply wasn't part of the cultural norm for two reasons. First, water had to be carried from wells to cisterns in their houses, or kept in skin bags in their tents. Second, in a labor-intensive society, there wasn't time.

Assuming we're equipped with a Star Trek Universal Translator, we would have found conversation a surprise...mainly because their unrefined appearance and aroma would not be borne out by their intellectual sophistication. A character in the movie Black Hawk Down says "Do not make the mistake of thinking that because I grew up without running water I am simple". Many, if not most of the Bible-folk would have spoken more than one language, and would have had some familiarity with the literature of their day, mainly through oral sources. They may have been literate, but books were rare.

The most striking difference would be their faith. God would have been as real to them as the rocks, the donkeys, and the tribe in the next valley. They would see His hand in everything, thank Him for his blessings and bounty, and accept His judgement when things went wrong.

And how would they see us? Probably as effete posers, with a hard veneer and a pathetically soft interior, smelling weirdly of soap and aftershave, rather lazy...and irreligious.

Because the big difference is that our faith could never match theirs.

We would have a lot to learn from the meeting.

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