Sunday, December 29, 2013

Great Thinkers, Great Thoughts, No. 38

1. What the world needs is more geniuses with humanity; there are so few of us left. - Oscar Levant
Oscar Levant (1912-1972) was a Jewish-American pianist, composer, author, comedian, and actor. He was as famous for his music and his wit on the radio, in movies and on television.  As an actor, he appeared in some movies like Rhapsody in Blue (1945), The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) and An American in Paris (1951) where he was able to play original songs as well as to deliver wise-cracks to Gene Kelly. He had his own television show for three years starting in 1958.


2. Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies. - Aristotle

Aristotle (384-322 BCE) was an Ancient Greek philosopher and the teacher of Alexander, the Great. His writings cover many subjects including physics, metaphysics, poetry, music, theater, logic, politics, ethics, government, linguistics, and biology. His writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy.  Aristotelianism had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church.
3. Where knowledge is a duty, ignorance is a crime. - Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was an English-American political activist, author, political theorist and revolutionary. As the author of two highly influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, he inspired the American patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected the attitudes and the rhetoric of the Age of Enlightenment human rights. He has been called "a corset-maker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination". He was an activist in both the American and French Revolutions and his most famous works are the pamphlets  Common Sense (1776) and The Rights of Man (1791). He was a Deist and because he often ridiculed Christianity, only six people attended his funeral.

4. One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar. - Helen Keller

Helen Adams Keller (1880-1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first both deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The story of how Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl mature as she learned to communicate, is widely known because of both the play and the film The Miracle Worker. Her birthday on June 27 is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and was authorized at the federal level by presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, the 100th anniversary of her birth. During her adult life, Keller was outspoken in her convictions. A member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women's suffrage, labor rights, socialism, and other radical left causes.


5. Art is the triumph over chaos. - John Cheever

John William Cheever  (1912-1982) was an American novelist and short story writer. His fiction is mostly set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Westchester suburbs, old New England villages based on various South Shore towns around Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was born. He is recognized as one of the most important short fiction writers of the 20th century. While Cheever is best remembered for his short stories, among them, The Enormous Radio, The Country Husband, and The Swimmer, he also wrote four novels, The Wapshot Chronicle  (National Book Award, 1958), The Wapshot Scandal (William Dean Howells Medal, 1965), Bullet Park (1969), and Falconer (1977).His main themes include the duality of human nature and a nostalgia for a vanishing way of life.


6. Any ritual is an opportunity for transformation. - Starhawk

Starhawk (born: Miriam Simos;1951) is an American writer and activist. She is known as a theorist of feminist neo-paganism, and eco-feminism. She is a columnist for and for On Faith, the Newsweek/Washington Post online forum on religion. Starhawk's book The Spiral Dance (1979) was one of the main inspirations behind the Goddess movement. In 2012, she was listed in Watkins' Mind Body Spirit magazine as one of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People.


7. War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. - John F. Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) was the 35th President of the United States, serving from January 1961 until assassination in November 1963. After military service as commander of Motor Torpedo Boats PT-109 and PT-59 during World War II in the South Pacific, Kennedy represented Massachusetts' 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 as a Democrat. He also served in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until 1960. At age 43, Kennedy was the youngest person to be elected U.S. President, the first person born in the 20th century to serve as President, the only Catholic President and the only President to have won a Pulitzer Prize. Since the 1960s, information concerning Kennedy's private life has come to light. Details of Kennedy's health problems and reports of his being unfaithful in marriage have become well known.


8. One's religion is whatever he is most interested in. - J. M. Barrie

Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, OM (1860 -1937) was a Scottish author and dramatist, best remembered today as the creator of Peter Pan. The child of a family of small-town weavers, he was educated in Scotland. He moved to London, where he developed a career as a novelist and playwright. There he met the Llewelyn Davies boys who inspired him in writing about a baby boy who has magical adventures in Kensington Garden . He was the author  of the play  Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, a story about this ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland. He unofficially adopted the Davies boys following the deaths of their parents. Before his death, Barrie gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital which continues to benefit from them.


9. Good authors, too, who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose -
Anything goes
. - Cole Porter

Cole Albert Porter (1891-1964) was an American composer and songwriter. Born to a wealthy family in Indiana, he defied the wishes of his domineering grandfather and took up music as a profession. He went to Yale, was classically trained, and he was drawn towards musical theatre. After a slow start, he began to achieve success in the 1920s, and by the 1930s he was one of the major songwriters for the Broadway musical stage. Unlike many successful Broadway composers, Porter wrote the lyrics as well as the music for his songs. After a serious horseback riding accident in 1937, Porter was left disabled and in constant pain, but he continued to work. In 1948, he created his most successful musical, Kiss Me, Kate, for which he won his first Tony Award for Best Musical. Porter's other musicals include Anything Goes, Can-Can and Silk Stockings. His songs include Night and Day, I Get a Kick Out of You, and I've Got You Under My Skin.


10. Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. - Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran (Arabic name: Gibran Khalil Gibran;1883-1931) was a Lebanese artist, poet, and writer. Born in Lebanon (then part of Ottoman Mount Lebanon), as a young man he immigrated with his family to the United States, where he studied art and began his literary career, writing in both English and Arabic. His romantic style was at the heart of a renaissance in modern prose-poetry Arabic literature. He is chiefly known in the English-speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet, an early example of inspirational fiction which is a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose. The book sold well despite a cool critical reception, gaining popularity in the 1930s and again especially in the 1960s counter-culture movement. Gibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Tragic Story of a Hero

His code breaking prowess helped the Allies outfox the Nazis, his theories laid the foundation for the computer age, and his work on artificial intelligence still informs the debate over whether machines can think. But Alan Turing was gay, and 1950s Britain punished the mathematician's sexuality with a criminal conviction, intrusive surveillance and hormone treatment meant to extinguish his sex drive. Now, nearly half a century after the war hero's suicide, Queen Elizabeth II has finally granted Turing a pardon.
Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said in a prepared statement released on December 24, 2013. Describing Turing's treatment as unjust, Grayling said the code breaker deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. The pardon has been a long time coming.
Turing's contributions to science spanned several disciplines, but he's perhaps best remembered as the architect of the effort to crack the Enigma code, the cipher used by Nazi Germany to secure its military communications. Turing's groundbreaking work combined with the effort of cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park near Oxford and the capture of several Nazi code books gave the Allies the edge across half the globe, helping them defeat the Italians in the Mediterranean, beat back the Germans in Africa and escape enemy submarines in the Atlantic. It could be argued and it has been argued that he shortened the war, and that possibly without him the Allies might not have won the war, said David Leavitt, the author of a book on Turing's life and work. That's highly speculative, but I don't think his contribution can be underestimated. It was immense.
Even before the war, Turing was formulating ideas that would underpin modern computing, ideas which matured into a fascination with artificial intelligence and the notion that machines would someday challenge the minds of man. When the war ended, Turing went to work programming some of the world's first computers, drawing up, among other things, one of the earliest chess games.
Turing made no secret of his sexuality, and being gay could easily lead to prosecution in post-war Britain. In 1952, Turing was convicted of "gross indecency" over his relationship with another man, and he was stripped of his security clearance, subjected to monitoring by British authorities, and forced to take estrogen to neutralize his sex drive, a process described by some as chemical castration.

S. Barry Cooper, a University of Leeds mathematician who has written about Turing's work, said future generations would struggle to understand the code breaker's treatment. You take one of your greatest scientists, and you invade his body with hormones, he said in a telephone interview. It was a national failure.
Depressed and angry, Turing committed suicide in 1954.
Turing's legacy was long obscured by secrecy. Even his mother wasn't allowed to know what he'd done, Cooper said. But as his contribution to the war effort was gradually declassified, and personal computers began to deliver on Turing's promise of "universal machines," the injustice of his conviction became ever more glaring. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology for Turing's treatment in 2009, but campaigners kept pressing for a formal pardon. One of them, British lawmaker Iain Stewart, told The Associated Press he was delighted with the news that one had finally been granted. He helped preserve our liberty, Steward said in a telephone interview. "We owed it to him in recognition of what he did for the country and indeed the free world that his name should be cleared."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Unusual Patron Saints

A saint is a person who has been canonized (declared a saint) by the Catholic Church. This is normally considered to be an infallible decree of the Pope. While most saints are canonized, a number are recognized as saints despite having not been canonized. All of the Old Testament prophets fall in to this category. Throughout history, many saints have become traditionally viewed as patron saints of various illnesses, people, and places. This is a list of the most unusual patronages held by a saint.
St. Fiacre,  the Patron Saint of Sexually Transmitted Disease
St. Fiacre was raised in an Irish monastery, which in the 7th century were great repositories of learning, including the use of healing herbs, a skill studied by Fiacre. His knowledge and holiness caused followers to flock to him, which destroyed the holy isolation he sought. Fleeing to France, he established a hermitage in a cave near a spring, and was given land for his hermitage by St. Faro of Meaux, who was bishop at the time. Saint Fiacre is also the patron saint of gardeners and taxi drivers.
St. Gertrude of Nivelles, the Patron saint of the fear of mice (suriphobia)
Saint Gertrude  was the daughter of St. Ida and became devoted to religious life from an early age, and turned down a noble marriage to pursue the religious life. On the advice of Saint Amand of Maastricht, Ida built a double monastery at Nivelles where both she and her daughter retired. Gertrude became abbess about age 20. She was known for her hospitality to pilgrims and aid to Irish missionary monks. In 656, Gertrude resigned her office in favor of her niece, St. Wilfetrudis, and spent the rest of her days studying Scripture and doing penance.
St. Scholastica, the Patron Saint of Convulsive Children
St. Scholastica, sister of St. Benedict, consecrated her life to God from her earliest youth. After her brother went to Monte Cassino, where he established his famous monastery, she took up her abode in the neighborhood at Plombariola, where she founded and governed a monastery of nuns, about five miles from that of St. Benedict, who, it appears, also directed his sister and her nuns. She died about the year 543, and St. Benedict followed her soon after.
Saint Hubert of Liege, the Patron Saint of Mad Dogs,
and also Rabies, Furriers and Trappers
St. Hubert was passionately devoted to hunting. While hunting a stag on a Good Friday morning, he received a vision of a crucifix between its antlers. When his wife died soon after this incident, Hubert renounced all his worldly positions, titles and wealth, handed his patrimony, and the care of his son, to his brother, and studied for the priesthood. He was highly revered in the Middle Ages, there were several military orders named in his honor. His association with the hunt led to his patronage of furriers and trappers, and against rabies and the bad behavior in dogs, primarily hunting dogs.
St Monica, the Patron Saint of Alcoholics
St. Monica was the mother of St. Augustine whose writings about her are the primary source of our information. A Christian from birth, she was given in marriage to a bad-tempered, pagan named Patricius. She prayed constantly for the conversion of her husband (who converted on his death bed), and of her son (who converted after a wild life). She was also a reformed alcoholic- hence, her patronage of alcoholics.
St Dominic Savio, the Patron Saint of Juvenile Delinquents
St. Dominic Savio was one of ten children of a blacksmith and seamstress. He was a protégé of Saint John Bosco and an altar boy at age 5. At 12 he entered the Oratory School preparatory to becoming a priest. He was well-liked and pious, but his health forced him to give up his dream of the priesthood. He died at age 15. His dying words were, What beautiful things I see!
St. Isidore of Seville Patron Saint of  Computer Users and the Internet
St. Isidore was the Archbishop of Seville (ca. 601) succeeding his brother to the position. He was a teacher, founder, and reformer. He was a prolific writer whose works include a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a history of Goths, and a history of the world beginning with creation. He completed the Mozarabic liturgy which is still in use in Toledo, Spain, and presided at the Second Council of Seville, and the Fourth Council of Toledo. He also introduced the works of Aristotle to Spain. He was proclaimed the patron saint of computer users and the Internet in 1999.
St. Brendan the Navigator, the Patron Saint of Whales
St. Brendan was born in Ireland. He was ordained in 512 and built monastic cells at Ardfert, Shankeel, Aleth, Plouaret, Inchquin Island, and Annaghdown. The legend which lead to his patronage of whales is as follows: Brendan and his brothers figure in Brendan’s Voyage, a tale of monks travelling the high seas of the Atlantic, evangelizing to the islands, possibly reaching the Americas in the 6th century. At one point they stop on a small island, celebrate Easter Mass, light a fire and then learned the island is an enormous whale!
St. Rene Goupil, the Patron Saint of Anesthesiologists
St. Rene Goupil studied medicine and in 1639, he offered to work as a medic for the Jesuit missionaries in America. He was a missionary to the Huron Indians of Canada, working as a donné, a layman who worked without pay. He worked in a hospital in Quebec in 1640 and was assistant to St. Isaac Jogues on his missionary travels. He was captured and tortured by the Iroquois Indians, enemies of the Hurons, for making the sign of the cross over a child’s head. While they were in captivity, Father Isaac received Rene into the Jesuits as a religious brother. He is the first North American martyr and his death by tomahawk in the head led to his patronage of people who work with or receive anesthesia.
St Polycarp, the Patron Saint of those who suffer from Dysentery
St. Polycarp was an associate of , converted by, and disciple of St. John, the Apostle. He was also a friend of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He fought against Gnosticism and became the Bishop of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey). He was a revered Christian leader during the first half of the second century. The Asia Minor churches recognized Polycarp’s leadership and chose him to be representative to Pope Anicetus on the question of the date of the Easter celebration. Only one of the many letters written by Polycarp has survived, the one he wrote to the Church of Philippi, Macedonia. At 86, Polycarp was to be burned alive in a stadium in Smyrna, but because the flames did not harm him, he was finally killed by a dagger and his body burned. Polycarp’s martyrdom are the earliest preserved reliable account of a Christian martyr’s death.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Strange Laws from Around the World

In Australia, it is illegal to change a light bulb unless you use a licensed electrician. It is also illegal  to walk on the right hand side of a footpath and to sell cigarettes to a minor even though in that country they can smoke them.

In Cambodia, water guns may not be used during New Year’s celebrations.

In Canada, it is illegal for comic books to depict illegal acts.

In Denmark, it is illegal to charge for water unless it is accompanied by another item such as a lemon. And, if a horse drawn carriage tries to pass a car and the horse becomes uneasy, it is illegal for the owner of the car to not pull over, and if necessary, to cover the car.

In Finland, it is illegal to not pay a television tax whether you own a TV or not.

In France, it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon or to kiss on a railway train. It is also illegal to take photos of police officers or police vehicles even if they are just in the background.

In Greece, all electronic games are illegal.

In Italy, it is illegal for a man to wear a skirt in public.

In Israel, the raising of Rotweiller dogs, picking your nose on the Sabbath, or riding a bicycle without a license is illegal.

In Ireland, it is illegal to pretend or use of any type of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or pretend knowledge in any occult, craft or science.

In Mexico, it is illegal for clergymen to wear their religious garb in public.

In Morocco, it is illegal to have a companion who possesses narcotics even if you are unaware of it.

In The Netherlands, prostitution is legal but prostitutes must pay a business tax. It is also not illegal to buy, sell or use marijuana.

In Norway, it is illegal to spay a female cat or dog. Also, prostitution is legal, but it is illegal to use the services of a prostitute.

In Singapore, selling gum, walking around your house naked, peeing in an elevator and pornography are all illegal. It is also illegal to be a homosexual and to live in the country.

In South Africa, it is illegal for young people wearing bathing suits to sit less than 12-inches apart.

In Swaziland, it is illegal for women to wear pants.  It is also illegal for young girls to shake hands with men.

In Switzerland, it is illegal to wash your car, mow your lawn or hang out your clothes to dry on a Sunday. It is also illegal for a man to stand while urinating or to flush a toilet after 10-pm.

In Sweden where prostitution is legal, it is illegal to use the services of a prostitute. It is also illegal to paint the outside of your house without government permission.

In Thailand, it is against the law to leave your house without wearing underwear.  It is also illegal to step on any of the nation's currency.

In the United Kingdom, it is illegal for a woman to be topless in public except as a clerk in a tropical fish store. It is also illegal to have anal sex. But, it is perfectly legal to shoot a Scotsman with a bow and arrow except on a Sunday.

In Zimbabwe, it is illegal to make obscene or offensive gestures at a passing state motorcade.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Democracy in America

Storm Clouds over America

Democracy is a great idea.
We ought to try it in America.
Posted by Picasa

Cholesterol: Myth and Reality

With high cholesterol a growing health problem, cholesterol itself gets a bad rap. Our bodies actually make cholesterol and need it to produce cell membranes and sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. But if the body produces too much cholesterol, it can be a serious risk for heart disease. There may be a lot you don’t know about cholesterol.
The human body has a built-in cholesterol factory. It’s called your liver. The body needs cholesterol  to function properly, but your liver can make all the cholesterol you need, even if you consume no dietary cholesterol at all. Problems start when you eat too much saturated fat and your body makes too much of the LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, which can then turn into the plaque that lines (and eventually clogs) your arteries. “The body turns over more cholesterol than you eat,” said cardiologist Gerald Berenson, MD, a clinical professor of medicine in the cardiology section at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. “When it can’t be handled properly, then it does damage.”
Cholesterol fuels your sex drive. That’s no myth. You have cholesterol to thank for making the sex hormones testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. You wouldn’t want to live without it! In fact, you couldn’t live without it, as cholesterol is also a vital component of cell membranes. Think of it as one of your body’s building blocks and it also plays a role in digestion by helping your liver make the acids needed to digest fat.
Pregnant women have naturally high cholesterol levels. During pregnancy, a woman’s total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol reach high levels. This is an important part of making a baby, so it’s not a concern unless cholesterol remains high after giving birth, said Marla Mendelson, MD, medical director of the Center for Women's Cardiovascular Health at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. According to research published in the Journal of Brain Development comparing imaging tests of babies born early to those born on time, the good form of cholesterol, HDL or high-density lipoprotein, appears to play a leading role in helping babies form healthy brains. Other research shows that breast milk, which is naturally rich in cholesterol, may offer heart health security later in life. Studies have found that breastfed babies may have lower cholesterol levels as adults, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Infant formula has added cholesterol. To better mimic breast milk, baby formula includes a variety of vitamins, minerals, and, yes, fats, some of which contain cholesterol. Some studies, however, show that the more important additions to formula are the fatty acids in breast milk, like DHA. However, there are currently no government guidelines for how much should be added.
Children can have high cholesterol. If you thought high cholesterol could only be a problem for middle-aged adults, you’re wrong. Even children's cholesterol  can reach unhealthy levels. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends cholesterol screening at about 9 years of age for all children. “What is hard to believe is that people have heart disease risk factors in childhood 40 years before they have a heart attack,” noted Dr. Berenson, principal investigator of the Bogalusa Heart Study, a community-based study that has tracked the development of heart disease risk factors from elementary school years into middle adulthood.
Along with a healthy diet, proper weight, and exercise, children who have a family history of early fatal heart attacks (meaning before age 40) may benefit from cholesterol and blood pressure medication to appropriately manage high cholesterol and other risk factors, Berenson says.
The average American has a cholesterol level that’s already borderline high. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average cholesterol level among adult Americans is 200 mg/dL, considered borderline high by the by the American Heart Association (AHA). It’s an alarming statistic, but the idea that everyone should strive for the same number is a cholesterol myth. Everyone is different, so talk so to your doctor about setting your goal cholesterol levels.
The 2013 cholesterol guidelines from the AHA recommend statin therapy, a medication that lowers cholesterol levels in the blood for 4 groups of people: patients who have heart disease, patients who have LDL cholesterol levels at 190 mg/dL or higher, patients who are between 40 and 75 years old and have type 2 diabetes, and, people between ages 40 and 75 who have a high risk of heart disease
You can see cholesterol in your eyes. White rims around the cornea of the eyes are a sign of cholesterol buildup, though they don’t necessarily indicate a heart problem. However, visible fatty lumps of cholesterol under the skin on the eyelids (known as xanthelasma) may predict future heart issues, according to a study published in the British journal BMJ. Researchers looked at 12,745 adults in Denmark and found a strong link between these lumps and heart disease or a heart attack five years later.
Cholesterol looks a lot like fat. Though we tend to think of high blood cholesterol as just a number from a blood test, Berenson said that when cholesterol lines your arteries, these deposits tend to be yellow with a white covering, much like fat.
Cholesterol may protect your skin. Early skin treatment research indicates that cholesterol added as an ingredient in moisturizers could help protect skin from UV damage. Other lipid, or fatty, ingredients don't provide the same protection, according to research published in the Journal of Dermatological Science.
One of your friends needs a cholesterol check. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends cholesterol screenings every five years after age 20. About one in four people have never had a cholesterol check. Chances are one of your friends, or you, needs to schedule one.

Puns, No. 3

I tried to catch some fog but I mist.

When chemists die, they barium.

Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

A soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. But, he says he can stop any time.

How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.

This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.

I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I can't put it down.

I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words .

They told me I had type A blood, but it was a type-O.

This dyslexic man walks into a bra .

PMS jokes aren't funny, period.

I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

A cross-eyed teacher lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?

When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

What does a clock do when it's hungry? It goes back four seconds..

I wondered why my baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me!

Broken pencils are pointless.

What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.

England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool .

I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.

I dropped out of a class on communism because of lousy Marx.

All the toilets in a New York police station have been stolen.   Police say they have nothing to go on.

I took the job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.

Velcro - what a rip off!

Cartoonist found dead in home. Details are sketchy

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Real David in the Bible

David is one of the most prominent figures of the Bible, a person whose life and lineage shaped both Judaism and Christianity in crucial ways. So when I discovered a new book called The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero, I was fascinated by the story it tells of the historical David, especially because its author, Old Testament professor Joel Baden, makes some intriguing arguments about David that are simultaneously illuminating and provocative.

I was curious to discover more about how Dr. Baden became interested in David and why he makes some of the more surprising claims in the book - like his argument that perhaps Solomon was not David's son. I also wanted to know how his findings affected him as a scholar and person of faith. What follows is an in-depth interview with Dr. Baden about these topics:
Question: Early on in the book, you talk about learning a song about David in Hebrew school as a child. Would you say that this was the moment that sparked your interest in David, or is it more of something that developed over time?

I would say that the song marks the moment that sparked my consciousness about David - the first time I can remember knowing that there was such a person, and at the same time realizing that he must have been pretty special to have a song about him. In many ways, the memory of that song symbolizes for me the way that lots of people tend to think about David: as someone who is remembered as a glorious and great king, but without too much of the rest of the story attached to it.
Question: The goal of your book is to uncover details about the historical David, who you argue has a number of different characteristics from how David is described in the Bible. What is your goal in doing this?

There are a few goals. One is plain historical curiosity: how much can we know about the hero of the Hebrew Bible? Beyond the mere recovery of the past, however, I think that recognizing the difference between the historical David and the biblical or legendary David is important on its own terms. It helps us understand how stories shape our view of history; how the telling of the past, in all its various forms, changes the past. When we try to access history through a particular lens, in this case, the lens of the pro-David Hebrew Bible, we are getting a colored view. How and why the biblical authors have chosen the palette they use is a question that helps us understand both the historical David and the nature of the Bible as a book.
Question: Along those same lines, one of the things that you tell the reader is that "the Bible is not objective history"(chapter 8). This may come as something of a surprise to many readers. How do you as a biblical scholar know that the Bible doesn't provide an objective account, and how do you reconcile your viewpoint with the perspective of other people who feel certain that it does?

The entire idea of objective history, as we think of it today, is a very recent intellectual phenomenon. We can't really expect ancient writings to conform to modern-day standards of historiography. The Bible is, and always has been, theology and I imagine that most people will recognize that theology and history are not one and the same. The Bible makes all sorts of narrative moves that would never be permissible in an objective account of history: the revelation of characters' internal thoughts, the description of private dialogues, the plain statement that certain figures are good or evil -- and, of course, the regular intervention of God or divine messengers. It's not just that all of these elements are present in the text; it's that every one of them, in the David story at least, is used for the same purpose, which is to glorify David at the expense of his rivals. We can see both the means and the motive, and that's usually enough to convict.
Question: At a number of points in your book, you describe that the Bible takes an event that may have or likely did occur in history and then reframes it so that David is painted in a more positive light than he would have been otherwise. Can you give some examples of this, and why do you think this choice was important to the biblical authors?

The book begins with a relatively little-known episode from the Bible, in which David, having run away from King Saul, is in the wilderness with a band of malcontents and social outcasts. Upon encountering a rich man named Nabal, David runs a classic protection racket, demanding payment for having not harmed Nabal's shepherds. When Nabal doesn't pay up, David comes to his house to kill him. This much the Bible admits. Now by the end of the biblical story, Nabal is dead, David has Nabal's property, and David even has Nabal's wife, Abigail, as his own wife. If you were asked to fill in the blanks as to what happened, it would be hard not to pin Nabal's death on David, at least to some degree. But the Bible - using almost every narrative trick I just described - tells us that David actually didn't harm Nabal, even swore not to hurt him; it turns out that God killed Nabal, out of the blue. Given how much the Bible is willing to admit here, even things that don't look great for David, it's reasonable to suspect that there is some undeniable truth behind the story. But the conclusion is pretty difficult to swallow as the Bible tells it. Now why would the biblical authors try to exculpate David like this? Most of the David story is an attempt to put a positive public face on David's rise to power. It's spin, just like we know it today. The biblical authors are David's PR guys, and it's their job to take a bad situation and make it look not quite so bad for their boss. 

Question: One of the most intriguing arguments that caught my attention in the book was one you make about David, Bathsheba, and their son Solomon. The Bible says that Solomon was David's child, but you suggest that maybe he wasn't. How come you make this claim, and how do you think it's a significant finding for people of faith?

The argument that Solomon was probably not David's son, but was actually the child of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, is a complicated one. In its simplest terms: as far as I can see, it's the only way to explain why the biblical text about David and Bathsheba and the birth of Solomon is as convoluted and confusing as it is. The argument is made in full in the book, of course. As for its significance, I think it's pretty huge. If Solomon wasn't David's son, then the entire notion of the Davidic dynasty is out the window. None of David's descendants ever sat on the throne of Israel; it's a Solomonic dynasty, not a Davidic one. Although the ramifications of this play out in a number of ways, it's most significant for the messianic expectations of both Judaism and Christianity. The messiah is supposed to be a descendant of David- the gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus' lineage, stretching back through David, and Jews still pray for the coming of the "son of David."
Question: The David you describe is much more fallible than the David we see described in the Bible. You explain throughout the book that if we look at historical evidence, then we learn that David was actually a great leader in a number of ways, but like any human, he also had his faults: He was disrespectful to his subjects, so driven by his vision of the monarchy that he would stop at nothing to achieve it, and he was responsible for a large number of murders. You even go so far as to say that David "was considered guilty of horrific crimes" (260). So if all of this is true, and if your thesis is true that the David of the Bible isn't the same as the David of history, then what is gained by this knowledge? Especially, what is gained for people of faith who hold David in high regard?

There is an obvious challenge in reconciling the possibility that David was something like the ancient equivalent of a third-world dictator and the high esteem in which David is held in both Judaism and Christianity. It's my conviction that this is a good sort of challenge. I'm invested in the project of clarifying the distance between the past and the present, between history and story, between what we might know and what we believe. That is to say, I think that the image of David maintained by people of faith is not really affected by the reality of the historical David, because what is important in the legend of David is not his reality but the values that have been attached to him. Cultures attach ideals to their founding figures, ideals that have less to do with the historical figures themselves and everything to do with what the culture holds dear. Those ideals and values can, and do, change over time, and that's a good thing -- it's called progress. So when we look back at the historical David and are troubled, that's an indication that we have chosen a different path for ourselves as a culture -- we can see our own values represented in the gap between the historical David and our image of David. And that, in turn, gives us warrant to think about what we choose to believe, and why we are not beholden to the morals and ethics of a three-thousand-year-old Near Eastern despot. How we understand David, and through him ourselves, is not predetermined by history, we are capable of, and indeed have been for three thousand years, telling the story in our own way.
Question: You describe yourself as both a biblical scholar and someone with Jewish roots. I imagine that would both make this project incredibly rewarding and incredibly challenging. So what were the greatest challenges you encountered? And what have been the greatest rewards?

The challenge, as is almost always the case in biblical studies, is mostly the constant uphill battle against thousands of years of people reading the Bible in certain ways. Generation upon generation of readers have taken the Bible to mean something, and even those of us who are trained to look at it from another angle are still often subconsciously replicating the interpretations and readings of the past. So the biggest hurdle to jump in almost all aspects of biblical scholarship is recognizing where we are assuming something that in fact needs further investigation. In this book, for example, I began writing it with the belief that the relationship between David and Jonathan was an important aspect of David's rise to power. It was only after I had been working on the book for quite some time that I finally realized how I was simply rehearsing the traditional story. Only then was I able to understand how the David and Jonathan story was working to situate David as the semi-rightful heir to Saul and how it was almost entirely untrue as it's told in the biblical text. And that's where the greatest rewards are to be found, also. I came to realize that truly honoring the biblical text means not simply taking it at face value, but rather trying hard to understand what it is trying to communicate, how it communicates, and why its authors wrote as they did. There is so much depth to the Bible, as there is to all great literature, and I felt like I was really doing justice to the artistry and intention of the biblical authors when I could uncover their motivations and their literary techniques.
by Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio
Ms. Tumminio is a theology scholar, writer, author and an Anglican Episcopal priest.