Amongst other things this blog is a celebration of the book, a conservation area for those who, without despising Kindle, still require as a life necessity, the proximity and availability of books. I await the advent of an e-reader that is as flexible, quick and easy to flick through and back and forth, as a solid reference book. Because some of the most important books are for reference.Thumbing through a reference book is education by serendipity, and the best reference books send you chasing in all directions, to articles and topics you hadn't realised were connected to your first enquiry. A good article in a quality reference book will have cross references to other articles and treatments of similar or related material. Now I guess hyper links and other devices allow a similar cognitive tour on an e-reader but I'm now so incurably attached to those large repositories of print and picture that I'll persist with the dictionary, encyclopedia, companion, handbook, and lexicon in book form.
One such dictionary I use often and am seldom disappointed. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, published in 1998 by IVP is according to its impressive sub-title "An encyclopedic exploration of the images, symbols, motifs, metaphors, figures of speech and literary patterns of the Bible." While working away at the Shalom tapestry I've consulted it on shepherds and sheep, moon and stars, mountains and rivers, trees and fruit, water and sunshine, cups that run over and my going out and coming in! The literary texture of Scripture is rich and dense, colourful and subversive, the range of its imagery drawing from many cultures, several languages, and centuries of history. The column and a half on stars is an eye opener to those who read biblical, texts with minds as dulled in vision as our eyes as we stand in a brightly lit street and see through a glass obscurely, missing the sheer magnificence and cosmic artistry of a night sky that should rightly reduce our utilitarian view of the world to a humbler respect for that whose vastness renders our self-importance of no intrinsic significance.
Because that's what Psalm 8 is saying. Human beings are made a little lower than the angels, because the Lord God made it so, not because we made ourselves so. Street lights are themselves metaphors for illuminated blindness, artificial light that obscures the billions of divinely appointed lights for the universe. Fanciful? Come on, stop being a literalist - the great Psalm poet wrote, "God determines the number of the stars; he gives to each of them their name"(147.4). In a world awash with astrological predictions, stellar worship and fear of the astral forces that fix human destiny, the psalmist upsets the game board and announces that the God of Israel, far from being subject to the whims and fates of the stars, is the one by whom they exist, the one whom they serve, and the one who gives each star its name - naming being a fundamental act of ownership. And yes, in the creation narrative of Genesis 1, as a fatal deflation of Babylonian arrogance and astrological controls, the writer says in a devastating parenthesis at the end of the story of the creation of earth and heaven, "he made the stars also". I don't know anywhere in all literature a more comprehensive defeat of dogma by understatement.
All of this from a dictionary. Love them!