One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self more distant than any star.
(Chapter 4 of Orthodoxy, Gilbert K. Chesterton, 1908)
We all need to be valued and praised. There’s one problem, though. We also all have something to hide, something we want to keep secret. But most of the time, we want to be known, to be admired and loved.
Writing is one way for others to get to know who we are. There are different kinds of writing such as scholarly books and articles, journalistic writing, non-fiction writing such as history, travel, art, cooking, and then there’s imaginative writing such as novels, poetry and plays. Imaginative literature is called “fiction” – fiction not in the sense that they don’t relate to reality. If a novel didn’t tie in with real feelings and experiences, readers wouldn’t add them – as on Amazon – to their cart. In what sense then is a novel or a play a fiction? You can read the explanation on the inside flap of some novels. For example, here is the disclaimer from the novel “Radiant Fire” by Max Ibach:
“The author takes no responsibility for comparisons with the identities or names of real live individuals or situations. This is a fictional erotic romance novel. It contains adult situations, graphically described sexual acts, violence, death scenes, and abnormal views of real life situations. If any of these circumstances disturb you, or you are under the age of 21, do not read this novel. All the characters and names in this book are fictional and any resemblance to any person either living or dead is purely coincidental…Under no circumstances should the details of this novel be viewed as real life occurrences.”
If I wanted to gossip or write about my or someone else’s wanton life, I can reveal all except the names of the people involved. If I were callous, I could make it easy to identify the real person behind the character. Whereas a biography or autobiography is more restrained, a novel often throws all caution to the wind; it cuts, thrusts, stabs, ravages, shatters, wrecks, mutilates as much as someone over 21 can take. Under no circumstances of course, “should any details of this novel be viewed as real life occurrences” (above quote).
Most of us either cannot write, are too lazy to write or don’t have the time to write, or all three. Some who can write, and have time to write and are energetic enough to write will do so but they will avoid writing about their own lives – an autobiography. The reason why some shy away from autobiography is that there are thoughts and actions in their lives that are either too painful or too shameful to disclose. Many – probably most – people, though, take a less dim view of their lives. Where some feel failure and shame, they see the “courage to be”. For “be” read spill the beans if not your seed. Yet no matter how great the courage “to be”, there always remain things most prefer to hide – not because they are ashamed, but because they know that it would shatter their image. Secretly they are proud of the dirty linen they would be ashamed to hang out in public. They can’t resist keeping it to themselves; so, they reveal it vicariously; they write novels in which they create a surrogate through whom they can not only exhibit themselves with impunity, but also get paid to do it.
In an autobiography, there is a nobler reason for not revealing all – “all” invariably means “all the evil we do”. Often, the evil involves an accomplice. As long as the evil is not a “crime”, we have no right to make public the evil deeds of others. For example, if a couple decided to abort their child, and one of them wanted to write about this in an autobiography, it would be wrong to do so unless the other approved, for, not only would the other partner be adversely affected, his or her relatives and friends would also be affected. Some sins are between you and God alone; that is, if you believe in God or in sin more than being (in)famous at any cost.
Most people reject the concept of evil and sin; the Jew for example. According to Rabbi Hirsch ( his “Can a Reconstructionist Sin?”): “Open almost any “Introduction to Judaism” book, or consult almost any commentary to the High Holiday mahzor, and one inevitably finds the explanation that the Hebrew word het (sin) means something like “missing the mark” — as if life were no more than a game of darts.”
Hypocrite! blowing my own trumpet. “I am not like other writers; I am not dishonest.”
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, butdo not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew, 7:3-5).
There are at least two meanings of the word “critical” when applied to making judgments: there is a “critical spirit” – pointing fingers; and there is the “critical faculty” – trying to be objective. I find it hard to keep my fingers to myself, but I try to the best I can. What I am trying to do is, on the one hand, describe as faithfully as possible, who I am and what I have done, and those who have influenced me, and, on the other hand, avoid painting a false picture. It’s very hard to face who you are, and even harder to show your face to the world, which is not the most loving planet in God’s universe.
An autobiography has three main ingredients: the “i”, the bog, and the graphy (writing). When i becomes the self-obsessed I, the biog turns to bog.
What is bography? Is it a panoply of graphic inanities decorating a toilet wall? Is it the obsession with not being obsessed about “I”. “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3).” And Abraham, “Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).” Did Moses and Abraham have “plenty to be humble about?” (Winston churchill). I like what Rabbi Louis Jacobs said about humility:
“It is a paradox in the whole matter of humility that when a man knows his own worth he comes close to being a victim of pride and yet humility cannot mean that a man has to imagine that he is less worthy than he really is. Self-delusion is no virtue and is presumably to be as much avoided as any other delusion by the seeker after truth. ‘The last infirmity of great minds’ is not easily conquered.”
In a Yiddishe nutshell: “Too humble is half proud.”
My name is Raphael (Raph, Raphi). I’m a Jew, a wondering Jew, and one daring Jew. And there is, of course, the famous “Wandering Jew” Malchus; or was it Shealtiel? My user name is “bography”. How did this name come to be? Rapha-el in Hebrew means “doctor/healer of God.” But I am not literally the rapha of el; so I have opted for a more modest user name “bography” (Dr bog). What is the Russian for God? Bog. What is the Russian for doctor of God? Raphabog. In changing from Rapha-el to Rapha-bog, all I’ve done is change the Hebrew “El” to the Russian “Bog”.There’s no escape from my name – I’m spellbound by knowing who I am, as Alan Watts would say. Watts speaks of the “taboo” of knowing who you are. Alan Watts was obviously not Jewish.
My father, Israel (Issy), was from Osvaya/Osvei in Vitebsk Gubernia, Belarus. He came to South Africa with his parents. He married my mother, Feiga, who was born in Libau, Latvia, and who also immigrated to South Africa with her parents. I was born in Cape Town.
I enjoy playing with language – with writing (g-raphy; Greek graphein “to write”), but I enjoy it more when it digs down – as Jacques DeRRida, another wanDeRRing Jew would have said – into the hidden sedimentations of history, of biog-Raphy (Raphy! get behind me); of language. When words become blunt, civilisation becomes a grunt. But there is much more to digging into words than intellectual enlightenment. From the Christian perspective, Christians should be the guardians of words. No one in the world should be more careful with words than the Church, and for this reason, language has meant much more to me than the fact that it has been my field of study and the main part of my professional life. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I should stand guard over words and jealously preserve their integrity, because it is through hearing or reading words that we come to know the truth, that we come to faith (Art Katz’s Adorned for the bride).
French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, said that we tell stories because human lives need and merit to be told. Writing stories is one of the noblest employments of the mind and soul. Most good stories aim at knowledge and wisdom. This aim is most evident in life stories – biographies. Yet, unless the main end of biography is wisdom and knowledge, it is no more than any kind of study: “a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). This is my story of the wondering onedaringjew.
The life of a Jew consists of WAndering and WOndering, and of the gods of every shape and size that happen in between. Between the Alpha and the Omega. When does the Wandering Jew become a Wondering Jew? When he searches the oracles of God entrusted to him:
“What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God (Romans 3:2).”
Where is He? What’s His story? We can only know the part of God’s story that He wants to unveil – the part that is our story, which is the story of the origin, fall and redemption, first of the Jew and then of all people. Most of the story – which is also my story – is about the fall – about rebellion and deceit. But it’s well worth the Rest that follows, “For we who have believed enter that Rest” (Hebrews 4.3).
What kind of Jew am I? A Pauline Jew (“Shaul” is the original Hebrew name of Paul the Apostle). I think I am right when I say that of all the Bible characters, Paul is the most disliked; not only among Jews but also among those without any religion; and among many professing Christians as well. When I say I am a Pauline Jew, I don’t mean that I “believe” (have faith) in Paul. Doesn’t Paul say?:
” For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:4-7).”
What then do I mean by a Pauline Jew? Peter the Apostle says of Paul’s letters:
“There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16).”
Two things in Paul hard to understand are: first, the sovereignty of God in all things, specifically His sovereignty in salvation, and second, God has not finished with the Jew; God forbid. The Jew will be at the centre of history and Jerusalem will be at the centre of the world when Yeshua returns (Romans 9 – 11). But not before the Jew understands his own suffering and death, which is steeped in the suffering and death – and resurrection of Yeshua.
“The best preparation for prayer, I often feel, is the reading of history” (Martin Lloyd-Jones “True and false religion” in his Unity and Truth, ed. Hywel R. Jones (Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1991), 161).
Without history (the past recorded in language) how will we ever know about eternity; the eternity that is in Christ? One of the greatest catastrophes is the ignorance of history. How galling it is when you talk to people about eternal things and they don’t know any history. For that is how we learn about eternity – through history (the Word made flesh).
*The following is my transcript from an audio message from Albert Martin. The brackets are mine). He is talking about Paul the Apostle, who says:.
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Galatians 6:14). The cross which became the means of his acceptance with God, became the cross which meant his severance with the world. He said: what does the world’s favourt mean to me. It has as much attraction for me as a cadaver hanging on a cross and the buzzards picking the flesh from the bones. He says” that’s how much attraction the worls holds for me. By that crtoss the world is crucified to me. That is why this man went through the world ablaze with a holy passion for Christ, thrown in prisons, beaten in jails, shipwrecked, stoned, abused, kicked about, he almost seemed like a mad man possessed, yes he was possessed, possessed of the Spirit of Christ who had drawn him into such identification with the will of Christ that the …(not clear).world meant nothing to him.
Paul was a New Testament Jew, as was Yeshua (Jesus) and most of the Christians of the first few decades of the early Church. I don’t like the term “New” Testament or “Old” Testament, because it can imply that the new supplants the old. I prefer the terms “Older” and “Newer” Testaments, which implies that the latter does not replace the former, but rather completes it: anathema to a Jew, sadly.
“… every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, whobrings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Christ’s words in Matthew 13:52); what is older and what is newer.
When a Jew refers to Jesus, he seldom calls Him by His name “Jesus” – unless in a joke or expletive. Many Jews who become believers in Jesus Christ, “Messianic” Jews, for example, also don’t use the name “Jesus Christ” but prefer the Hebrew name, Yeshua HaMashiakh (Mashiach).
Jews generally feel awkward at the mention of the name of Jesus, or Yeshua. He is a thorn in their flesh.The Talmud says that Jesus was an impostor:
“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! — Ulla retorted: ‘Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defence could be made? Was he not a Mesith [enticer], concerning whom Scripture says, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him?”
The Talmud says several negative things about Jesus, some too appalling to mention.The appalling bits have been censured for centuries but have since been restored.
And so to the story of the wandering, wondering, wan daring, onedaringjew.