Friday, December 11, 2009

Bibliophagic Imperative: "Eat This Book!"

Digestible Also in Kindle?
(Image from Amazon)

I could perhaps go on forever on this topic . . . though I suspect that my readers might begin to feel a bit overstuffed. There are a lot of morsels that could yet be sampled, of course, and Blake Eskin's New York Times article "Books to Chew On" (March 26, 2006), which we looked at yesterday, offers a tempting selection. For instance, Eskin has drawn my gustatory attention to a tempting book by Eugene H. Peterson on biblical bibliophagy:
There are two instances of bibliophagy in the Bible. The first comes in Ezekiel, when a heavenly hand offers the prophet a scroll covered on both sides with "lamentations, and moaning and woe." God commands Ezekiel to eat the scroll, and he reports that "it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." Revelation, Chapter 10, has a variation on this theme: an angel hands John a scroll to eat, telling him it will taste like honey but also "turn your stomach sour." According to the theologian Eugene H. Peterson, the author of yet another "Eat This Book" (2006), the scroll became the source of John's apocalyptic vision: "The book he ate was metabolized into the book he wrote." For Peterson, this episode illustrates lectio divina, a spiritual mode of reading "that enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes holiness and love and wisdom."
Peterson would seemingly take issue with my suggestion that St. John the Divine vomits up his bitter prophetic discourse. I don't have a hard copy of Peterson's book -- whose full title, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, is rather a larger mouthful than Eskin's sample -- but I've taken a look at parts of it electronically on Google Books, which happens to provide all of chapter two: "The Holy Family at Table with Holy Scripture" (pages 15-22). That second chapter comes in part one, appropriately titled "Eat This Book." On page 20, Peterson identifies "This Book" as the Bible:
The book that John ate was the Bible, or as much of the Bible as was written at that time.
I suppose that would mean the Hebrew scriptures since the New Testament writings were not yet canonized, though John may have devoured the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Tanakh. Was the Greek less digestible for John than the Hebrew was for Ezekiel? The Book of Ezekiel says nothing about that prophet's stomach being turned. On page 21 of his book, Peterson notes these two instances of bibliophagy . . . plus a third:
St. John . . . wasn't the first biblical prophet to eat a book as if it were a peanut butter sandwich. Six hundred years earlier Ezekiel had been given a book and commanded to eat it (Ezek. 2:8-3:3). Ezekiel's contemporary, Jeremiah, also ate God's revelation, his version of the Holy Bible (Jer. 15:16).
Their versions would have been smaller than John's, so if Peterson is right about these three prophets eating Bibles, then perhaps John's considerably larger text accounts for his indigestion. Jeremiah, as can be seen, offers only a single verse on his bibliophagy, though he presumably ate more than a single verse of God's word:
Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16)
Jeremiah finds that the word brings joy and rejoicing to his heart and says nothing more about his gustatory experience, so he perhaps had no digestive difficulties . . . though his many lamentations might suggest that he found something about the Lord's words to be less than pleasing.

I suppose that there is still more to say, but I now have to head off and give a final exam that my students may find rather indigestible.

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At 6:49 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Ezekiel's and Jeremiah's versions were also more natural, including the ink.

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, St. John did receive his from an angel, so you have a point, but if you look at Ezekiel 2:9, something similar might be going on, for a mysterious 'hand' bears the scroll that Ezekiel eats.

Jeremiah's words, however, might be construed as implying that he ate a manuscript since he states that the Lord's words were "found."

But I wonder if Peterson is right, anyway, about reading these three passages as speaking of the Holy Bible. I'd limit their reference to a particular inspiration that they were intended to relay to their listeners (or readers).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:57 AM, Blogger Sa-Rah said...

Does the reason for the sourness of the book in Johns stomach represent the bitter prophecys that are to be fulfilled?
I think thats what you said (If I understood it right).

I wonder if the taste differs by the topic - or information inside -of the book or scroll. . . because the three that you mentioned - Ezekiel, John, and Jeremiah - each expirienced the taste differently.

I also wonder about why, then. If my question about the difference in taste is reasonable, I would like to know why.


At 9:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sa-Rah, I think that the bitterness in "John's stomach" might signify the "bitter prophecies" -- yes, "that's what" I was suggesting.

And, yes, "each experienced the taste differently," so perhaps the taste depended upon the prophecies within. But that would require more in-depth analysis of the texts in their original languages and comparison with other texts as well.

So . . . I don't know why.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:39 AM, Blogger Sa-Rah said...

Thank you for the reply.

And I guess you're right. We would need to know much more to understand deeply. . . but thanks anyway.


At 1:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome, Sa-Rah. See you at dinner.

Jeffery 'Daddy' Hodges

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At 9:18 PM, Blogger fiona said...

I love this quotation from Ezekiel which was used in my entry for the 2008 "Eat Yours Words Boulder: Edible Books Tea - at the time I worked in a theological library and my co-workers helped me pick the verse while I made a scroll of phyllo dough - lots of fun - pictures here

At 11:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Infogoddess, thanks. I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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