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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
The traditional view of God the Creator is untenable now.

—Professor Ellen van Wolde, an Old Testament scholar at Radboud University in The Netherlands. She claims the first sentence of Genesis is not an accurate translation of the Hebrew verb “bara” in the context of the Bible and other creation stories from Mesopatamia.

Translations of the Bible are debated and challenged all the time. In the case of the Creation story in Genesis, it’s often about the tense of the verb “create” and God’s role in the process that’s up for grabs. In a previous post, I compared three versions:

First, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

And from Fox’s The Five Books of Moses:

At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,

And now from the Tanakh:

When God began to create heaven and earth—

She says that the “bara” should not be translated as “to create” but “to spatially separate.” The impact of such a statement challenges the very notion that God created something out of nothing — and that humankind’s understanding of the story has been wrong for thousands of years.

Trent Gilliss, online editor


Hablando de fe con Krista Tippett

Colleen Scheck, Producer

About five months ago, we received an e-mail from the deputy editor of a small Spanish magazine, El Ciervo, admiring our work and requesting permission to translate and print some of our interviews. The editor described El Ciervo as a magazine similar to the U.S. Catholic journal Commonweal, but a little “less churchy.”

Krista an Jean Vanier in El Ciervo

After working through the standard permissions issues with our legal department, and utilizing the Spanish proofing skills of our Minnesota Public Radio colleague Elizabeth Baier, we were excited to receive their September/October issue that includes the first translation in the “Conversaciones” section (unfortunately, not published online). They selected our program with Jean Vanier, and here’s an example of the Spanish and English of one of my favorite passages from that program:

Mi experiencia hoy es el descubrimiento de lo vulnerable que es Dios. Dios es tan respetuoso con nuestra libertad. En el evangelio de Juan se dice que Dios es amor, y cualquiera que haya amado en su vida sabe cómo se vuelve vulnerable. ¿Dónde estás tú y la otra persona, y me querrá igual que yo? Así que si Dios es amor, significa que es terriblemente vulnerable. Dios no quiere entrar en una relación en la que Él o Ella nos obliga a hacer algo. Hay un texto muy hermoso en el Apocalipsis, el Libro de las Revelaciones: ‘Estoy ante la puerta y llamo. Si alguien me oye y abre, entraré’. Lo que me conmueve es Dios que llama a la puerta, no tira la puerta abajo, sino que espera. ¿Abrirías? ¿Me oyes? Vivimos en un mundo donde hay tantas cosas en nuestras cabezas y corazones, tanta ansiedad y proyectos, que no oímos a Dios que llama a la puerta. Lo que me emociona más, quizá porque me vuelvo más vulnerable, es descubrir la vulnerabilidad de Dios, que no obliga.

My experience today is much more the discovery of how vulnerable God is. You see, God is so respectful of our freedom. And if, as the Epistle of John says, that God is love, anyone who has loved in their life knows they’ve become vulnerable. Where are you and the other person and do you love me back? So if God is love, it means that God is terribly vulnerable. And God doesn’t want to enter into a relationship where He’s obliging or She is obliging us to do something. The beautiful text in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelations: “I stand at the door and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter.” What touches me there is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down, but waiting. Do you, will you open? Do you hear me? Because we’re in a world where there’s so much going on in our heads and our hearts and anxiety and projects that we don’t hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. So I’d say that what touches me the deepest, maybe because I’m becoming myself more vulnerable, is the discovery of the vulnerability of God, who doesn’t oblige.

El Ciervo’s indicated an interest in publishing more translations, including possibly our programs with John Polkinghorne, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Joan Chittister. Espero que sí (I hope so).


Animating the Word, with LEGOs
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer

Back in February we produced a radio/web package on the manuscript preservation work of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John’s Abbey in central Minnesota. The Abbey is also responsible for commissioning The Saint John’s Bible, a new hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible using the tools of vellum, quills, pigments, gold leaf, and time-honored processes that declined after the advent of the printing press. The hope of the project’s champions is to illuminate “the Word of God for a new millennium.”

Another approach to that end is that of Reverend (he’s not really a preacher) Brendan Powell Smith — an actor, author, musician, and past theology student who has chosen a staggering collection of LEGOs, a hobby knife, permanent marker, and a camera to “animate” the Word and bring it to life in books and online. Smith’s Brick Testament has seen a lot of press worldwide and so you may have come across this before, but if not, I thought you might enjoy seeing just a handful of the highly imaginative and resourceful uses of LEGOs that Smith snaps together to retell Scripture.

You may notice that some of the dialogue in the images is black and some is grey. The black is actual Scripture and the grey, well, the grey might be called apocryphal or simply playful, or what Smith imagined what might have also been said at the time. His translation of choice is the New Jerusalem Bible, with some things updated in Smith’s wording to avoid copyright issues. Please note: some of the images and “playful” language of The Brick Testament may not be suitable for all audiences, but there is a content code to point out sections that some may find objectionable.

Illustrations courtesy of The Brick Testament.


Putting the Torah to Rhyming Verse

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m a lurker in the Jewish blogging community — my favorite being Rachel Barenblat’s smart and always provocative Velveteen Rabbi. In a recent post, she wrote about a friend, Seth Brown, who has translated the Torah into rhyming verse and is releasing one chapter a week on his blog From God to Verse.

For the past five years, writing the annotated guide ("program particulars") meant to complement each week’s broadcast has been a labor of love. I’m not theologically trained, so I wanted to better understand passing references made by Krista and her guests — particularly when it came to quoting sacred texts. The Web is handy, but, it lacks the depth of scriptural translations little known outside seminaries and divinity schools.

Sacred Texts (including my Mac)

Occupants of my desk as I write. (photo: Trent Gilliss)

Aiding my research, Krista and Kate have kindly directed me to translations I wasn’t aware of — everything from M.D. Herter Norton’s rendition of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet to A.M. Silbermann’s translation of the Pentateuch with Rashi’s Commentary, from JPS’ Tanakh to Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses. Here, I discovered a world of poetic interpretation that surpassed the more literal translations I was familiar with. These translations seem to capture the spirit and cadence of the original language that might evade other versions.

Barenblat cited two phrases from Brown’s work that struck my ear instantly: “when God was creating” and “all wild and waste” from the first chapter of Genesis. The sensibility of the Tanakh and Fox’s translation are distinct. And sure enough, these were two of the four texts that Brown referenced.

The latter phrase is distinctly Fox, “when the earth was wild and waste.” The former stems from a refreshing Jewish perspective. The past is present; God not only created the universe but continues to create today. It’s an ongoing cyclical process:

First, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

And from Fox’s The Five Books of Moses:

At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,

And now from the Tanakh:

When God began to create heaven and earth—

Although I’ve handed off writing particulars to our younger, more intellectual producers, I still get excited (yes, this job has ruined my street cred with my friends) when I see endeavors like Seth Brown’s. Once you traipse down this path of discovery, you’ll be forever changed.