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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Farmer's Legacy

Pastor Mark Welch of The Pointe Church in Antelope, CA once shared a story about an aged pastor in Michigan who was being honored as the original founder of a church there. At a community meal, that old pastor wound up seated across from young Mark. The man asked Mark general questions as to where he was from and who he was. Mark told him about his father and grandfather who were pastors. Finally the old man began to tell a story. When he was a young man, he felt the call to be an evangelist. In those days, what you did was rent a huge circus tent and set it up wherever you could. People just showed up and the event ran as long as it needed. One time the evangelist came to a farm to ask permission to use the land. The farmer agreed, but warned, "Don't expect me to show up." The evangelist said that was fine. One night the farmer did show up with several friends. They were rowdy and drunk and rude. They heckled the minister as he preached.

Suddenly, God spoke to the evangelist and said, "Go tell that young farmer that today is the day of his salvation." The evangelist was horrified. What if they beat him up or disrupt the whole meeting? But he knew the voice of God and went down the aisle. Halfway down the rowdies yelled at him and intimidated him so that he turned back. When he got to the pulpit, the voice came again, saying the same thing. So down went the evangelist and pointed at the young farmer. "God told me to tell you that today is the day of your salvation." The farmer's demeanor changed immediately. He began to shake and sober up. He answered that he just couldn't. The word was repeated with great authority and confidence. When the evangelist turned back to the pulpit, the young man followed. He gave his life to Christ and was gloriously saved.

Back to the meal with Mark, the old pastor leaned forward and said, "Mark Welch, that was your grandfather." Mark's mother was a little girl at the time. Mark was stunned. He had never heard the story, but a fact check later proved it to be true. Mark inherited the most important thing a family can pass down. Not only do we receive gifts and talents from our ancestors, we inherit a family spirit. It can be a blessing or a curse. God's blessing is more effective than a large monetary gift. Think what some people do to come to America and become a citizen. Generations beyond that farmer there are new citizens in God's kingdom. Each baby comes into the world with a head start, a benefit. The enemy of our souls does not hesitate to mess with our very young children. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, each little child is a VIP, protected by their own personal body guard. Furthermore, a praying wife and mother is an ambassador of Christ to her family, covering them all with blessing and goodness.

Robert Monroe, who founded The Monroe Institute, taught people how to step out of their bodies. He describes a dangerous world full of a variety of entities, some of which are quite creepy. Eventually, it becomes clear that his adventures out of body are being managed by unseen forces. In his third book, the spirits assure Bob that there is no God, no Big Brother, and only false gods intervene in our human lives or history. That is certainly a contradiction, because Bob Monroe had plenty of intervention in his life from an early age. It wasn't a biblical intervention of course, but his 'guides' claim to have saved his life at least four times. Monroe's guides ignore the fact that a light and energy being from beyond space and time became a man named Jesus the Christ. He walked the earth with humans for 33 years in order to perfectly represent the true nature of God. He fulfilled a thousand years of Old Testament prophecy, raised the dead, healed the sick, died for all mankind, and was resurrected. Somehow, Monroe's guides didn't notice. Jesus was totally ignored in their universe. Not a word about Him, although so many others have seen Him. The persistent denial of all those spirits and of Bob himself, who kept asking about the existence of God, and who trusted their answers, tells me far more about Monroe's guides than about God. It tells me that they are lost, lost, lost, and Bob Monroe fell easily into their pit of deception.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unto Us a Child Is Given, Part 2, The Child

All Scripture quotes are from the New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984. Whenever LORD is all caps, the actual Hebrew is the name of God, usually pronounced and spelled Yahweh or Jehovah in English. When written Lord, the word is Adonai, meaning Lord, our Lord, or my Lord.

"Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?"   Lyrics by Clay Aiken  

I highly recommend reading Part 1 before proceeding to this post. In that post, we reviewed the groundwork leading up to the amazing Isaianic prophecy in Isaiah 9 of the Old Testament. We saw that in the late 8th century BC, King Pekah of northern Israel conspired with King Rezin of neighboring Syria to attack King Ahaz of Judah. In fact, the Syrian troops were gathering in central Israel, referred to as Ephraim. This intelligence put all of Judah into a panic. The prophet Isaiah met King Ahaz on the road and spoke of a young woman, a virgin?, who would give birth to a son. She would name the child Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”, to reflect Yahweh’s supernatural protection for Judah in very dangerous times. The father, Isaiah, who either sired or adopted the child, would name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz [Speed-the-Spoil, Hasten-the-Booty] to warn of northern Israel’s fate at the hands of the Assyrians. The LORD assured Isaiah that the conspiracy between Pekah and Rezin would collapse. Judah would be safe, but only for a while. The misery inflicted by Assyria upon all lands would also harm Judah. Life would be lean and fear would be a daily scourge.

We noted the ambiguity as to the identity of the mother. The name Immanuel appears three times in chapters 7 and 8, always signifying that God is still with Judah in spite of her wicked, unbelieving sovereign. Chapter 8 is a litany of the difficult times just ahead for the whole Levant. There is a diatribe against those leaders who turn to spiritism, mediums, and the occult rather than to Yahweh for help. For the advanced Bible student, the language is intriguingly rich in spiritual and earthly death images. There is also an emphasis on the spiritual night of those who turn to false deities. They will find only cursing, despair, and darkness.

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn (8:20, New American Standard Version).

The theme of Israel’s destiny carries forward seamlessly in chapter 9, but with a major reversal of circumstances. Light shines onto the ravaged land! A glance at a map will help explain the text.


From the Holman Bible Atlas

The northern lands all around the Sea of Galilee lay in spiritual darkness for a good 700 years. The Assyrians killed many when they invaded. They took the rest into captivity into upper Tigris-Euphrates Valley. They then replaced them with their own citizens or other conquered people. Northern Israel was still populated by Gentiles when Jesus Christ was born. Isaiah saw in the Spirit that the regions where Gentiles would soon dwell would be renewed! Instead of enemy boots, humiliation, and oppression, there will be revival and light. Darkness will turn to dawn.  

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isa. 9:2]

The nation will rejoice as at the time of a good harvest. It will be as if their armies have won a great battle as in days of old and are dividing the spoil amongst the weary soldiers. The rod of the oppressor will be lifted. “For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, and garments rolled in blood, will be used for burning and fuel of fire” (9:5).

The next verses are the apex of the three chapters. They tie together the verses about the birth of the Child. The real child in question is now presented to Israel. This Child cannot be Immanuel, as we will see, but Immanuel is a precursor of this Child, a sign of his coming and a sign of a miraculous conception.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: And the government will be upon His shoulder (9:6a).

So the Child will be a man, born of woman, and a Sovereign ruler. His name and title is what is astonishing.

And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (9:6b).

This man, born of woman, will be God! How can that be? God is one, God is invisible, God is spirit. How can God be held by an earthly mother? How can The Eternal One have a beginning? And yet so many of the wonderful attributes of God are accredited to this Child. He is the Father. He is a Son. He is Eternal. Wonderful was the name of the Angel in Gideon’s day (Judges 13:18). Counselor reminds us of the Spirit of Yahweh encountered throughout the Old Testament. There is a Trinity of Godhood suggested in this passage. It is clear that the eighth century child Immanuel cannot qualify to be this Child, yet the idea of a child ‘given,’ who promises peace and protection, connects the two irrevocably. The first child was a sign. The second Child is the fulfillment of the sign.

The first child could only hope for peace. The second Child is the Prince of Peace. Jihad in his Kingdom is forbidden. The religious wars between Catholics and Protestants and between the different Protestant sects were never ordained by God.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform it (9:7).

God Himself, not man, formulated this plan. What is described is a man born of a virgin. He is a descendant of King David; The second Child would be King of all Israel; His reign would never end. He would walk this earth, but He would be God and King. Although He came to earth to dwell with mankind for a while, His Kingdom cannot be of earth because it is eternal and perfect in justice. This King will not fall like Solomon or fail like David.

Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. His mother was instructed to name him Yeshua, meaning Salvation. As a descendant of King David, He was the proper lineage to inherit Israel’s throne. He fulfilled prophecy in that He never raised an army to overthrow the Romans (Isa. 42:3). He fulfilled other predictions when he healed the sick, made the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the blind to see (Isa. 35:5-7). Yet more Scripture when His message was received by the Gentiles (Isa. 60:1-3) He raised the dead, walked on water, and stilled the storm. He cast a legion of demons out of a crazy lunatic. He also made it clear that His Kingdom is not of this world. His servants must not fight for it, because earthly weapons cannot defend a spiritual reality.

When Jesus died, He fulfilled yet more prophecy in that He died as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (Psalm 22 and Isa. 53). He rose again as the lion of Judah and Redeemer of all mankind.

But before all that took place, he was the little Child held by a young virginal mother named Mary. Why would the coming of Messiah be heralded with earthly events such as the birth of little Emmanuel so long ago? The short answer is that heavenly truths are intimately entwined with Earth and God's people. Jesus came here and walked on our roads, touched our children. God is love. He loves us. I wish you all a blessed Christmas.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Unto Us a Child is Given, Part 1, The Sign

All Scripture quotes are from the New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984. Whenever LORD is all caps, the actual Hebrew is the name of God, usually pronounced and spelled Yahweh or Jehovah in English. When written Lord, the word is Adonai, meaning Lord, our Lord, or my Lord. [...] signifies my editorial addition.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?


The prophet Isaiah lived in Israel approximately seven centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. He had a long ministry, covering the reigns of four kings of the little nation of Judah. During the reign of the third king, Ahaz, he had a most remarkable vision of a special child that would be born in his lifetime. That child would be a sign to Judah that the Assyrians of northern Mesopotamia would not totally vanquish Ahaz’s kingdom. Assyria would not succeed in breaking into the city of Jerusalem, plundering its wealth, and marching tens of thousands of citizens off to captivity as they did to other nations. But before we look at the whole panorama of this vision leading to the great statement of Isaiah 9:6, 7, we need to review the back story in chapters 7 and 8.

This third king departed from the religion of his fathers, preferring instead to worship the gods of Syria and Assyria. However, he was still the king of the House of David, and God was not yet ready to punish all of Judah for their transgressions. Northern Israel’s time of judgment was close. One of Isaiah’s assignments from Yahweh was to warn them that if they didn't change their ways, Assyria would surely come down and take them captive in a most brutal manner. The time for mercy for Northern Israel was about to end forever.

The Assyrian threat wasn't on King Ahaz’s mind as he left the city one day (perhaps around 730-725 BC). Northern Israel and its neighbor Syria had decided to join forces and attack Judah. Everyone in the southern kingdom trembled at the thought. Ahaz’s “heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved in the wind.” (7:2)

Isaiah writes that he and his son, Shear-Jashub, met Ahaz one day as his entourage was leaving the city. The Bible doesn't actually say whether Ahaz was alone or with a group of people, but most kings of the day rode with a well-equipped guard of 50 brave soldiers. The king himself would have been dressed in fine garments and would be riding in a chariot covered in gold or perhaps on a horse fitted with the finest saddlery. The sound of hooves, the huffing of horses, the clatter of weapons, the cloud of dust, all would have come to an abrupt halt in the face of the old prophet standing in the middle of the road.

Isaiah assured Ahaz that the Syrian-Israeli threat would dissolve before they could do harm to Judah. By 721 BC, the Assyrians would drive south with a huge army and scrape the northern kingdoms of Israel and Syria off their lands like a razor. The two conspiring kings [Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria] would be captured, and the people of northern Israel would lose their identity as tribes of Israel. The territory in the center of the region, often referred to as Ephraim (an ancient tribal name), would never be called that again. Ahaz was challenged to ask God for a sign that this would be so. Ahaz undoubtedly hated Isaiah. I can imagine him thinking, “I am not going to play this old man’s game. He never has anything good to say about me.” So he answered, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” No doubt the honor guard smirked just a little at such a wily answer.

Isaiah shot back, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary God also?” Isaiah has suggested two things here. First, Ahaz is not very popular with his people in Judah. Second, he is not very popular with God. Isaiah then offers an astonishing sign.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and [she] shall call his name Immanuel.

Can you imagine Ahaz's response to that prediction? A young woman? A child? O please, move aside old man!

There are two words in the above passage that we must examine. The first is alma, translated here as ‘virgin.’ Alma is an ambiguous word usually translated by today’s scholars as ‘young woman’ or ‘maiden.’ The unambiguous Hebrew word for virgin is bethulah. However, alma is never used in the Old Testament to refer to a married woman, so hundreds of years later, Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek used the specific Greek word for ‘virgin.’ Matthew quoted the Greek version (called The Septuagint) when he wrote his Gospel about the birth of Jesus. Since the birth of this child was supposed to be something of a miracle, the Christian translator of the NKJV felt he had good support to use the word ‘virgin’ for the mother of the special child.

The other word is Immanuel, meaning ‘God With Us.’ This child will be given two names. One name will reflect the danger of the days to come, the other will be a promise of God’s divine protection. Isaiah went on to describe to Ahaz what the near future will be like even after the Israeli-Syrian conspiracy collapses. The child Immanuel will grow up eating curds and honey because even in Judah, men will fear to go to the fields to sow and reap. Instead they will keep a cow and a couple of sheep nearby for milk and cheese (7:21). They will gather honey from bees that chanced to swarm in the fallow fields. Sheep and oxen will roam freely in overgrown pastures. But, before the child is very old, “the land you dread will be forsaken by both her kings [Pekah and Rezin, the king of Syria].

In Chapter 8, Isaiah describes how the LORD instructed him to take a priest and a recorder (Uriah and Zechariah) as witnesses when he approached “the prophetess,” the chosen mother. Scholars today insist that this woman was undoubtedly Isaiah’s wife. Furthermore, say they, there is no doubt that the child was conceived in a normal manner. Fine. Believe it however you will. What we need to look at in the verse is the deliberate ambiguity. Isaiah uses a word that means “approach, draw near to.” He does not say, “I knew my wife,” or “I went into to prophetess.” Nor is the woman named as his wife. She is not named at all. Why wouldn’t the name of this woman matter if Isaiah named the priest and the recorder? She is the mother of a holy child! We don’t know where she lived, what tribe she was from, or whether she was married.

You say, “Of course she was! Don’t even suggest this was a virgin birth.” Maybe it wasn't, but her status as a married woman is veiled here, and so is the specific detail of how the child was conceived. The ambiguity was is no oversight. She is supposed to be veiled in mystery, because this whole event will repeat itself in about 700 years in the future. This little mother is but a shadow, a precursor of a young virgin who will live way in the future.

Judah would not totally escape Assyria’s assault. Comparing the king of Assyria to the flooding Euphrates River, Isaiah wrote, “The king of Assyria and all his glory; he will go up over all his channels and go over all his banks. He will pass through Judah, he will overflow and pass over. He will reach up to the neck (Jerusalem, the capital of Judah); and the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel” (8:7, 8).

In spite of the fact that Isaiah seems to have dedicated the land of Judah to Immanuel, we don’t hear of that specific child again until 8:18: “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion” [Jerusalem]. The eighth century BC Immanuel did not become king, prophet, judge, or general. It was not the person of the child, but the miracle of his conception that was the sign of God’s miraculous deliverance for Judah.


Biblical and inter-testamental accounts, as well as Assyrian records, verify that the king of Assyria took Syria and northern Israel captive and took captive tens of thousands of citizens from Judah, but was not able to breach the walls of Jerusalem. To find out exactly why Immanuel’s conception and birth was so important that a wicked king’s retinue was stopped on the highway, watch for Part 2 of this post. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Visions of Jesus, Miraculous Protection

I recently watched a video of a Muslim man who converted to Christianity after reading a Bible and seeing a vision of Jesus. Here is the teaser from Charisma News:

Kamran grew up in a Muslim family, but despite their lackadaisical religious practice, Kamran dove deeper into Islam. “I became [a] very, very, very strict Muslim for the thirst and hunger I had for [the] creator of the world,” the man said. “I used to think his name was Allah ... and I strongly believed all his rules.” Kamran’s passion for the creator, to do what is right and go to heaven, led him to dozens of Islamic books, as he believed he would "get extra credit" for reading the Quran multiple times. “I was always so hungry, thirsty, desperate to get to know God.” When he went to church, Kamran saw a man standing behind the pastor, and he knew right away that this man was Jesus.

You can hear Kamran’s testimony here: http://www.charismanews.com/culture/46125-watch-muslim-man-converts-to-christianity-with-passion-for-christ

When I subbed for the regular adult Sunday School teacher at my Lutheran Church, I decided to stir the pot a little. The topic was the Holy Spirit, so I asked the members to share experiences of when God spoke to them, showed them something, or protected them. Lutherans believe in the Trinity, but they don’t talk much about the Holy Spirit and don’t know much of what the Bible says about it. I was blown away by several fascinating stories came out that day. God’s hand of protection and guidance was clearly manifested.

Steve Bowers and his friend were joy riding on their quads (4-wheel off-road vehicles) along an isolated, winding dirt road in northern California. They drove up in truck and trailer in the dark, then headed off on the quads to a potential hunting site. Steve’s quad was behind his friend. It was just getting light when the quad in front rode into a muddy hole, splashing dirty water onto Steve’s face. The uncomfortable surprise caused him to turn is wheel to the side, throwing his quad into a ditch next to a mountain. The quad rolled and crushed his arm. The arm was broken with bones sticking out several places. The elbow bone was severed from the arm.

When the friend noticed that Steve had rolled, he ran back in shock and panic. Meanwhile, Steve got up and ran toward his friend. He must have gone out of body for a second or two because he remembers seeing himself running on the road, holding his head. Blood was gushing everywhere. He told the friend to find two sticks for a splint. Steve actually splinted his arm with two sticks and a rope and made a tourniquet. He told his friend that he would have to drive to a hospital with Steve on the back of his quad. Both grimly knew the hopelessness of that situation. They were in the mountains hours away from help. Steve was getting dizzy and knew he was in serious trouble.

At that moment, two guys in a truck came around the curve. They just happened to have a flat bed truck with a camper on it and a mattress in the bed of the truck. That’s where they put Steve for a long, bumpy ride to a hospital. Steve’s friend drove his own quad back to where they had parked. He was able to bring their truck and trailer back to pick up Steve’s quad. It took almost four hours to get to the main road. Twenty minutes later, they were at Clear Lake Hospital in Clear Lake. Meanwhile, a call had been put out to Steve’s wife Kelly in Sacramento. She was picked up by the friend’s wife who drove her to Clear Lake.

Steve’s insurance, Kaiser, has specialty hospitals. They refused to allow Clear Lake Hospital to touch Steve. They wanted him in Santa Rosa where there were surgeons who knew how to deal with compound fractures. They called in two surgeons and sent an ambulance to Clear Lake to take Steve and Kelly to Santa Rosa. Steve wanted to thank the two strangers who took him there. He asked about them, but they were already gone and no one even remembered seeing them at all. The EMTs put the elbow bone in Steve’s hand as he drove off.

They arrived at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa about 7 pm. The surgeons told Kelly that the best thing to do is take the arm. Steve had already signed a permission form allowing that. Kelly wouldn’t hear of it. Steve is a tall, burly hunter and builder. His friend could not turn Steve’s quad upright with two arms. Steve did it with his one good arm. The surgeons told her that if he kept it he would never be able to use it, but Kelly was adamant. Five hours later, the surgery was over. Today, Steve’s arm is completely muscular and normal. You would never know that it had once been so damaged. (Below, the Bowers)




Bruce B. has always loved skydiving. Even after two knee replacements, jumping out of airplanes over Davis, California was his favorite hobby. In 2009, when he was around 66 years old, he had a terrifying experience, which he tells in his own words.

"My main chute did not did not open at all.  I attempted to pull the reserve parachute ripcord but in my haste, failed to visually locate it. This caused me to miss the ripcord and be pulling on another part of my rig.  I quit trying to maintain free fall stability and continued pulling as hard as I could as I tumbled toward the ground at terminal velocity. I could see the ground coming up at an alarming rate. It was then that I heard the voice say, "You're going to die". At that point it came to me to do what I had failed to do, visually locate the reserve ripcord.  My error became obvious, I pulled the ripcord, and instantly felt the extremely violent jerk that comes from the opening of a reserve parachute at terminal velocity. I was safe under a beautiful open canopy at 600 feet, 3 1/2 seconds from impact at terminal velocity.

Incidentally, I had to use my reserve again about two years later. On that occasion, the main chute was a spinning, tangled mess and any attempt to fly it to a landing would not have been successful nor would it have been survivable. I released the main and came down under the reserve. With the main chute deployed (although a mess) and slowing me down a bit and with me properly pulling the reserve ripcord, this incident had no real drama."

I asked Bruce if he still skydives. He said that after 70, he doesn’t bounce as well as he used to, so now he just rides motorcycles, but he misses jumping out of airplanes.

There was Judy M., who was driving along with her kids in a station wagon. They were behind a semi truck with a large flat bed trailer. It was loaded with steel pipes chained on the back. The truck stopped at the top of a steep hill. Judy was right behind it. For some reason, she decided to back all the way down the hill. Suddenly the chains broke and the steel pipes came rolling down the hill. They stopped sliding right in front of her car. She was sure that if she hadn’t backed down the hill, the pipes would have gone through her windshield. Her kids thought it was exciting. When she got home, she began to shake and fall apart. I asked her later, “What were you thinking when you were backing down the hill? Were you thinking that you were nuts to do that?” She answered, “I wasn’t thinking. I don’t know why I did that. I've never done anything like it before or since.”

Patricia Z. was driving along in the city on a triple-digit morning. She saw a woman weaving along the sidewalk. She thought to herself, “Boy she’s getting started early.” A voice spoke to her and said, “She’s not drunk, and you are the only one who knows what’s wrong with her.” Pat immediately realized that she was suffering from overheating and was in a dangerous state. Pat whipped into a parking lot, ran into a store and got two bottles of cold water. Then she went to the woman and invited her to sit with her in a cool store. The woman had been walking a long way and would have to walk a long way back. Pat just may have saved her life.

Steve Bowers had another story to share. It occurred a few years back, about the time he and Kelly began to attend our church. He got a shard of steel in his eye. The ER removed it, but it became infected. He was in constant, burning pain which medication could not assuage. One night he was sitting in bed praying. Suddenly the pain stopped. Immediately after, he saw a vision of Jesus standing beside the bed. I asked him what Jesus looked like. Steve felt that he was shown an image of Jesus about the way he expected him to look, with hair and beard and robe. The vision faded and so did the pain in his eye. The infection healed and his eye is fine today.


All of these people were moved and protected by the Holy Spirit even though at the time, they didn’t know a lot about how God works and speaks. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Carol McElheney, Part 2, Her Near Death Experience

In my previous post, I shared the story in which Carol McElheney apparently got caught in an unpleasant time slip involving a town where she and other family members used to live. It happened in 2006 in Riverside, California. After I posted her story, she sent me an email describing a near death experience she had in 2008. We talked more about it by phone and she gave me permission to share that event.

Carol was a park ranger peace officer who patrolled the American River Parkway on her trained police horse. She has also been a Sacramento Reserve Deputy Sheriff and a CSI. In 2008, she and her family were camping at Shaver Lake in Fresno County, southern California. Around 10 am, the family members were out on the lake. Carol was alone in camp when she felt a pain in her head so sharp that she thought she had been shot. Her vision began to go, alerting her that something was seriously wrong. She knew that at the time she was at risk for a stroke due to too much weight and high blood pressure. She called her husband on her cell, and luckily he was able to pick up and answer.

He hurried back and drove her to a hospital. They diagnosed an aneurysm and felt that they couldn’t help her there, so an ambulance took her to a hospital in Fresno. Meanwhile she was unconscious and having seizures. It wasn’t until about 7 pm when she was finally in ICU being treated. They put her in an induced coma to protect her brain from swelling.

When Carol first came out of her coma, she was alone in a regular hospital room. It was so quiet, too quiet. There were no nurses, doctors, visitors, or loud speakers. At the foot of her bed was a very ugly, real looking reptilian creature holding a black trash bag. He had green, warty, scaly skin, yellow eyes with a vertical pupil, and clawed fingers. He told Carol that he been sent to bring her back with him. He had come a long way, and she was to get into the trash bag. Well, she wasn’t having any of that. She told him she wasn’t getting in that bag. She was too fat, anyway, and wouldn’t fit. He told her that she would get in there and he wasn’t leaving without her. She argued that his claws would tear the bag. If he came a long way, the trash bag wouldn’t last that long with her in it. She wasn’t going. He assured her he wasn’t leaving without her.

They argued for a while. Carol realized that the entity wasn’t going anywhere, so she prayed. She called on Jesus and told him that if he would make the devil thing go away, she would start attending church. She had often passed St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Elk Grove where she lives, and had felt an urge to try it out. She just never got around to it. She shut her eyes and opened them again. She saw sandaled feet going up through the ceiling and the reptilian entity was gone. The hospital was normal again. Carol kept her promise and still attends that church.

The stroke affected her vision and her brain’s ability to interpret what she sees. Today, she speaks and moves normally. Since her problem was neurological rather than physical, she spent some time in a ward where there are psych patients. She had a hospital roommate who told her doctor about seeing “shadow people.” Carol overheard the conversation because they thought she was suffiently out of it to listen. Carol learned about shadow people from Coast to Coast radio shows. Later she assured her roomate that she wasn’t crazy, that lots of people see those things, but when the doctor heard about it, he put the woman in psychiatric 72-hour hold.

I asked about her siblings. Her brother used to see odd, paranormal creatures out his window. He would tell Carol about them, but she could never see them. He had an obsessive interest in UFOs and had many books on the topic. She and I discussed the tendency of alien visitations and paranormal experiences to run in families. Generations can be affected until one individual finds the key to put a halt to it. Often religion plays a part in breaking the cycle. Unless one finds that key, the visitors have free reign in a person’s life without them having asked for it. Nor can they protect their children. If they don’t like what is happening to them, too bad. It will most assuredly happen to their kids.

Often a particular family member opens the door to alien or paranormal visitations. I asked Carol about her family members, and it seemed to me that there was a particular family member that may have unleashed an unwelcome spiritual presence in the generations.

I know what the reaction to this story will be. She had a stroke, her brain was scrambled. She was on medication. She had just come out of a coma. Of course she is hallucinating. And maybe she was, but she doesn’t think so. If her experience was real, it may be an important piece of the alien jigsaw puzzle. Everyone in the UFO community knows about reptilian aliens. They are the meanest, most devious and lustful of all the alien varieties. They are seen on UFOs in many testimonials. You can check my blog index to learn more about reptilian aliens. Such a creature may be what the author of Genesis 4 was trying to describe. Carol, however, did not view this creature as an alien. She treated it like a devil. Her prayer to Jesus had the effect a Christian would expect if it had been a devil. If it was simply an alien of a particular race that came here from another planet, the prayer may not have had any effect at all.


In all fairness, Carol is still learning to see and to interpret what she sees. Sometimes she sees hallucinatory images and has facial recognition problems. A new part of her brain is taking over the vision work. Her first doctor told her that she is lucky she is not in a nursing home. In all of these situations, however, she knows that what she sees is not what is there. She stands by her hospital experience as a genuine deliverance. She feels strongly, and I agree, that had she given up and gone with the entity, she would have died. He was there to take her soul, not her body, in the trash bag. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The "Other" Riverside, California, and UFOs in Citrus Heights?

One has to get to the monthly Sacramento Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) meeting at least a half hour early to find a good seat, so it’s an opportunity to get to know those who are seated close by. That’s where I heard the time-slip tale of Carol Chase McElheney. When I asked her about it at break time, she referred me to Jason Offutt’s rendition of the event at mysteriousuniverse.org, which was the result of a Skype interview. His account read very much like what she described to her seatmates today, so I have referred to his version for facts that I could not recall from having heard the story firsthand.

In March, 2006, Carol, along with her dog, was driving from her home in San Bernardino to the sheep dog trials in Perris, California. Topping a hill, she saw an exit sign to nearby Riverside. Her family had a long history there, going back into the 1800’s. Her grandparents were buried in the local cemetery. Her grandmother and aunt had homes there, and Carol herself lived there for a while after college. It occurred to her that it would be fun to visit the old familiar places there on the way home and wander through the cemetery where her family members were buried. As soon as she thought that, she smelled a whiff of cigar smoke in the car. That was all she remembered of her grandfather, who died when she was a young child.

She drove on to Perris and checked into a motel. After the first sheep dog trials, the pull to visit her old home was strong, so she and her dog got into her car and headed for Riverside. She stopped first at the cemetery, but something was terribly wrong. There were no graves there, and no gate, no driveway, just weeds. She checked the street names. She assures her listeners that she was very familiar with the town. She had been visiting family there since her childhood. It was the correct location.

Next she drove to the street where her grandmother and aunt used to live side by side. The neighborhood had many bungalows that were built in the 1920’s. Her grandmother had lived in a large tudor home with a tall eucalyptus in the front, but it wasn’t there, nor was her aunt’s house. The neighboring homes in her 2006 visit were newer ranch style with bushes. I asked her if things looked consistently older or consistently newer. She said ‘newer.’ Even the house that she lived in for a while after college wasn’t there.

Totally baffled, she continued driving. Riverside City College and Central Middle School looked the same, but University Avenue looked very different. It appeared run down, with scary people and lots of graffiti. The banks, insurance companies, and restaurants were gone. It made her sufficiently uncomfortable that she was afraid to stop and ask for directions. Beyond that, she feared that if she stopped her car and got out, she would be captured by whatever unpleasant thing was going on there and just go missing. After a couple of hours of this bizarre adventure, it was a relief to get out of there and get back to Perris. Her hotel was still there and her key still fit the lock. Things were totally normal in Perris.

Her father died a few years later and wanted to be buried in the cemetery where his parents were. Of course, all was normal at his funeral. The streets looked much like when she lived there in the 70’s. A cousin confirmed that her grandmother’s home and her aunt’s home were just as they were. Her father was buried next to her grandparents. The family had lunch at the Mission Inn, which had been missing during Carol’s ’06 visit.

At break time today, I asked Carol if she was a person that had a tendency to be psychic. She said that she and her husband occasionally have a twinge of psychic insight. She had a hypnotic regression that convinced her that she drowned in WW II. She feels certain that her husband also died then, fueling his obsession with lore about that war. We chatted a bit about abductions and missing people. She mentioned a case where a group of tourists went on a rental horseback ride to Tuolumne Meadows. They took a break near a stream, so one young woman decided to go soak her feet in the cool water. She went behind a boulder and that was the last anyone saw of her. Her body was found high up on a ridge as if she had been dropped there.

So it was quite a day at that meeting. The speaker was a long time Field Investigator with MUFON named Michael Mace. He shared UFO sightings in Citrus Heights and Roseville and a paranormal event in Rocklin (all in the region where I live). The first event began at the Roseville Galleria in September, 2008. It was dark, but the witness could see a large, silent, triangular UFO moving slowly over the city. He made a U-turn to follow it. He pursued it in his car until it moved away too far, but during a walk later on, he saw it again. He saw no indication that anyone else saw it, and he is sure he experienced no missing time. He claims that he and his mother saw something similar over Loomis in 1998.

The second event described occurred in my town, Citrus Heights, at night in 2009. The witness was in his back yard and actually got some photos of the UFO, which comprised mainly of the pattern of lights on the craft. What was interesting about this event is that the light pattern in the photos was exactly the same as an earlier daylight photo of a UFO in Illinois. Both crafts were large triangles with red, green, and white lights. The only noise was a slight, mechanical hum.


Who says the suburbs are boring, declares Mace. Paranormally speaking, my life is boring. I hope it stays that way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Visions of Jesus Christ Cause Muslims to Convert

Here are three testimonies of Muslims who had revelations and visions of Jesus Christ.

The first is Afshin Javid, an Iranian who joined Hezbollah Jihad in order to please Allah. Jesus Christ came to him in prison and said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”


The second is Jerry Rassamni, a Druse Muslim, born in Lebanon. He read the Bible and realized that there are many names of Allah in the Quran, but not one is about love and not one is Father. Jerry saw the futility of hatred and warfare.


The third is Zak Gariba, a Nigerian Imam. He says God spoke to him, “Your parents forsook you, I will be there for you” and “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”


In the Bible, the first great commandment to a human being who had understanding and the power of  choice was to Cain, where the Lord told him to “do what is right” (Gen. 4:7). The problem was Cain’s attitude, and the hatred, pride, envy, and violence in his heart. God told him that all he had to do to get what he wanted in life was to do what he knew down deep to be right, but Cain refused. As a result, he became alienated from his family and what should have been his inheritance.  

Jesus brought us another commandment that could change the world. He said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He also said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Remember Muslims, God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob is the ancestor of the Jews, but Abraham and Isaac are the ancestors of much of the Middle East. Remember Israelis, that the commands to do what is right and love your neighbor as yourself apply to Jews, Christians, and all mankind. When people have no land to live on, meager water, food, medicine, and building materials, there is nothing left for them but to make war. They have nothing to lose. On the other hand, a religion that glorifies death will never inspire the worshipers to build a decent life here on earth for ordinary citizens. Killing is easy. A monkey can do it. Building a society takes brains. But only God can change a heart and fill it with peace rather than war.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Making Sense of the Bible: the Most Important Religious Book I've Ever Read

Other than the Bible, of course.

A friend recently recommended a book called Making Sense of the Bible, by Adam Hamilton. It sounded intriguing, so I ordered it, read it, and was amazed. The author is a United Methodist pastor, a founder of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. The jacket blurb states, “The church is well known for connecting with agnostics, skeptics, and spiritual seekers. In 2012, it was recognized as the most influential mainline church in America, and Hamilton was asked by the White House to deliver the sermon at the inaugural Obama prayer service.” His church has 18,000 members, and no wonder!

The book is divided into two parts, but at the end of Part 1 there is a hermeneutic section that I intend to present here in detail. Part 1 is the stuff one learns in seminary: who wrote the Old and New Testaments? When were they written? Which books made it into the Bible, and why were other books rejected? He writes extensively about the Bible authors, Paul, Matthew, Luke, Mark, John, Peter, and Jude. We could call these chapters of nuts and bolts of how our Scripture came to be what it is today.

The section I want to emphasize in this post is at the tail end of Part 1, called “Questions about the Nature of Scripture.” Part 2 is very hermeneutical. It addresses the question of creation, Noah’s ark, Adam and Eve, violence in the Old Testament, suffering, divine providence, the sayings of Jesus, salvation, women in Scripture, homosexuality, and the Book of Revelation. These are all juicy topics that the church struggles with every day. Hamilton’s answers are wise and useful because he demonstrates how to apply scripture to these problems in a sensible manner that works today rather than in the first century or 1500 BC. I loved every word of the book, but in a blog we can only bring a small part of it to the table.

The premise of the book is how to find God in scripture. His point is that the wide spread dogma of ‘verbal, plenary inspiration’//‘inerrancy’ is not useful for making sense of God, explaining how we got our Bible, or explaining how to apply the Bible in today’s world. I just cheered my way through the book because I’ve been saying that for years. My declarations along those lines caused me to be blocked from ministry in almost all of the churches I’ve attended from 2000 on with the exception of the Lutheran church we attend now. It took me studying the Bible since 1965, and an additional 18 straight years of school beginning in 1992, to be so firm in my position against inerrancy that I was willing to be frozen out of church ministry to be free to make my point. I felt it was that important. I’ve written about it in my blog, indexed as ‘hermeneutics.’ I’ve discussed it in our present church at great risk of once again being nudged out. I totally agree with Adam Hamilton in that one cannot make sense of the Bible or of God or of salvation history while adhering to the dogma of inerrancy and plenary, verbal inspiration. Presented below are some of his zingers.

From Chapter 14, “Is the Bible Inspired?”

“God-breathed” is a translation of the Greek word Paul used to describe Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16, a word typically translated as “inspired.” In this chapter I’d like us to think carefully about what is, and is not, meant by “God-breathed” or “inspired” as it pertains to the scriptures (p. 129).

“All scripture,” for Paul, would have referred to those scrolls or documents that were considered authoritative by the Jewish and early Christian community…If this is what Paul meant, then the biblical authors were moved, urged, or compelled to write the message yet did so in their own word, with their own cultural assumptions and within the limits of their vocabulary and knowledge. They may not have communicated perfectly, but they were nevertheless used by God as they wrote (p. 132, 133).

In Psalm 109, David prays that God will show no pity on one who has betrayed him. He prays that the man’s children will become wandering beggars. I love psalms like this because they are brutally and uncomfortably honest in expressing the author’s hurt and pain. But here’s the question: Would the Holy Spirit have inspired David to pray such a prayer? Is it not the opposite of Jesus’s command to love our enemies? (136).

In the appendix to his excellent book, A High View of Scripture?, Craig Allert lists nineteen examples of the church fathers, through the first four hundred years of the Christian faith, using theopneustos [JKS: God-breathed] or similar phrases to describe their own writings or the sermons, decisions, and writings of other. His point is that this term, as used and understood in the early church, apparently did not have the exclusive meaning that many Christians imbue it with today (p. 137).

Verbal, plenary inspiration was a way of building a fence around the Bible and making it impossible to question it or any doctrine built upon it. Those who held this view knew their doctrines were above question because “God says it (in the Bible), I believe it, that settles it” (139).  [JKS: I really hate that phrase. It’s a cop out for lack of diligent study and thought!]

This new foundation for the Christian faith, namely that Christianity is true because the Bible is infallible, inerrant, totally true, and trustworthy, feels to me like a house of cards that can easily be brought down (140). [JKS: And too often folks, our kids get to college and actually learn a thing or two, and down comes that house.]

From Chapter 15, “Is the Bible the Word of God?”

My point is that the Word of God by which all other words of God are measured my be the Word that was made flesh, Jesus Christ (146). [JKS: YES! Thank you, Adam! Jesus did NOT support all of the former OT writings.]

All other words about God are mediated through human beings. But in Jesus, God wrapped his message, his character, heart, and purposes, in human flesh (150).

The Psalms are interesting in that most are prayers to God, not prayers from God (146).

In a sense, the Bible is the biography of God. It is not an autobiography but an authorized biography (152).

So, is the Bible the Word of God? Or is it the words of people about God? I find Karl Barth’s way of answering these questions helpful: the Bible contains the word of God found within the words of its human authors (152).

From Chapter 16, “How Does God Speak to and Through Us?”

If Luke had been simply inspired by the Spirit, he would not have needed to “carefully investigate everything.” Luke doesn’t say, “God told me to write these things down.” Rather he says, “I decided to investigate and to write” (155).

From Chapter 17, “Is the Bible Inerrant?”

The second reason I don’t accept the doctrine of inerrancy is that the Bible, as we have it, is easily demonstrated to contain errors and inconsistencies (160).

This idea of the inerrant original manuscripts allows the inerrantist to speculate that any error that cannot otherwise by harmonized or explained did not exist in the original manuscript of the document (161).

[JKS: Hamilton makes the point that in many cases, a pastor or teacher that does not actually subscribe to the doctrine of inerrancy and verbal, plenary inspiration is likely to hide it for years because they know they will lose their pulpit, their post, or their congregation, 163.]

One concern I have for those who hold to inerrancy is that they seem to indicate that their entire faith would collapse if the Bible were found to have one real error. As I noted in a previous chapter, this seems a very weak foundation for one’s faith (168).

From Chapter 18, “A High View of Scripture?”

Does a belief in verbal, plenary inspiration and in the inerrancy of scripture constitute a “high view of scripture?” Not, I would suggest, if it is a wrong or misleading view of scripture (171).

But I believe they’ve created a dogma about scripture, in some respects not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s dogma of papal infallibility, that is not substantiated by what we know of how the Bible was written, how it came to be canonized, nor the actual text of the Bible itself. And if, as I have suggested, this dogma about scripture is inaccurate, it does not constitute a high view of scripture (172).


[JKS: There is more, so much more, in this great book. Both Hamilton and I believe in the general inspiration and authority of the Bible. We live it, teach it, find God in it, rejoice in its relevance today. My original faith in and love of God has been no way diminished by my intellectual journey. But bloody bully for Hamilton who had the courage to write this book, thereby opening doors that have been closed to thinkers and questioners for years, educated people who cannot abide the intellectual contradictions that inerrancy demands.]

Monday, July 7, 2014

More Random Stories of the Paranormal That I've Heard Firsthand

(See Dec. 15, 2012 for other random stories)
At a recent Sacramento MUFON meeting a gentleman sitting next to me named Steve A. shared the fact that he is sure he is an abductee because he awakes in the morning with scratches and marks on his body. He spent many years in a fundamentalist Christian church and still considers himself to be born again. Whenever he has doubts about his faith, he reminds himself that he has often blocked paranormal manifestations by using the name of Jesus. The homes of abductees are often ‘haunted’ by random poltergeist manifestations. He was once using a Ouija Board with a friend. He thought she was pushing the pointer, she thought he was. When they asked a question, there was no hesitation; the pointer went straight to the answer. He finally asked, “Are you malevolent?” It shot over to “Yes.” That was the last time he used a Ouija. As I listened to his many stories, I kept wondering why, if he is a Christian, he is being abducted. The answer is that he has a ‘familiar spirit’ that he claims helps him all the time. He is not willing to let go of that presence. As long as he keeps looking to it for help, he will remain an abductee.

His lady friend Sue B. gets messages about earthquakes. A friend of hers was in San Francisco some years back. She heard a clear message in her head that said, “Get in a doorway, dear one. There is going to be an earthquake.” She did that, and the 6.7 Northridge Earthquake of 1994 hit.

Betty Warne is a Catholic here in Sacramento. In 2009, she told me that one morning in the early 1930’s in Milwaukee her grandmother received a visit from her brother. She had cookies, so she poured some milk and they had a nice visit. Then he left. When the family came home that night, she said, “Uncle George was here this morning.” That night, they got a call that George had died that morning. George lived across the state, so there is no way he could have driven to Milwaukee and back and then died.

This story is just one of a million witnesses that the soul persists after death and can temporarily manifest in a very solid form. It can even eat a cookie! After Jesus Christ was resurrected, he walked through a locked door and shared a meal with his frightened apostles. They touched him to verify that he was not just a ghost.

I recall hearing a story on TV a long time ago of a Thanksgiving feast shared with a poor family by a generous neighbor in their apartment complex that the single mom had never met before. The next day, the mother went to the apartment where the neighbor lived who invited them to share the meal. The apartment was completely empty, and no one had lived there for some time.

And then her dad had an experience when his wife died. He went to the funeral home, and there was Dorothy his wife behind the counter. She was laughing at him. She waved and laughed and walked right through the parlor. Betty swears that neither her grandmother nor her father would make up such stories. Betty had her own experience with her mother. They knew that she was dying, so they made what they figured would be the last visit to her. She was not responsive or cognizant of their visit, however. They had to leave due to other obligations before she actually died. Halfway across New Mexico, they looked up into what had been a cloudless sky to see one unusual cloud. Betty pointed it out to Evans. He said, “That looks exactly like your mother.” Betty said, “We have to stop.” They called and found out that she had just died, so they turned around and headed back to the hospital.


These narratives verify that life is not meaningless. We are not adrift and alone in the universe. A presence is with us, which we can appreciate or repel by our attitude. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Real Noah, Part 4, Why the Ark Story, and a Short Bio of Robert MacAndrew Best



Having looked at the Genesis account and compared it to the Ziusudra Epic, what are we to do with it who live by the Bible and acknowledge its inspiration? I suggest we try to walk in the shoes of the earthly author and try to understand what his motivations may have been. He lived in the era of the kings of Israel. No, Moses did not write the book of Genesis. The phrase, …such and such happened when there were no kings in Israel is oft repeated. That is a clue that the book was written when there were kings in Israel.

He lived in a polytheistic world with goddesses, ghosts, snakes, sacred gardens, and sacred trees [beneath which blasphemy and unholy arts were practiced]. Our author knew beyond all shadow of a doubt that participating in those customs brought spiritual death to the worshiper. Many of his own people followed those very gods. The Canaanites legends of Baal and the monstrous world of Mesopotamian deities were well-known all throughout the Ancient Near East. The story of Ziusudra and Gilgamesh probably kept little children fearful of every thunder storm, wondering if another flood would wipe out their world.

The Genesis story is about monotheism. Only Yahweh/Elohim decides. He alone is Lord of the weather. He doesn’t make capricious decisions pertaining to mankind. We are not a half-baked experiment. We walk in sacred Covenant with the Creator and we are important to Him.

In the Mesopotamian stories, the gods don’t give a good reason for the destruction of the human race. In Genesis human life is precious because it reflects the Creator, but wickedness brings death and judgment. Violence, corruption, and consorting with fallen angels defiles the very planet. But it’s also about redemption. God hears, forgives, cleanses, renews, promises. The author wanted us to see an echo of divine mercy and hope whenever we see a rainbow. He wanted his people to see Yahweh, not Baal or Marduck.

The author was a man who lived the Law of Moses. He revered the sacrifices, but he wanted to point out that Yahweh did not smell the sacrifice as something to eat, something he needed to sustain his strength like the gods in the former stories. They buzzed around the sacrifice on the ziggurat like flies. Yahweh was never compared to a fly. The author removed all reminders that the former stories took place in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Perhaps he put the ark in the mountains of Ararat/Urartu on purpose. Perhaps he didn’t want any association with the ziggurats of Sumer.

The Genesis Noah story upgraded the world view of his day. He put Yahweh in the center of all of it. He connected the story to the Garden of Eden. He celebrates the renewal of agriculture, the cycles of the seasons, the extreme importance of virtue, righteous, and right worship. I believe the story is inspired. It is full of divine truth. I do not believe that it is inerrant history.

A brief biography of Robert MacAndrew Best

He was born in 1937 and is still alive. He asked me to not put his contact info out. He states that he particularly does not want to hear from bloggers. I tried not to remind him that I am a blogger. You didn’t hear this from me, but if you scour the internet, you might find a contact address for him. Below are some facts he graciously offered about his life, for which I am very grateful because I was curious.

I received a BS degree from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. When I was working for a living, I was a computer analyst and programmer for King County government in Seattle, department of finance. I don't have the time to respond to bloggers, so do not put my email address in your blog. But if a blogger says something very interesting, please let me know. I am especially interested in any published articles in Bible journals that mention my book or theories.

I am also an inventor and was granted 22 U.S. patents, mostly for security devices and video game systems. If you have ever used an ATM, you have used one of my inventions called a "secure cryptoprocessor". See the Wikipedia article "secure cryptoprocessor". Each ATM has this security chip in it to prevent people who service ATMs (and have access to its internals) from altering its programs or intercepting its data. A consultant, who worked for the company I sold my patents to, said these processors are used in ATMs all over the world. They are also used in TV set-top boxes, police radios, and probably in military systems.

How long did it take you to write the Noah book?

After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon U. in Pittsburgh in 1959, I started gathering material in the 60's, but just for my own curiosity. I had no intention of writing a book. After I retired in 1993, I wrote a short article (which became Chapter 7) analyzing Genesis 5 for publication in a Biblical journal, but it was rejected by several editors who did not say why. One editor said that it had too many pages. And that did not even include the material I had not yet drafted. I had too much to say for a journal article, so I started to think of a book-size monograph.

I was quite amazed that a man with a BS in physics and whose career was in computer science could write a self-designed and self-published book with such a credible bibliography, advanced linguistic information, a correctly formatted bibliography, and good editing. He sounded like a semi-conservative Old Testament scholar. Unlike many self-published books, I only one noticed one typo in the whole book, which was in the bibliography. So I asked him what libraries did he used to access so many scholarly articles?

After I retired, I and my family traveled a lot and I visited several libraries in several countries and states. In Hawaii, for example, the library on Oahu has massive amounts of publications on volcanoes and tsunamis, including material on Thera (Santorini) in the Mediterranean. I wrote Chapter 1 in Hawaii after finding a library book on the Santa Claus myth. [Those comments reflect an interest in the Exodus and in myth making itself.] Another book I found in the Oahu library was "King Arthur" by Norma Goodrich, who takes a third point of view on the Arthurian legends and points to Gaul/France as the source of the Arthur legend (but are ignored by scholars because the king is not named Arthur. She has been criticized for having a third point of view.

I noted French and German articles as well. Did you do your own translating?

No. The only foreign language in which I have formal training is German, aber Ich kann nicht Deutsch sprecken.

When I needed Hebrew expertise, I contacted a Hebrew professor and sometimes paid him for his time. Some were hostile to my efforts and I never went back to them. Most gave me their time for free. One professor was happy to accept $100 in cash. I focused on certain words and phrases and did not attempt to master the language. One professor said "you haven't paid your dues" by which I think he meant "you have not mastered or even studied the language." One page of my analysis of a Hebrew phrase is on page 281. I sent a Hebrew professor a rough draft and he responded with critical comments, teaching me a little Hebrew in the process. I incorporated his comments in my draft and resubmitted it to him. After 3 rounds of this, he replied "Yes, I would accept that from one of my students."

I did most of the illustrations in my book using Photoshop on my computer. I hired a professional artist who did parts of the front cover: the bricks, the wool skirt, the priestess, the fire pit and cow, and the background buildings and river. I created Noah's body from digital pictures of my body. I added the words. The right arm of the priestess holding the blue amulet is from a picture of my wife holding a bar of soap which I carved into the fly shape which I computer painted blue.


All in all, I think this book should be on every fundamentalist scholar’s shelf. Chapters 2, 8, and 14 are worth the price of the book. The academic world will react with ire, admiration, or “meh,” but the above chapters need to be faced and addressed in one way or another. The evangelical churches need to pull their heads out of the sand. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Real Noah, Part 3, The Mountain



In two recent posts I discussed Robert Best’s self-published book Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic, 1999, distributed by Eisenbrauns. This post follows on those and it is recommended that the reader refer to them before reading this one. For this post I also referred to Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.

In the original Sumerian epic, Ziusudra is a king in Mesopotamia (ANET, 42; Best, 256), but most of the narrative has been destroyed. According to one of the Sumerian King Lists, (ANET, 265) the king in Sumer at the time of the Flood was Ubar-Tutu, King of Shuruppak. In another, it’s Ziusudra (Best, 125). He probably lived sometime in the third millennium BCE (Best offers a flood near Shuruppak in 2900 BCE.) In the assembly of the gods, Anu and Enlil commanded that the kingship and rule of mankind should come to an end. Other deities lament, and Enki warns Ziusudra to build a boat to save himself and the seed of animals and mankind. The flood waters raged for seven days and nights, inundating the cult centers of ancient Sumer: Eridu, Badtibira, Larak, Sippar, and Shuruppak (the same cities named in the King List). So little of the tale remains today that we don’t know where the boat grounded, how long he was on it, who else may have been with him, or where he offered his sacrifice to the sun god Utu when it was over. Thus the scholar looks to the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh account to fill in the gaps.

In the Sumerian version, it would be logical that the boat or barge would float in the flat valley land and ground somewhere near Eridu, which in those days was near the shore of the Persian Gulf. The difficulty in tying Genesis in with that theory is that the biblical account and other accounts report that the ark/boat grounded on a mountain.

Best answers this problem by studying the linguistic difficulties on transferring the tale from Sumerian to Akkadian. “Gilgamesh XI,141a reads ‘KUR-úKURni-ṣir.” Best goes to great lengths to demonstrate linguistically how this can indicate a country or region. I need to way oversimplify his explanation here, which ends with the confusion of the meaning of KUR as it is translated into Akkadian where it can mean ‘hill,’ ‘mound,’ or ‘mountain.’ In line 156, Utnapishtim offers his sacrifice on a ziggurat, which would be found in Eridu, in the river valley. Early scholars took the ziggurat to be a metaphor for a mountain, but more current scholars accept that it means ziggurat, a mud brick pyramid-like structure with an altar at the top (278).

In addition, in the other narratives there is a Shem story that involves a mountain in Armenia and another about a priest in Eridu where the ziggurat would be. Best feels that these stories caused more confusion for ancient translators as to where the ark grounded. He dedicates a chapter as to how the epic may have moved from account to account.

In a personal correspondence, Best wrote:
Most of the attention given to the Noah's ark story focuses on the flood, boat, and animals. Hardly anybody mentions the sacrifice scene in Genesis 8:20-21:
"Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, ..." But I believed the sacrifice scene to be so important, that I put it on my front cover and on page 63. Years ago I was talking to a Hebrew professor and mentioned that the Hebrew word hare (plural harim) is ambiguous and can mean hill or mountain. He responded "Yes, and it is the same in Akkadian."

Hence, when you read English translations of Gilgamesh from Akkadian, as in Parpola's "Epic of Gilgamesh", and find the word shadu (Akkadian) or KUR (Sumerian), it could mean either hill or mountain or country. The 3-triangle sign for hill/mountain/country was the same in Egyptian.

Since the sign is ambiguous, how can anybody be certain of its meaning? There is no certainty and those who expect certainty are only kidding themselves and relying on older experts who were also expressing certainty in spite of uncertainty. Even the word Ararat is ambiguous because Aratta was a god of Shuruppak, Noah's city, and there was another country called Aratta. (my page 75). It is the responsibility of a translator to choose a word that does not result in absurdities or impossibilities, and not repeat the mistranslations of the past. Hence, anybody who says "yes, but it clearly says mountains" should be taught about mistranslations, uncertainty, ambiguity, and ancient errors.

While I think of it, are you aware that English translations of the Sumerian King List which gives ages of kings in thousands of years, is a modern mistranslation. The cuneiform sign for thousand is very similar to the archaic sign for year. An ancient translator did not understand the archaic sign for year and copied the archaic sign next to the cuneiform sign for year for each king. So for example, in English translation, one entry would be "20 years years", not 20 thousand years. Or maybe the ancient translator did understand and copied both the archaic sign and translation, just as we might write "years (anni)" for English text translated from Latin.

The Epic of Gilgamesh lines 155-167 provides more details:
"I placed an offering on top of a hill-like ziggurat... The gods smelled the sweet savor; the gods gathered about the sacrificer. As soon as the great goddess arrived, she lifted up the large flies [amulet] which Anu had made according to her wish. You gods here, as surely as I shall not forget the lapis lazuli [blue stone] on my neck, I shall remember these days and never forget them. Gods, approach the offering. [But priests of] Enlil shall not come near the offering."

If you look in the Akkadian version (Simo Parpola) "The Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh", page 111, line 157 and page 145, he clearly translates "ziq-qur-rat" as "temple tower, ziggurat". Maureen Kovacs "The Epic of Gilgamesh" translates it as ziggurat (page 102). But the highly respected professor Andrew George, who did a thorough translation "The Epic of Gilgamesh", expurgated the word ziggurat (page 94) from the sentence "Incense I placed on the peak of the mountain".

I wrote a letter to Prof. George asking him why he omitted "ziggurat". He did not reply. What is it with these people that they are still covering for nameless priests who have been dead for four thousand years? The reason I believe this sacrifice ceremony on the ziggurat is important, is it ties together several pieces of the puzzle. It places the ark and Noah near the city of Eridu, near the north end of the Persian Gulf, after the flood. It indicates that other people, priests of Enki, outside the ark survived the flood. It explains why Noah went "down [the river] to the apsu [on the shore of the Gulf] to dwell with my lord [in the temple of] Ea". (Gilgamesh XI line 42)

Genesis 7:18-20 (NIV) reads, “The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire mountains were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet.” However, checking the Hebrew in Owen’s Analytical Key to the Old Testament, I find that it literally reads, “The waters prevailed fifteen feet and the mountains were covered.” Best writes, “The fifteen cubits refers to how much the water rose, not how deep the water was. Depths would be different at different locations. As a modern news reporter might say, the water rose 22 feet above flood stage.” (44)

If the ark/barge/boat floated into the Persian Gulf and floated there for months, it would seem as if all land and all existence had been wiped off the earth. You wouldn’t be able to see the mountains of Iran, Arabia, or Armenia. You might not see land at all.

Beyond all that, the idea of sea water or brackish water covering the entire globe because mankind was corrupt and violent demonstrates that God Himself was violent and madly punitive. It doesn’t fit God’s nature, but it matches well the capricious, silly gods of Mesopotamia. All flora and fauna on the planet would be destroyed for lack of sunlight. The pressure of the sea water, the salt, the absolute destruction of a million varieties of eco-systems, every bug, all culture, even the sea creatures…God would have to completely recreate the earth. Only our utter ignorance of biology and ecology allows us Christians to suffer such a doctrine. In this case ignorance is truly bliss. Our naiveté makes it easy. Too easy.

We think the Creator is saying of us, “Ah, my faithful child, standing firm for my holy Word, my faithful soldier wielding the shield of faith, my witness in the unbelieving world.” But what if the global Flood story was never God’s intention? What if it’s our misunderstanding of where the Flood narrative came from? What if God is up there head slapping Himself wishing we would trade childlike belief for some serious education?


Coming soon, a bio of Robert M. Best and some words about what drove him to write his book.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Real Noah, Part 2, The Parallels

This post is a continuation on the topic of Robert Best’s book, Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic. He has accomplished 3 important tasks in his book. One of them is the study below in which phrases from the six Flood recensions are shown beyond all doubt to be connected to one another. The original story was most likely the Sumerian epic in the Sumerian language, written in cuneiform on clay tablets. As the story moved from there to Assyria and Babylon, written in Akkadian, then to the Hebrew Genesis account, the name of the hero changes to reflect current national names of the day. The gods change, and other details are added and dropped out.

One thing becomes clear…the Genesis author knew of the other stories. He Hebraized the story to convey Israelite monotheistic theology. The Genesis account is not literal inerrant history dictated by God. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fabulous story with a great message. I still consider it Scripture, but to take it literally and interpret it at its face value is absurd and does not bear a credible witness in our modern world.

Another interesting thing that Best does is weave all of the stories together to see if there could be a reasonable legend based on the life of an ancient king. Even if his theories are wrong, or if the original story is simply a myth, the narrative is as interesting as the recent movie about Noah and the ark. It’s more mundane and less theological than the Genesis account. I love the idea that the ark/barge floated into the Persian Gulf and bobbed around in what seemed like a pure water world for many months.

Third, he provides the text for all six stories for the convenience of the reader. There is reasonable speculation on how the story may have been transmitted and research on how the ark/barge may have been built. Best’s degree in physics gives him an engineering bent in his studies.

This understanding should not affect anyone’s faith, but it should cause us to take a second look at our hermeneutic.

The literary comparisons below have been copied with permission from Robert Best’s website: http://www.noahs-ark-flood.com/parallels.htm. This page can be found at his website http://www.noahs-ark-flood.com. His book is also available on amazon.com. 

Parallels Between Flood Myths
Distinctive story elements and phrases that are common to three or more of the six Ancient
Near East flood myths indicate a common origin.  Parallel quotations make it obvious that
these six flood myths did not originate independently:

"Side-wall... pay attention" Ziusudra iv,155
"Wall, listen to me." Atrahasis III,i,20
"Wall, pay attention" Gilgamesh XI,22

"Destroy your house, spurn property, save life" Atrahasis III,i,22
"Tear down house, abandon property, save life" Gilgamesh XI,24-26

"the decision that mankind is to be destroyed" Ziusudra iv,157-158
"The gods commanded total destruction" Atrahasis II,viii,34
"The great gods decided to make a deluge" Gilgamesh XI,14
"God...decided to make an end of all flesh" Genesis 6:13

"Enki...over the capitals the storm will sweep" Ziusudra iv,156
"He [Enki] told him of the coming of the flood" Atrahasis III,i,37
"God said to Noah...I will bring a flood" Genesis 6:13,17
"Kronos...said...mankind would be destroyed by a flood" Berossus

"...the huge boat" Ziusudra v,207
"Build a ship" Atrahasis III,i,22
"Build a ship" Gilgamesh XI,24
"Make yourself an ark" Genesis 6:14
"build a boat" Berossus

"who protected the seed of mankind" Ziusudra vi,259
"Bring into the ship the seed of life of everything" Gilgamesh XI,27
"to keep their seed alive" Genesis 7:3 (KJV)

"Like the apsu you shall roof it" Atrahasis III,i,29
"Like the apsu you shall roof it" Gilgamesh XI,31
"Make a roof for the ark" Genesis 6:16

"coming of the flood on the seventh night" Atrahasis,III,i,37
"after seven days the waters of the flood came" Genesis 7:10

"...and addressed the elders" Atrahasis III,i,41
"I answer the city assembly and the elders" Gilgamesh XI,35

"This is what you shall say to them..." Gilgamesh XI,38
"If asked where he was sailing he was to reply..." Berossus

"I cannot live in [your city]" Atrahasis III,i,47
"I cannot live in your city" Gilgamesh XI,40

"An abundance of birds, a profusion of fishes" Atrahasis III,i,35
"[an abundance of] birds, the rarest fish" Gilgamesh XI,44

"pitch I poured into the inside" Gilgamesh XI,66
"cover it inside and out with pitch" Genesis 6:14
"some people scrape pitch off the boat" Berossus

"your family, your relatives" Atrahasis DT,42(w),8
"he sent his family on board" Atrahasis III,ii,42
"into the ship all my family and relatives" Gilgamesh XI,84
"Go into the ark, you and all your household" Genesis 7:1
"he sent his wife and children and friends on board" Berossus

"animals which emerge from the earth" Ziusudra vi,253
"all the wild creatures of the steppe" Atrahasis DT,42(w),9
"The cattle of the field, the beast of the plain" Gilgamesh XI,85
"clean animals and of animals that are not clean" Genesis 7:8
"and put both birds and animals on board" Berossus

"Enter the boat and close the boat's door" Atrahasis DT,42(w),6
"Pitch was brought for him to close his door" Atrahasis III,ii,51
"I entered the ship and closed the door" Gilgamesh XI,93
"And they that entered...and the Lord shut him in" Genesis 7:16

"Ninurta went forth making the dikes [overflow]" Atrahasis U rev,14
"Ninurta went forth making the dikes overflow" Gilgamesh XI,102

"One person could [not] see another" Atrahasis III,iii,13
"One person could not see another" Gilgamesh XI,111

"the storm had swept...for seven days and seven nights" Ziusudra 203
"For seven days and seven nights came the storm" Atrahasis III,iv,24
"Six days and seven nights the wind and storm flood" Gilgamesh XI,127
"rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights" Genesis 7:12

"consigned the peoples to destruction" Atrahasis III,iii,54
"All mankind was turned to clay" Gilgamesh XI,133
"And all flesh died...and every man" Genesis 7:21

"Ziusudra made an opening in the large boat" Ziusudra vi,207
"I opened the window" Gilgamesh XI,135
"Noah opened the window of the ark" Genesis 8:6
"he pried open a portion of the boat" Berossus

"On Mount Nisir the boat grounded" Gilgamesh XI,140
"the ark came to rest upon the mountains" Genesis 8:4
"the boat had grounded upon a mountain" Berossus
"After Khsisuthros... landed ... a long mountain" Moses of Khoren.

"The dove went out and returned" Gilgamesh XI,147
"sent forth the dove and the dove came back to him" Genesis 8:10b-11
"let out the birds and they again returned to the ship" Berossus.

"When a seventh day arrived" Gilgamesh XI,145
"He waited another seven days" Genesis 8:10a.

"I sent forth a raven" Gilgamesh XI,152
"Noah... sent forth a raven" Genesis 8:7

"The king slaughtered...bulls and sheep" Ziusudra vi,211
"He offered [a sacrifice]" Atrahasis III,v,31
"And offered a sacrifice" Gilgamesh XI,155
"offered burnt offerings on the altar" Genesis 8:20
"built an altar and sacrificed to the gods" Berossus

"[The gods smelled] the savor" Atrahasis III,v,34
"The gods smelled the sweet savor" Gilgamesh XI,160
"And the Lord smelled the sweet savor..." Genesis 8:21

"the lapis around my neck" Atrahasis III,vi,2
"the lapis lazuli on my neck" Gilgamesh XI,164

"That I may remember it [every] day" Atrahasis III,vi,4
"I shall remember these days and never forget" Gilgamesh XI,165
"I shall remember my covenant...I may remember" Genesis 9:15-16

"How did man survive the destruction?" Atrahasis III,vi,10
"No man was to survive the destruction" Gilgamesh XI,173

"[on the criminal] impose your penalty" Atrahasis III,vi,25
"On the criminal impose his crimes" Gilgamesh XI,180
"Who sheds the blood of man, by man his blood be shed" Genesis 9:6

"he touched our foreheads to bless us" Gilgamesh XI,192
"And God blessed Noah" Genesis 9:1

"elevated him to eternal life, like a god" Ziusudra vi,257
"they shall be like gods to us" Gilgamesh XI,194

"I lived in the temple of Ea, my lord" Atrahasis RS 22.421,7
"go down to dwell with my lord Ea" Gilgamesh XI,42
"he had gone to dwell with the gods" Berossus.



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Real Noah, Part 1, The Other Epics

In 1999 a computer expert and inventor with a BS in Physics self-published one of the best books on Noah and the Ark that you’ve never heard of and probably haven’t read. But if you are interested in Old Testament studies, you should put this volume on your shelf, especially in light of the recent Hollywood rendition of the story. It’s called Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic, published by Enlil Press, distributed by Eisenbraun, a well-established publisher of scholarly works on the Ancient Middle East (ANE). The author, Robert MacAndrews Best, spent years researching and designing it. In a future post, I will give a little bio of Mr. Best, who is still alive at this writing, but in this post, I want to tell you why you should read it if you are at all interested in the story of Noah’s Ark.

In my fundamentalist days (the Bible is truth without error and was pretty much dictated by God and reflects His thinking without being diluted by ancient cultural biases) I was studious enough to know that there were other Flood stories. It wasn’t until my Ph.D. program that I actually read that older literature. There are several Flood stories in which a deity told a human to build a boat to save his family and the seed of animals. Decades ago, the idea of Sumerian and Babylonian stories made me uncomfortable, but not too much so because those stories weren’t easily available, therefore I didn’t have to deal with them. Certainly no one else I knew was confronting them. It was easy to forget that they existed. I also shelved the knowledge that there was no worldwide Flood layer in geological deposits. There is evidence of several major local floods in Sumer.

However, I was historically savvy enough to understand that Noah of the Hebrew story lived in a Proto-Sumerian, Mesopotamian world and would not have been named Noah, a Hebrew word which suggests ‘rest.’ The name carries with it a narrative that traces back to the curse on the soil due to Adam’s sin. The original cuneiform story, written on clay tablets in the Sumerian language, would not involve Yahweh, and would not be associated with the Fall in Genesis. In the Hebrew version mankind was wicked and violent, so God disturbed normal seasons from Adam to the Flood, making agriculture difficult. Then he wiped out the known world of the Hebrew author to punish the corruption of mankind. He sent the rainbow as a promise to not repeat that particular judgment.

In my doctoral program I read parts of the several recensions of the legend, but never had the time to organize them all in one place. By that time, I was way past seeing the Genesis story as inerrant history. Robert Best has done a fabulous job in chapter 2 of setting up all six versions of the tale, comparing them to one another. This excellent comparison makes it clear that the stories are literarily connected, various recensions of the first one, even maintaining parallel passages and ideas.

The first was the story of Ziusudra, king of the ancient city-state of Shuruppak, who lived in what archaeologists call the Jemdet Nasr period of history. Ziusudra was told that he should tear down his house and build a boat. That inundation was a river flood limited to Sumer. Only a third of the whole epic remains today. Best theorizes that as king, Ziusudra built a large river barge for hauling animals and goods from Shuruppak to Eridu on the coast of the Persian Gulf. As he develops the theme of the book, he speculates that the barge drifted downstream into the Persian Gulf, where it would seem that all life had been destroyed. When the boat finally beaches, the hero is elevated to godlike status and goes to live in Dilmun (today’s Bahrain). Best is not careless with the text or the language. He has plausible reasons why didn't come to ground on a mountain.

Next was Atrahasis, the Assyrian Flood hero. Written in Akkadian, two thirds of this longer epic remains today. Best feels that much of what is missing in the first story can be found in this recension. His approach in the book is to weave them all together to get the whole picture of what may have happened. Enlil commands the other gods to swear that they will bring a flood to destroy mankind. He gives no reason, but they all agree with no debate. Enki tells Atrahasis, who serves in the temple in Eridu. He shows him how to make the boat, which is made of wood and reeds and is called Saver of Life. A huge storm arises; it pours for 7 days and nights. The banks overflow, the dams break, and the levees crumble, and all local life on the river dies. Then the gods begin to grieve and wail and blame themselves for concocting such a plan. Enlil is angry when he finds out that a few humans survived. Anu points the finger at Enki, who confesses. Atrahasis offers a sacrifice, and the gods crowd around like hungry flies.

In the Babylonian Flood Story, which has many parallels with the Atrahasis epic, the names of the gods have changed somewhat. The hybrid man-god Gilgamesh interviews the Flood hero, Utnapishtim, who is a demi-god living in Dilmun. Utnapishtim relates that Enki/Ea informed him of the coming river flood, which was concocted by the deity Enlil. In these versions the towns people help in the building and are allowed on the boat when the river flood comes. It ends in a similar fashion as the Assyrian version except that the boat grounds on Mt. Nisir and Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice on the top of a ziggurat. Best writes, “The most complete copy was written in Akkadian and was found in the library of Ashurbanipal. Several fragmented copies survive in the Akkadian, Middle Babylonian, Hittite and Hurrian languages.” (p. 23)

The Genesis story came next. Best incorporates the long expanse of time for the floodwaters to recede by speculating that the barge floated downstream into the Persian Gulf, where it was just blown about for many months. During that time, the family on board eats most of the cargo, which was destined for Eridu. Noah had no idea where he was and could only see seawater from horizon to horizon.

In my opinion, it was a Hebraized version of the general legend. It was written by a monotheist who inserted Yahweh into the story to show that Yahweh is in charge of such disasters. Hebrew issues like sin and judgment, redemption, and God’s covenant-making interaction with the family of Israel were foremost in the narrative. References to Mesopotamian locations were deliberately dropped out, as was any suggestion of other deities. Noah is not raised to god status as were other heroes. I personally think it’s possible that the Flood was elevated to oceanic status in order to disassociate it from the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, but Best’s theory about the Persian Gulf is quite plausible. Either way, the Genesis author doesn’t want to remind you that the original story, which he undoubtedly had before him, was a Sumerian river flood, called up by scheming gods for no good reason. The author wasn’t necessarily being deceptive. He may have figured that everyone already knew about the other versions anyway. It probably never dawned on him that one day there would be immense religious division over whether the story was literally true.

Shortly before the Masoretic Hebrew text was translated into the Greek Septuagint, a Babylonian priest names Berossus wrote the story in Greek (c. 281 BC), calling the Flood hero Xisuthros. Although it is similar to other versions, there is the added aspect of tablets buried in the flood debris in Shuruppak that need to be retrieved. On these tablets were the history of all beginnings of mankind. This version was lost, but parts of it were preserved by other Greek writers.

Last of all was Moses of Khoren who wrote History of Armenia in the Armenian language in the eighth century AD/CE. His hero was Khsisuthros, and there are echoes in the fragments of the complex family story mentioned in other recensions.


One of the great features of Best’s book is that he provides the text of all six narratives. These texts are difficult to find unless one has acquired an extensive ANE library. In my next post, I want to reproduce Best's collection of parallel passages common to two or more versions of the flood story. It would also be useful to ponder a little on what it means for the Christian or Jew who has been taking this story literally for years or decades.