Waterfalls are fairly plentiful in this part of the country.  Although they’re not the Rockies, the Appalachians are mountains, and mountains lead to waterfalls.  Niagara is an outlier, of course, where one great lake drains into another.  In the area around Ithaca and Watkins Glen, in New York, there are great falls where the water, through the eons, has eroded the softer rock to flow down to sea level.  While most of the waterfalls in Ithaca are free, you have to pay to get into Watkins Glen.  The waterfalls cascade down into Pennsylvania as well, where the geology is similar, where the bedding planes of ancient seas left layer after layer of rock washed away by yet more water millions of years later.

Bushkill Falls, like Watkins Glen, is privately owned.  Deep in the Poconos, it offers a shaded walk around what has been called “the Niagara of Pennsylvania.”  When we went, it had been mostly a dry summer.  Still, there’s a draw to all that water.  Like Watkins Glen, there are stairways to ease the access among tourists; there are those who might be inclined to sue should they lose their footing.  There were lots of others there the day we went.  Many speaking languages other than English, deep in Trumpian, xenophobic territory.  In nature we’re all just human.  Water washes and water erodes.  Water smooths out rough edges.  There are many parables in water.  It makes life as we know it possible.  It flows to the lowest point, creating incredible beauty as it tumbles over many different types of rock that make up the crust of the earth.  There’s a wisdom in water.

The red trail, around the outline of the several waterfalls, has 1276 steps to descend and climb.  Going down the stairs at the start of your journey assures that you will need to climb at the end.  The air is full of negative ions around breaking water.  Positive feelings are created.  Perhaps people should live near waterfalls.  It’s difficult to imagine hatred thriving in such a place.  I recall a family walk, back in some troubled times, when my older brother led us all to a waterfall hidden deep in the western Pennsylvania woods.  The tension and strife melted away.  We probably all knew that it wouldn’t last, but at the time the present was all that mattered.  Water is so basic, but so unbelievably wise.  Paying attention to such things is worth the price of admission.

Water Monsters

Chaos is a monster.  More than personal opinion, that’s a biblical view.  If, like many modern people with theological training, you’ve been taught that Genesis narrates a creation out of nothing, you’ve become a victim of this monster.  You see, although ancient Israel had no “systematic theology”—the Bible can be quite inconsistent if you’re willing to read what it says—the view that chaos was constantly lurking outside the ordered realm of creation was a common one.  One of the more intriguing episodes in Ugaritic mythology involves a broken text where the god Hadad, aka Baal, refuses to allow a window in his palace.  The reason?  Apparently he feared chaos (in the form of Yam, the sea) might slip in and kidnap his daughters.

More than a theological statement, the story of creation was actually a singular episode in Yahweh’s ongoing struggle against chaos.  Step outside and look at the sky.  If it’s blue it’s because there’s unruly water being held back by a great dome over our heads.  If it’s gray, it may be raining, or it probably will be soon.  Stroll to where the land ends.  What do you see?  Water.  That water is lapping at land, trying to take it over.  Although the ancients didn’t have geologic ages (the Mesopotamians came close, with ancient kings living thousands of years) rivers eroded land and they had tendencies to flood.  The thing about chaos is that it makes you start again, from the beginning.

One of the many unfortunate things about biblical literalism is that it loses sight of this biblical truth.  It exchanges something everyone can understand for a theological abstraction that makes no sense in the world that we experience.  Ancient belief held that the human role in the world was to fight chaos, not to get to Heaven.  In fact, in the Hebrew Bible there’s no concept of Heaven at all.  Instead, the commandments were all about order.  You can’t build on the water.  What you do build water tries to wash away—Israel has a rainy season, and one of the characteristics of such seasons is the occasional violent storm and heavy rains.  Although we need the water from the heavens, heavy rains cause, well, chaos.  In ancient thought, this was the monster hiding in plain sight.  That blue sky is a reminder that a dragon awaits.  Rather than starry-eyed Heaven-gazers, the ancient biblical person was a monster-fighter.  And that’s the biblical truth.

Childhood’s End?

Writers are agents against chaos.  Those of you who read this blog frequently know that chaos has been one of my themes lately.  Moving, which is a process that takes months and months of time, is pure chaos.  Whenever I settle down to write, yet another moving-related task comes to me—this box needs to be unpacked, that gap in the fence must be mended, where did I put the toolbox?  Mundane things.  Writers like to think the world conforms, somehow, to their inner lives.  In reality, things are far more complex than that and don’t seem to be getting any easier.  Starting to learn about house ownership is something best left for the young, I suspect.  Every question (where should we put the television?) leads to a daisy-chain of other issues (but first we need to move that hutch, but it’s too heavy for either of us to lift, etc.).

In ancient times water symbolized chaos.  Before we left on vacation, the main issue was to get all boxes off the floor in the garage.  We haven’t had time to move them safely inside yet, what with planning for vacation and all, so plastic became the order of the day.  We do need, however, to get things inside eventually.  A slow process for two middle-aged people with full-time jobs, even without jet lag.  Writing feels like a luxury item, for what is most required is time—time to move things to their proper places.  Time to figure out what those proper places are.  Time to go to work again.

Had we thought this through, we might’ve used vacation this year to unpack.  We bought our plane tickets, however, before we bought the house.  This latter transaction is one of chaos embodied.  Who knew, for example, that the grass had to be cut so often?  That all roofs leak?  That chaos is constant, and not intermittent?  In biblical times, one of the signs of God’s greatness was the ability of the Almighty to hold chaos in constant check.  The waters were always lurking, looking for any opening—except when you need rain and it just won’t come.  Sitting here writing feels like the giddy irresponsibility of childhood where there’s so much to get done and so little time in which to do it.  And neighbors don’t appreciate the lawn being mowed before the sun is properly out of bed.  The renter pays a price for living with, for at least some stretches of time, chaos-free maintenance.  The home-owner quickly learns that any time left over for writing feels like being irresponsible, and a little bit divine.

High Places

I have gotten me away unto an high place.  No, that’s no biblical, but it sure sounds psalm-like.  Part of the anxiety I felt about the literary loss over the past few days is that it happened just before a long anticipated, and paid for, vacation.  As Thursday dawned, I knew I had only two days to try to rearrange the undamaged books and try to salvage what I could of those that were soaked.  And I had to do it quickly and then leave, only to see the results when I returned.  Not yet having met any neighbors, and not really being in a position to prevail upon their presumed good will, it was a test of personal endurance.  Our garage has an upper floor that remained dry.  I made well over an hundred trips up those stairs, book boxes in hand.  One cares for ones friends.

For now, however, I am at my favorite high place, in the mountains.  On a lake.  I’m having to reconcile myself with my old foe H2O, for here it is placid welcoming.  It stays outside the cabin and we remain friends.  And truth be told, there is a kind of idolatrous element involved in my visits to the lake.  You see, I covet peace.  Since childhood violence and bullies have led me to a quasi-monastic life—Paul Simon reflected that perfectly in his early song “I am a Rock.”  Even Superman had to have his fortress of solitude.  Some fear being alone with their thoughts.  Although I struggle with them, they are, like my books, who I am.

Dawn’s early light; and it only got worse as the day went on.

Prophets and deuteronomists railed against high places.  Such were locations where the God of Israel grew jealous of the attention lavished on other deities.  Perhaps religious promiscuity comes naturally to people, but we need our high places to regain perspective.  To breathe pine-scented air and feel the chill of a July morning at altitude.  Yes, even to reconcile with the splash of water that is here to make life possible rather than to destroy that which you have worked to acquire.  Ironically some of the destroyed books had been with me since college—theological classics such as Niebuhr, Gutiérrez, and Tillich, lying on the unmown grass beneath a healing sun.  Perhaps they were trying to warn me of the idolatry of such retreat.  But here I am, reflecting on loss and hope, and praying that somehow we might just all get along.

Prelude to Chaos

Liquids are the enemy.  Don’t let the cuteness of this little guy fool you—there’s collusion here.  For as well as creating life, and being necessary to sustain it, water destroys.  Creator, annihilator.  We moved during a time when neither of us had vacation and we told the over-tired movers that it was okay to put our boxes in the garage.  We planned to move them soon, but, you know, work.  Then the rains came.  Not just sprinkles, but downpours.  The garage isn’t water-tight.  Boxes were soaked.  Many books were damaged.  This wasn’t a flood that can be claimed on insurance, it was simply rain pooling where people usually park their (normally waterproof) cars.  In their place sat our books.

We both worked the day after the rains.  When we discovered the damage the next evening, it looked manageable.  I had to work the next day, of course, and a few breaks sufficed to get the many, many boxes of damaged books out into the sun.  It was carnage.  We don’t have much in the way of material goods; we spend a bit of money on books, however.  Now they’ve become the victims laid out on this altar of home ownership which, at the time, seemed like a good idea.  We needed a house for our books.  We needed time to move them from the garage to the house.  Yes, old friend Morpheus, “Time is always against us.”  

Job sat upon his ash-heap and pondered why he’d paid the movers so much only to have his moved goods destroyed.  And in a manner in which insurance assessors are trained to point to the fine print.  Those who store their goods in the garage reap the wrath of liquid.  You see, when water reaches cardboard, or paper, the wood pulp sucks it up.  Carefully dried, the paper remembers the compelling nature of water.  Too little, and you die.  Too much, and you die.  No wonder the ancients thought that water was a deity.  It claims all—tries to get in through your roof.  Lays insouciantly on your basement floor.  And the garage—yes, who thought of the garage when the immediate concern was to shut the windows to keep Leviathan out of the house?  I spent weeks carefully packing those books against shipping damage.  Used up my vacation days doing so.  Chaos has claimed them.  I would weep, but that would be collusion with the enemy, even if nobody sees.

Seeing Thinks

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a dude! What what is it? It’s actually a cloud. I enjoy the entries on Mysterious Universe, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It seems like decades since I laid down on the ground and looked at the clouds, seeking shapes. The sky is nature’s cerulean canvas and although they’re just water vapor, clouds take on endlessly fascinating shapes. Since religion has historically been projected onto the sky, many people take signs in the sky as somehow divine. The photo on Mysterious Universe is of a cloud that some thought was Jesus and others thought was Mary. Herein lies the rub of pareidolia. You see what you want to see.

There is, in traditional Christian thought, a world of difference between Jesus and Mary. You really don’t want to mix the two up. I mean one is divine and the other is only venerated. Don’t want to cross that line into worship because idolatry leads to all kinds of trouble. So who’s in the sky? Someone that we should perhaps think sacred: water. In a world quickly running out of fresh water (of course since now, officially, there is no global warming we’ll have to find another way of explaining our disappearing ice caps) we should all perhaps worship our clouds. The harbingers of fresh water. It won’t last forever.

I, for one, complain when it rains too much. I suppose that’s because I’ve lived most of my life in the rainy climates of the eastern United States and Scotland. Days can pass without a glimmer of sunshine. I get depressed and truculent. Yet the freshwater falls. Water tables are replenished. In much of the world—indeed, in much of the United States—it is not so. Water shortages are bad and are growing worse. We use far too much and when the ice caps are gone, the largest reserves of freshwater on the planet will be empty. Then again, capitalists have never been too keen on saving up for the future. Most of us alive today, at least in the rainy climes, will have our lifetime supply. The future, however, looks pretty hot and thirsty. So who is it in the sky? Could be either gender—wearing robes makes it hard to tell at this level of detail—but whoever it is, let’s hope they’ve brought plenty of friends with them.

Look like anybody you know?

Look like anybody you know?

The Reign of Rain

I’m on vacation for a week. My job is such that taking vacation is becoming a rare commodity, what with precious few allotted days and move-in, move-out schedules of a collegiate child, and so on. And also company policy about keeping employees in the office between Christmas and New Year. Anyway, now that I’m here I should be kicking back and enjoying the beautiful lake and getting out to do the things inmates of the city seldom do. It has, however, rained every day that I’ve been here. Not all-day rains, of course, but just enough that plans have to be interrupted or changed at the last minute. I end up sitting in the cabin playing Solitaire when I should be out getting some fresh air. So it goes.
Ironically, I am staying in the drought-stricken west. The western United States, I learned when researching for Weathering the Psalms, has been ensconced in a decades’ long drought. In fact, prior to my family trip here it hadn’t rained in quite a while. Our arrival with the clouds was, after all, mere coincidence. Still, it’s hard not to take the weather personally. I know that the weather is larger than any one person’s needs or desires. I also know that water is a commodity even rarer than vacation days, largely because of our misuse of the limited supply that we have. California’s plight has been in the news. We have large cities in water-challenged environments and people treat water like there’s no end to its abundance while the opposite is the case. Just thinking about it makes me thirsty.
There are many things a person can go without, some of which feel absolutely essential at the time. Many vacations, I know, are extravagant. Fancy hotels, high-priced entertainment, exotic locations. Work can feel so crushing that vacation my become the one island of sanity in the midst of a hostile ocean of obligation. For me, vacation is time with family in a stripped-down, natural setting. Of course, we do indulge in some of the comforts of home, but having nothing in view outside the window beyond that which nature dictates is a transcendent experience. From where I sit, I can see nothing of human artifice. I do see clouds, however. I know that more rain is on the way. And I know that it is a gift, complain as we might, of the highest magnitude.

Ice Church

Eternity is a concept closely associated with religious thought. It bears a freight that phrases such as “steady-state universe” and “Big Bang” lack. Indeed, the foundations of Christianity and Islam involve the belief that eternal life can be had for those who play by the rules. Great cathedrals and mosques were erected to last forever, or at least until the end of the physical world. Perhaps that is the reason I find the idea of a church constructed out of ice so engaging. Annually for the past several years, a church has been built of ice in the Romanian Alps. Accessible only by cable car, the church is a temporary structure in a land where varieties of Christianity (let alone other faiths) are openly hostile to one another. As the globe slowly wobbles back to a northern inclination, the church will melt and disappear. Still, in its brief time in the world, baptisms and marriages will be performed there. Eternal vows in a temporary structure.

A theological message is inherent in such an institution. We are trained from our earliest days to be consumers. We are to acquire goods and desire more. Were we ever to be satisfied, capitalism would crash to the ground like an ice church left out in the heat. The secular world in unrelenting in its message that we are born to eat, buy, and use. The more expensive, the better. And the more quickly obsolete, the more profitable it will be. The towers of our cities are constructed of concrete and steel, and yet, I have watched new buildings grow and supplant those that have seemingly stood forever but which, in reality, have existed for less than a century. Indeed, all of our towers ought to be made of ice.


Ice is cold and hard, but it is still water. An article in The Guardian notes that some pastors see this as a kind of baptism frozen in time. Shape given to that which follows the contours of its container. The water, however, will ultimately follow its natural order and rejoin the oceans of the world. While humans are naturally disposed to collect, to save up against lean times, we have to be taught to be consumers. Some of us are content with relatively little, knowing that elsewhere our fellow human beings have nothing at all. Their churches are made of ice, and our corporations are eager to reach even them, to teach them to covet what the more “affluent” have. And the world slowly warms, turning all into liquidity.

Water Flowing Underground

One of the most compelling characters of the Bible is John the Baptist. Unconventional and non-conformist, he speaks with unquestioned authority based on pure conviction. Baptism comes in many forms. When we moved our daughter into her dorm room, we found water from the HVAC vent dripping on her bed. I’ve been similarly baptized on NJ Transit buses in the summer when the condensation gathers just above my head. (Of course, being on the bus, I’m always hoping that it’s only water.) Considering how well HVAC contractors seem to be paid, it is always a wonder to me that little things like leaks can’t be sought and settled. Water always seeks the lowest point. In baptism a person is plunged even lower, beneath the water. It’s kind of like drowning.

John the Baptist with the number of the HVAC guy

John the Baptist with the number of the HVAC guy

I was baptized in a river (or a creek that passed for a river in my part of Pennsylvania). Our church didn’t believe in infant baptism, so I was old enough to know that I was to be held under the surface for a second or two—a frightening prospect for a non-swimmer like me. It turned out alright, as these things generally do, and my ten-year-old sins were washed away to be somebody else’s problem further down stream.

The origins of baptism are somewhat of a mystery. Many religions include purification rituals, including Judaism. Judaism, however, never seems to have taken ritual washing to the level demanded of John the Baptist. Even he had a rather tepid view compared to that of later Christians who made salvation without it impossible. It is perhaps the implicit admission of shame, or possibly the public spectacle of it all that makes it such a rite. Being rained on in the presence of a priest doesn’t count. Nor does, in some traditions, a mere trickle on the head. The victim must be cut off from the air above. Religion does insist on a fair bit of threat for believers as well as non. And so the water drips. Of course it’s a holiday weekend so they can’t get the maintenance guy to fix it until at least Tuesday. As we wait we know that the water will always continue to seek the lowest point.


HydrofrackingGenies can’t be put back into bottles, I’m told. They are one of the many things that once done cannot be undone. I had that sense throughout my reading of Alex Prud’homme’s Hydrofracking: What Everyone Needs to Know. Prud’homme does an admirable job in attempting a dispassionate, fair treatment of a subject that is divisive by nature. And destructive. Fracking, once done, cannot be undone. Those who are already against fracking will probably come away from this little book with a sense that ex cathedra statements are slightly more difficult to sustain. The further you read, however, the darker the palette becomes. Yes, fracking provides domestic, fairly clean fossil fuels, reducing dependency on foreign oil. It also has long-term results that remain unknown, with indicators pointing to the worrisome side of the dial. Enough negative correlations exist to give us pause for rumination. Is fracturing the shale a mile underground really a good idea? What about when we run out of shale? And the tremendous waste of water.

Environmental concerns are, by definition, ethical issues. What we do to the environment effects others, and when we effect others ethics is involved. Or should be. One of the startling facts about fracking is that it has been around for a long time. Since the 1940s. Growing up in fracking-friendly Pennsylvania I had no idea that oil companies could move in, break up the ground under my feet, and siphon out the gas and oil they found. It is an industry without strong federal regulation. In fact, due to Dick Cheney’s influence, oil companies are not required to declare what chemicals they are releasing into the environment. Trade secrets can be deadly. It feels like awaking to find Deepwater Horizon in your back yard, not having been aware that the technology to do such massive operations even existed. Who granted permission? The mighty rex lucre.

Prud’homme points out that fracking is not about to go away. Too much money is at stake. Once we’ve learned how to build atomic bombs, incendiaries will ever after seem quaint. We can’t unlearn how to frack, even as we can’t undo the process once it’s done. We have, however, abundant sources of renewable, sustainable energy, but not the will to harvest them. Our economic thinking embraces the myth of excelsior—ever upward! Fracking may not be as dirty as coal or as scary as nuclear waste, but it does leave scars forever beneath the surface. Its genie has escaped its bottle and it is far too capitalist an idea to be suppressed once it has tasted opportunity. Prud’homme’s book is rightly subtitled What Everyone Needs to Know. That which you don’t know can indeed cause harm on a scale we can’t even calculate.

Are You Being Served?

Weary from a long day at work, I stepped off the bus last night to find the street to my house barricaded. That’s seldom a good sign. From the looks of the sludgy stains along the street, it was pretty clear that we were dealing with a water-main break. Sure enough, at home, no water. As I pondered making supper, washing dishes, and brushing my teeth—all that I usually have time for before going to bed—I wondered how I’d do any of them without water. As humans do, I managed. This morning I awoke to find the faucets still empty and considered the prospect of going to work with no shower, when a natural kind of grumpiness settled over me. We expect water. We take it for granted. For much of the world, however, lack of clean water is one of the largest problems faced. Showing up for work in a modern city with dirty hair hardly seems like a major issue when children are dying of diseases due to lack of potable water. Water is a justice issue.

Some experts have been positing that the next great war (as if there’s anything such as a great war) will not be over oil, but water. Politics aside, we know that western involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts comes down to petroleum. They have what we want. Better make some friends. But water is even more basic than oil. Scientists have discovered many odd creatures in extreme environments on this planet, and all share this quality: life can’t go on without water. Even the amazing tardigrade, able to survive a decade without water, will eventually die without it. People can barely make it a day or two. We have the technology to make clean water possible for many. Instead we wonder what’s taking them so long with the repairs this time, and my gosh, it’s time to go to work and I can’t even brush my teeth. It’s a sliding scale of fairness. The ethics of economy.

I can’t put it off any longer. I’m going to need to head for the bus stop and await my fate. I live less than fifty miles from the ocean. All oceans are interconnected, covering a full three-fourths of our planet. With water we can’t drink. We emit our gases and melt our ice caps—some of the largest natural reservoirs of fresh water on the planet—thinking only of the joyous prospect of an overflowing bank account. What will we do, however, when we awake in the morning to find the water still off? Will we think of our fellow humans dying at this very moment for lack of life’s most basic necessity? Will we rush out to petition our leaders to ensure that safe water is provided to those without? Will we even remember this tomorrow? I know that like your average other guy I’ll find myself grumbling over the fact that I don’t have coffee, and it will seem that my petty world is suffering its own little apocalypse. And justice hasn’t been served.

Photo credit: Tiago Fioreze, Wiki Commons

Photo credit: Tiago Fioreze, Wiki Commons

Uisge Beatha

Water is essential for life. Life as we know it, in any case. It is no surprise, then, that many religions incorporate water into their rituals. Last week I posted about the biblical stories of Jonah and Noah, both of which involve acts that were later interpreted by Christians as baptism. Muslims use ritual ablutions as part of their worship tradition. Water is life, after all.


While wandering the halls at work, I notice the various artwork on the walls. One large, framed image has frequently caught my attention: several men are shown carrying a statue of Genesha, the Hindu elephant-headed god, through the water. Coming at this from a Christian background, I wondered what was going on since it looks like baptism. Hinduism, I know, is not a unified religion, but rather a conglomeration of many folk traditions from ancient India—one of the two seats of ancient religiosity. The stories of ancient India are colorful and diverse, and a bit of research suggests that this particular photo is likely the festival Ganesha Chaturthi, commemorating the story of how Ganesha came to have an elephant’s head. Crafted from inert matter by his mother Parvati, Ganesha was posted to watch the door while his mother bathed. Parvati’s consort Shiva returned and not knowing who the boy was, the lad’s refusal to allow anyone to enter led to a war. Eventually the Ganesha was beheaded and to appease his consort, Shiva supplied him with the head of a dead elephant and the boy resurrected. The immersion of Ganesha statues, or Visarjan, takes place as part of the Ganesha Chaturthi, during August or September.

I admit I’m not an expert on Hinduism, so some of the details may be a little off here. What strikes me, however, is the similarity between this story and that of Jesus. Like Ganesha, Jesus was associated with a modest mother, slain, and resurrected. He, too, is associated with ritual baptism. Growing up, we were taught of the many unique aspects of Christianity. We had, we were led to believe, the only resurrecting deity in the world. Our God alone could bring back from the dead, and the way in was through immersion in water. While learning about Ugaritic religion I read of Baal’s death and resurrection. Although stories of baptism haven’t survived, he also battled the sea and came out victorious. Some ideas, it seems, are particularly fit for religious reflection. The details may be unique, but the archetypes are very similar. Religions may be many things, but in the end, unique is a word that must be applied with the greatest of care. In the meanwhile, the next time I read of walking on the water, I will recall that even Asherah was know as “she who treads upon the sea.”


“On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand, and cast a wishful eye”—so begins a hymn I learned as a child and which has followed me to Bloomington, Indiana. Campus visits are an expectation of some academic editors, and as I stand and look at Jordan River on the Indiana University campus, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. I have no idea if this little stream was named after the Jordan River of Israel fame, or if it just happens that someone named Jordan was a benefactor of the university. Given that there is a Jordan Hall, and a Jordan Street, the latter seems likely. Nevertheless, whether liquid or liquidity, any Jordan in contemporary society probably traces its origins back to the river that now separates Israel from Jordan (named after the river). Many hymns celebrate the mighty Jordan without the benefit of geographical experience. The mythic river is not mighty or majestic, but a slow-moving artery that sluggishly empties into the Dead Sea. With all the history of Christian imagination, however, we like to think of it on a par with the Euphrates, or at least the Mississippi.

Jordan’s stormy banks

Biblical images have a way of catching the imagination. Although many younger people have no training in the Bible or Christianity, our culture is steeped very thoroughly in it. For some who are just rising to voting age, it must appear incredible the amount of effort politicians still put into keeping the old faith alive. It is clearly so here in Indiana. Driving down from Indianapolis I passed many signs that the Biblio-Christic pulse still throbs in the heartland. As I stopped to check my directions, I realized I’d just parked across from Pray Street. In a land where an imperative verb for a religious function stands a chance of becoming a street name, anything is possible.

After I returned from my trip to Israel many years ago, I realized that I’d neglected to take any pictures of the Jordan River. It runs like a leitmotif through our national imagination that it almost seems worth going back just to snap a shot or two. The Jordan is redolent of Eden, a land that is, according to Genesis, defined by four rivers. Water is a precious commodity in the arid Middle East. Its fluid nature seems not to have achieved the level of metaphor for those who insist on warring over religion. For gardens to bloom, there must be water and its short supply raises tensions. Water connects, however, just as readily as it separates. One of the first steps towards the great civilizations was the technology of travel by water. Why can we no longer use it for connecting rather than gerrymandering? I don’t know why this little stream is called Jordan River, but I do stand by its banks and cast a wishful eye.

Sea Dagon

The Dagon of the Hebrew Bible is a fishy character. As I mentioned in my podcast on the subject (Puff the Magic Dagon), the biblical writers seem to have considered him a sort of merman (i.e., ugly mermaid), and since nobody really had an idea what lived in the depths of the ocean in those days that was a fairly safe bet. As we continue the deep-water exploration of our very wet planet, we constantly come across fantastic creatures. Keep an eye out for Jonah’s great fish, and we can explore this watery conundrum.

Not Dagon

Not Dagon

Water is the most divine natural substance. Life evolved in water and cannot exist without it. Ancient peoples were so fascinated by it that it was supposed to be the primordial element. In the beginning there was water. Genesis 1 does not narrate the creation of water; it is already present at the beginning. Water was perceived as chaotic, indeed, monstrous even. Some have suggested that the fierce waves breaking on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean spawned tales of water’s relentless battle against the land.

Tiamat, eh, ur, Yamm? Or is it Poseidon?

Tiamat, eh, ur, Yamm? Or is it Poseidon?

Whatever the reasons may have been, the ancient sea was divinized. The Sumerians may have perceived a deity named Kur as the god of the deeps, a role held more famously by Tiamat in the Enuma Elish. Enki and Apsu were also Mesopotamian deities with aqueous associations. When the Ugaritic myths were stylused, Yamm was a sea monster while Asherah was nick-named Lady Asherah of the Sea.

She's also a yellow submarine

She's also a yellow submarine

In all of this we find no Dagon in the water. When we add Rahab, Leviathan, and Poseidon into the mix maybe it is better that way; it would be a pity should there be more gods than fish in the seas.