Logos Bible Study classes ended this week, and now I’m on summer break until September 22—two months off! I’ve been in academia all my life, but this is the first summer vacation I’ve had since I was 14 years old.
I’ll be heading off to Rwanda, Africa with my brother Don on August 17-28. Don is director of missions for his church in Pittsburgh, and I’ll be traveling with his “short-term” missionary team. I was in Africa in 2000 to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but this trip will be considerably different from that adventure! I’ll take photos and write a couple of blogs as the journey progresses.
Otherwise, I plan to relax.
I just reread Stephen Mitchell’s brilliant rendering of the Epic of Gilgamesh, written in Mesopotamia around 1,700 B.C. Sir Austin Layard excavated Nineveh in the mid-19th century, and in 1851 he discovered the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (c. 668-627 B.C.). The library contained thousands of clay tablets, including the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the text itself dating from the 18th century B.C.
One of twelve tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh,
discovered in the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal (c. 668-627 B.C.)
Gilgamesh was an historical king who reigned in the Mesopotamian city of Uruk around 2750 B.C. In the story, Gilgamesh and his companion, Enkidu, a naked wild man civilized through the erotic arts of a temple priestess, set out on a journey to battle monsters. In the process Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh, inconsolable, continues onward in a desperate quest to learn how to escape death himself and to attain eternal life. As Stephen Mitchell writes: “”Gilgamesh is a work that in the intensity of its imagination stands beside the great stories of Homer and the Bible.” Upon reading Gilgamesh for the first time, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke gushed: “Gilgamesh is stupendous! . . . I consider it to be among the greatest things that can happen to a person.”
As so many stories do, Gilgamesh tells of a hero’s journey, of a quest involving mythic presences peopling a fantastic dreamscape. But it also tells the story of how a man becomes civilized, of how he learns to rule himself and his people, and of how to act with temperance, wisdom and piety. Ultimately, it tells the story of what it means to be fully human, to love, to mourn and to seek eternity with an aching heart.
Gilgamesh is great summer reading—and Stephen Mitchell’s rendering is dazzling.
Dr. Creasy and fellow “Peregrinos” in Sarria, Spain.
We walked the Camino de Santiago once again this year, following the last segment of the “French” route across Galicia, northern Spain. I posted a blog on our adventure on May 17, “Camino de Santiago, Redeux.” Just this past week we finished the Camino DVD, so here it is for you to watch! As usual, Ana did a great job with the photography, and Andrew put it all together.
Next week I’ll get back to “Egyptian Myth Busters.”
By the way, on June 28th we had an excellent day-long Saturday Seminar on “Egypt, the Cradle of Christianity” with our good friend and colleague, Emad Samir. Emad is an Egyptologist and Scholar in Residence with Logos Bible Study. He and his family currently live in Orange County. I audio recorded all four seminar sessions, and I’ll post them this coming week on my web site, logosbiblestudy.com.
Last week I began a series of blogs titled, “Egyptian Myth Busters!” and we smashed our first myth: “The Israelites Built the Pyramids.” As we discovered, when Abraham visited Egypt in Genesis 12 around 2,000 B.C., many of the pyramids were already over 500 years old. When Moses was in Egypt the pyramids were over 1,000 years old!
This week I’m posting a video, “Pyramids, Mummies & Resurrection,” a video I shot on a recent teaching tour to Egypt. After last week’s blog we now know something about the pyramids, but why did the Egyptians build them to begin with?
Listen and learn, grasshopper!
The Great Sphinx of Giza
Egypt was the greatest civilization in the ancient world, the setting for pivotal events in Scripture. Abraham and Sarah flee to Egypt to escape famine. Joseph is sold as a slave into Egypt, yet twenty years later he becomes “Prime Minister” of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Jacob and his family leave the Promised Land for Egypt, where the family lives for nearly half a millennium, becoming slaves in the process. And Egypt becomes the place of refuge for Mary, Joseph and Jesus as they escape the slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem.
In Scripture, Egypt looms large. Yet, most people—even serious bible students—know little about Egypt, ancient or modern, and what they do know is often wrong. Now that we are studying verse-by-verse through the book of Exodus in class, I’d like to set the record straight with a series of blogs that I’ve titled: Egyptian Myth Busters.
So, here goes.
Myth #1 The Israelites built the pyramids.
King Zosar’s royal architect, Imhotep, built the “Step” Pyramid as part of a vast funerary complex at Saqqara, Egypt. Not a genuine pyramid, but six mastabas stacked one atop another, the Step Pyramid dates to 2665 B.C.
Dr. Creasy lecturing at the Step Pyramid, Saqqara, Egypt.
The shape of the Step Pyramid suggested the idea of an authentic pyramid, however, and one generation later, Huni, the son of Zosar, began the first attempt at a genuine pyramid at Maydoum, about 110 kilometers south of today’s Cairo. It was not successful, and today it lies in ruins. His son, King Sneferu, the grandson of Zosar, began the construction of the first surviving pyramid. He started by building at a 52-degree angle, but it was too steep. Halfway up, he switched the angle to 43 degrees, and he completed the pyramid. It created, however, a “bent” appearance.
“Bent” Pyramid, Dashur, Egypt.
This is the only pyramid retaining most of its smooth limestone casing.
Not to be deterred, Sneferu moved ½ kilometer north and constructed the “Red” Pyramid. Built out of pink limestone, the Red Pyramid is the first authentic pyramid with 43-degree flat sides and three interior burial chambers with corbelled ceilings, a brilliant engineering innovation, which directs the weight of the pyramid outward rather than downward, avoiding the inevitable cracked ceilings and walls that would result form flat ceilings.
“Red” Pyramid, Dashur, Egypt.
Red Pyramid entrance shaft.
Red Pyramid’s corbelled ceiling in the first of three interior chambers.
When most people think of the pyramids in Egypt they think of the three on the Giza Plateau: the great pyramid of Cheops, and its side-by-side mates, the pyramids of Chephrin and Mecrinis. But in fact, there are 138 pyramids in Egypt (discovered as of 2008), and the Step Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid are among the most interesting.
Pyramids were built during a relatively short period of Egyptian history. The last Egyptian king to be buried in a pyramid seems to have been Ahmose I, founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1552 B.C.). The pyramids were most certainly not built by the Israelites, as Hollywood would have us believe: when Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt, the pyramids were already over 800 years old, and the last pyramid was built before Moses was born.
All Photography by Ana Maria Vargas
Logos Bible Study Peregrinos as we begin our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
All photos by Ana Maria Vargas
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
“Home Thoughts from Abroad,” 1845
On May 2nd I arrived in Madrid, Spain.
After the delicious pastas of Italy, rich wines, late night café conversations, grappa and life steeped in a subtle, ironic sprezzatura, Madrid brought me back to solid ground with its cheeses on toast, ham of every variety and tall, cold Mahou beer on tap.
I spent the entire first day in the Prado, the jewel in Madrid’s crown, a stunning collection of art representing the best of Europe, Gothic through 19th century: El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Fra Angelico, Titian, Caravaggio, Bosch, Rubens.
Fourteen others joined me over the next couple of days as we prepared to walk the final 115-kilometer segment of the Camino de Sanitago’s “French Route,” from Sarria to Santiago. Last year was my first “Camino,” which began in Fatima, Portugal and traversed north to Santiago. It was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. This year I didn’t know what to expect, much like the anticipation of revisiting a first love or striving to recreate a perfect childhood memory, colored, filtered and shaped by time. What would the Camino provide this year?
The long drive from Madrid to Sarria took a full day, stopping in Samos for a visit to the Benedictine monastery of St. Julian. Founded in the 6th century by Martin of Braga, the monastery was abandoned during the Moslem invasion of Galicia (pronounced “gal-ee’ theia”—with a lisp, by the locals), and then reinhabited with the reconquest around 760. From 960 onward the community lived under the Rule of St. Benedict, and with the Cluniac reform in the Middle Ages St. Julian became a monastic powerhouse. Twice destroyed by fire (in 1518 and 1951), the monastery rose twice like a phoenix from the ashes, and it is still active today.
Benedictine monastery of St. Julian, Galicia, Spain
After spending the night in Sarria we began our pilgrimage to Santiago, walking the first 23 kilometers to Portomarín through rolling hills, forests, quaint villages and beautiful, fertile farmland. Along a dirt path, edged by a stone wall with fields on either side and a bright azure sky sparkling above, I heard the call of a cuckoo bird.
On the trail to Portomarín, to the sound of cuckoos!
Although they exist on every continent except Antarctica, the cuckoo is a seriously secretive bird, nesting in dense wooded areas and feeding on a banquet of insects, including enormous, noxious, hairy caterpillars that other more persnickety birds avoid, as you or I might avoid a swollen cockroach floating belly-up in a bowl of chicken soup. The cuckoo’s call both marks its territory and pleads for a mate, producing little cuckoos in short order. Ever frugal, the cuckoo is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of other birds, where the cuckoo chicks are fed and cared for by the host mother, often evicting their legitimate brothers and sisters by tossing them headlong out of the nest.
Amazing what one learns on the Camino!
Crossing the River Miño we entered Portomarín, a small town of about 2,000 people that was originally built next to a Roman bridge. In the 1960s, though, the River Miño was dammed to create the Belesar reservoir, putting the old village of Portomarín under water. The most important buildings of the old village, including the fortress-like Church of San Juan of Portomarín, were moved brick-by-brick and reconstructed in the new town. When the dam is at low-level one can still see the ghost-like remains of the old town and the ancient bridge shrouded in shadows beneath the water.
Next morning we headed out once again on a 25-kilometer hike to Palas de Rei. The early-morning fog hung in the chill air, embracing the forest like a lover reluctant to leave. The sweet early-morning solitude of a dirt trail through dense woods; the forest awakening, quickening with life; birds chirping, frogs croaking, chipmunks scratching, leaves dripping water, plunk, plunk, plunk; the crunch of pebbles beneath my boots. Along the way, inspired by the morning, Mary, my fellow Peregrino, asked me to recite Gerard Manly Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” (1918):
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-coulour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Alfonso, Penny, our guide Fernando and Dr. Creasy on the trail to Palas de Rei.
Like Hopkins’ abbreviated form of the sonnet, reducing the eight lines of the octave to six and the six lines of the sestet to four, our abbreviated “Camino,” reducing the 780 kilometers of St. Jean-Pied-du-Port to Santiago to the 115 kilometers of Sarria to Santiago, produces an intense focus on “dappled things,” little unnoticed details of the walk: the pleated petals of a flower in a crannied wall, the amethyst shadings of wisteria on a shadowed gate, the scared hoof of a brindled cow.
“Dappled things” mirror the plentitude of God’s grandeur.
Flowers in a Crannied Wall, one of many “dappled things” on the Camino.
From Palas de Rei we continued a short 15 kilometers to Melide, an easy walk this day. Like our abbreviated walk, both Palas de Rei and Melide are abbreviated towns: Palas de Rei consists of a mere 3,700 people and Melide about 8,000. Along the way we trek on cobble stone streets, pass pristinely cultivated family farms . . . and stare down a very large bull!
Bull fighting, or corrida de toros, is a cherished tradition in Spain, dating back to 1765 and the grand fighting venue of La Maestranza in Seville. But bull fighting stretches back into antiquity. In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving work of literature, our hero Gilgamesh fights and kills the “Bull of Heaven”—no mean feat: “The Bull seemed indestructible, for hours they fought, till Gilgamesh dancing in front of the bull, lured it with his tunic and bright weapons, and Enkidu [Gilgamesh’s companion] thrust his sword deep into the bull’s neck, and killed it.”
Today many view bull fighting as a blood-sport; indeed, many see it as no sport at all, but rather a cruel slaughter, for the bull will most certainly not leave the arena alive. Yet, the terrible beauty of the fight is undeniable as the marador leads an aggressive, fierce 1,500 lb. animal in a complex dance of death, a ballet of extraordinary grace, elegance and courage.
Wisely, we walked away from our bull . . . rather quickly, with no semblance of grace!
The next stage of our pilgrimage saw another short day, fifteen kilometers from Melide to Arzúa. As we walked each day, long or short, I came to appreciate the small pleasure of our mid-morning and mid-afternoon stops for refreshments along the way: Coffee with milk, sweet melindres or—if one caves in to temptation—pulpo a feira, traditional Galician octopus boiled to al dente, sprinkled with fleur de sel and paprika, drizzled with olive oil and served on wooden plates. Tradition holds that one does not drink water with pulpo, so a young red wine accompanies the dish, or perhaps a large draught of Mahou beer, more to my liking in the late afternoon after a day’s walk.
Dr. Creasy, Jeannie and Linda feasting on pulpo a feria and beer!
From Arzúa we set out on our longest walk, 31 kilometers to Lavacolla, a largely uphill trek that covers a variety of terrain, from farmland to village to wooded glens. It was the one time on our Camino when I thought we might be lost.
The Camino is well marked with yellow arrows pointing the way, as well as traditional scallop shells, but by late afternoon the arrows and shells were few and far between. I could have sworn that we had covered 31 kilometers—and I hadn’t seen an arrow or a shell for a long while, so what to do? I was walking with Ana, Jeannie and Linda, so they sensibly suggested that we stop and ask for directions.
Ask for directions? Me? Men don’t ask for directions, we have built-in navigation systems; asking for directions would seriously compromise the machismo brotherhood. Directions, phooey!
We trekked on, only to find a tucked away bar that served very large glasses of Mahou draught beer. Beer? Hummm. I thought we might stop for a little refreshment. While I was taking off my pack, Ana chatted up the bartender in Spanish, and he just happened to mention that Lavacolla was another five or six kilometers from where we sat . . . out the front door, turn left and walk up a very long, steep hill.
So that’s what we did.
And sure enough, I found our hotel in Lavacolla. No problemo!
Don’t need no stinking directions. Here it is!
On our last day we made our way from Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela, our pilgrimage destination. I felt a curious mix of anticipation and regret: anticipation to arrive in Santiago, a truly beautiful city with its stunning cathedral built over the crypt of St. James himself, and regret that our walk had come to an end so very quickly.
There is something about a pilgrimage, about walking all day, day after day, that cleanses the soul, centers one on what is important and creates a sense of proper priorities in one’s life. As I noted, my first Camino last year was a profound spiritual experience; this year’s was not. Rather, the Camino provided quiet time to think, a time to experience the elemental pleasure of simply walking, breathing clean air and enjoying life without cable news, the latest manufactured political crisis, the chatter of sleazy politicians and even sleazier commentators, computers, mobile phones and all the rest of the nonsense that clutters up our lives, creating the illusion that we are somehow essential and significant. The Camino offered me the ability to see the small things, the “dappled things” and to appreciate the beauty of life in all its infinite variety.
There is a saying along the Way: “The Camino will provide.” And this year for me, the Camino provided clarity and a much-needed respite from the annoying static of life. Spiritually and physically refreshed, I am ready to step on stage once again.
Dr. Creasy and Ana, Peregrinos forever!
A Pilgrim’s Prayer
O God, who brought your servant Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans, protecting him in his wanderings, who guided the Hebrew people across the desert, we ask that you watch over us, your servants, as we walk in the love of your name to Santiago de Compostela.
Be for us our companion on the walk,
Our guide at the crossroads,
Our breath in our weariness,
Our protection in danger,
Our albergue on the Camino,
Our shade in the heat,
Our light in the darkness,
Our consolation in our discouragements,
And our strength in our intentions.
So that with your guidance we may arrive safe and sound at the end of the Road
and enriched with grace and virtue we return safely to our homes filled with joy.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Dr. Creasy and 68 Logos Bible Study students journey to Rome
for the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.
I love Rome.
In my estimation, the five great cities of the world are New York, London, Paris, Rome and Istanbul, and I’ve been to each of them many times. But this trip to Rome was unique, for 68 Logos Bible Study students accompanied me to attend the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, an historic event. Never before in history had two living popes (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis) canonized two popes who had been their colleagues.
We arrived in Rome last Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning we had the privilege of attending an audience with Pope Francis—along with 150,000 other people! We arrived at Vatican Square early in the morning, with a light rain falling. When the gates opened we dashed forward, securing seats about 20 rows from where Francis would speak, front and center!
Msgr. Duncanson and Dr. Creasy waiting in the rain!
I have attended many papal audiences, but this was my first with Francis. He arrived in his “pope mobile,” more like a large, open golf cart, which zigzagged through the crowd, making numerous stops as Francis walked among the faithful, shaking hands, kissing babies, smiling and thoroughly enjoying himself. My colleague, friend and co-host, Msgr. Richard Duncanson, commented thoughtfully that we have been blessed in our age with four genius popes: John XXIII re-envisioned the church, ushering in Vatican II with its seismic reforms; John Paul II embraced God’s people with an inclusive global vision and sparkling, charismatic personality; Benedict XVI brought depth and intellect to the Church’s thinking; and now Francis brings the warmth and love of an engaged and tender pastor.
Pope Francis about to begin his “audience.”
It is a good time for the Church.
As we awaited Sunday’s big event of the canonization, we enjoyed the delights of Rome and Italy. On Thursday we toured the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s; on Friday we took a day-trip to Assisi; and on Saturday we toured classical Rome, including the Coliseum, the Forum, the Mamertime Prison (where both Peter and Paul sat on “death row” prior to their martyrdom) and the catacombs.
And of course we ate–delicious dinners in Rome’s splendid restaurants, wonderful wine and tangy gelato!
Then Sunday arrived. We knew there would be a huge crowd, and there was: 880,000 people in Vatican Square and the surrounding side streets! But there were also multiple venues around the city where we could participate in the canonization via “jumbo-tron” television screens. Some of our group headed for Vatican Square at midnight to spend the wee-hours in the rain, waiting to get into the square; most of us elected to sleep in, leaving at 8:00 in the morning for the Forum, a 10-minute walk from our hotel, where three jumbo-trons had been set up. At the Forum the crowds were large, but nothing like at the Vatican. We had seen Pope Francis up close and personal at the papal audience; we had experienced very large crowds at Assisi; and we knew what it was to stand in the rain, waiting in line.
Going to the Forum for the canonization was a good call.
Dr. Creasy and students attend the canonization at the Forum venue.
Our pilgrimage to Rome was not a flagship Logos teaching tour, as our Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Mediterranean adventures are. It was an event, a happening: an invitation to a huge party. As I told the group before we left California: “The canonization will be a combination of New Year’s Eve at Times Square, the Super Bowl and Woodstock!” And I was right. Rome crackled with energy, filled with people from all over the world, eager to celebrate this extraordinary, unique event.
And we were there, eye witnesses to history.
(Photography by Ana Maria Vargas)
Dr. Creasy and students are on the way to Rome and the Camino de Santiago!
Last fall I started our final verse-by-verse study through the entire Bible, Genesis through Revelation, with the revised 2nd edition Catholic Study Bible (all 72 books of the Septuagint canon), including new PowerPoint presentations and beautiful works of art illustrating each lesson, new introductions, outlines, bibliographies and comprehensive syllabi for each book of the Bible. The study will take 7-8 years to complete!
My bible teaching has its roots in “The English Bible as Literature,” a course that I taught for many years while on the English faculty at UCLA. All of my courses have qualified for undergraduate academic credit at either UCLA or the University of San Diego.
In this new cycle, I have upped the academic bar, elevating The Bible to a Master’s degree-level course. It really is “the most comprehensive, in-depth bible study program on the planet!”® I finished teaching Genesis last fall, a 10-week, 20-lesson course and this week I finished Matthew, a 12-week, 24-lesson course.
On May 18th I’ll begin our spring quarter with a 10-week course, as we move back to the Hebrew Scriptures for Exodus and Leviticus. Please join us in live weekly classes in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego or online!
Between now and May 18th I’ll be leading a great Easter adventure. On April 21st my good friend and colleague Msgr. Richard Duncanson and I will be leading 67 of our students to Rome for the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. It should be quite an experience, as Rome expects the largest gathering of people in the city’s 2,500+ year history! I suspect it will be something like a combination of New Year’s Eve at Times Square, the Super Bowl and Woodstock: a real “happening!”
Then on April 29th fifteen of us will make our way to Madrid, Spain to walk the final route of the French Camino de Santiago, the “Way” of St. James. We walked the Camino last year, following the Portuguese route from Fatima, Portugal to Santiago and we all agreed that it was one of the greatest spiritual experiences of our lives. Here’s a video of last year’s pilgrimage.
Please keep us in your prayers over the next month as we journey to Rome and walk the Camino. I hope you will join us next year for another set of great teaching adventures, including: walking the 43-mile “Jesus Trail” from Nazareth to Capernaum; “In the Footsteps of Jesus,” our flagship Israel teaching tour (my 55th tour of Israel!); “In the Footsteps of Paul,” our flagship teaching tour of Turkey (with the seven churches of Revelation); and a couple of surprises, to boot. Stay tuned!