“Joseph and Asenath” is in the news this week, with some tabloid Discovery Channel show breathing heavily about a lost Gospel and (of course) Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene.

The story “Joseph and Asenath” is well-known. It’s an apocryphal (Bible fanfic) story about the Old Testament figure of Joseph, and the wife that Pharaoh gave him, Potiphar’s daughter Asenath. They fall in love before they get married, because they both hear about the good character of the other. But Joseph is reluctant to marry a Gentile. Asenath is upset, and Joseph prays for her conversion. Asenath also fasts and prays to Joseph’s God and is converted. On the eighth day, an angel comes to tell her that her prayer is granted. He finishes the job by miraculously giving her various things to eat (bread, wine, honeycomb, honey that turns to blood — there are a lot of different versions!) and thus transforming her into a Jewish girl. She and Joseph get married and live happily ever after.*

Then there’s a second part, where the same brothers who avenged Dinah by killing her rapist (and the rest of town…) protect their new sister-in-law from Pharaoh’s son, who wanted to marry Asenath instead. This is opposed by some of the other brothers (the kids of Leah and Rachel’s maids), who want to kill Asenath (and Benjamin, while they’re at it) and blame it on Pharaoh’s son. The good guys win, they bind up the bad guys’ wounds, and everybody becomes friends in the end.

It’s a probably Jewish-written apocryphal text. (There is a legal principle in Jewish law that converts are “new bodies,” and therefore anything that applied to their Gentile selves doesn’t apply to their new Jewish selves.)  But Christians liked the story also (love story! angels! Gentiles enter the Covenant!), so there’s about five zillion copies in five zillion vernaculars. Asenath was a popular heroine to Christians of the Middle Ages.

So this particular ms of this widespread story (the ms that is featured in the Discovery Channel show, which is in Syriac and from the 5th century) apparently there’s some comment about “Oh, yeah, and I just told you this story because it’s an allegory for Our Lord and how He brought the Gentiles into God’s family.” The comment is incomplete, so the tabloid documentary guys are theorizing that the missing part said, “It’s an allegory for how that Jesus guy married that hot Magdalene! Totally!”

And apparently idiots are not getting the point. Mary of Magdala may have been a lot of things, but she sure as heck wasn’t a Gentile. Gentile-born Jewish converts and Gentile-descended Christians were the point.

Anyway, I advise you to read “Joseph and Asenath” and ignore the Discovery Channel silliness. It’s a good story.

“Joseph and Asenath” roundup on the Early Jewish Writings site. The story also exists in very early Armenian, Ethiopian, Slavonic, and Latin versions. Article from the Jewish Encyclopedia.

“Joseph and Asenath” translated by Brooks. The foreword lists the medieval Latin, German, French, Icelandic, and Greek versions, among others.

Notes on “The Storie of Asneth,” a Middle English poem. The actual poem. Like the Latin version, this poem has Asenath as a sort of young Belle Dame Sans Merci who falls in love with no man, but is particularly reluctant to marry an ex-slave. However, when she actually sees him she realizes he is worthy of respect, and begins a process of repentance that leads to conversion. This version also reprints Vincent of Beauvais’ Latin text of the story.

Scholarly roundup of news stories and academic reactions at the Paleojudaica site. (The general reaction is “Shyeah, no.” Scholars love “Asenath,” and they teach various versions of the text in various disciplines, so they’re not being shy about it.)

*The other versions are “Joseph wasn’t too worried about it, because Jewish guys were still okay with marrying Gentiles,” “Asenath converted non-miraculously and that counts too,” and “Asenath was the daughter of Dinah, whom you never hear anything more about because she moved to Egypt to get away from her brothers, and then Dinah died and Potiphar’s wife took Asenath as her daughter, or maybe Dinah was Potiphar’s first wife who died.”

Among the catechetical establishment in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, lectionary-based or liturgical catechesis in the RCIA has a near-cult status.  It dominates the resources, texts, and training materials circulated in parishes here, and the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, the format’s biggest booster, serves as a parallel magisterium and finishing school.  (Over the years it’s also served as a very useful pretext for any RCIA director seeking to shut-down the suggested use of a catechism, as your host learned in the last decade.)  All of this is balderdash, of course.  One need not use a lectionary-based format in the RCIA, as this article demonstrates fairly clearly.  In fact, one need not attend RCIA at all to become Catholic; most converts come to the Church from other Christian communities, and the RCIA is specifically for catechumens, i.e., the unbaptized.  In any event, one of the high priestesses of this “near-cult” has been invited by the archdiocesan offices of Worship and Evangelization & Catechesis to speak in Cincinnati and Dayton later this month.  You can find more information here.

Keith Richards once said of Sam Cooke, “When other singers hear him, they go back to pumping gas.”  (I know I’ve used that quote before, but it’s so … perfect.)  Catholic writers must have the same reaction to Peter Kreeft, whose output in his “golden years” has, if anything, only increased and improved.  His latest, on spiritual direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, has me counting down the days to its November 28 release date.  Here’s the book’s “summa” from the publisher, Ignatius Press:

From a lifetime of studying the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, popular author Peter Kreeft says that his amazement has continually increased not only at Aquinas’ theoretical, philosophical brilliance and sanity, but also at his personal, practical wisdom, his “existential bite.” Yet this second dimension of St. Thomas has usually been eclipsed by the other. Kreeft wrote this book to help bring that sun out from its eclipse. He provides easily digestible samples of the religious wisdom of Aquinas.

Here are 359 pieces of wisdom from St. Thomas’s masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae , which Kreeft says “are literally more valuable than all the kingdoms of this world because they will help you to attain ‘the one thing needful,’ or ‘the greatest good’ “, the ultimate end and purpose and meaning of life. Three of its names are “being a saint,” “beatitude” (“supreme happiness”) and “union with God.” That was the principle for Kreeft in choosing which passages to use: do they help you to attain your ultimate end – sanctity, happiness, union with God? St. Thomas would have agreed with writer Leon Bloy, who often wrote that in the end “there is only one tragedy in life: not to have been a saint”.

These 359 gold nuggets have helped Kreeft in the struggles of real life, to live in the real world, to grow closer to the Lord, and he hopes they will do the same for his readers. After each passage directly from Aquinas, Kreeft provides brief spiritual commentary to help explain it and apply it – practical, personal, existential, “livable” thoughts.

He has framed these readings as answers to questions that people actually ask their spiritual directors. Each answer is taken word for word from Aquinas.

Among the many topics Aquinas and Kreeft cover here include:

  • The problem of evil
  • Interpreting the Bible
  • Love vs. knowledge
  • Reconciling justice and mercy
  • Human freedom and divine grace
  • Angels and demons
  • The need for theology
  • Predestination and free will
  • Three kinds of goods

“Its notoriously difficult to synopsize Aquinas on anything. However, if I were to choose someone to do the job well, it would be Peter Kreeft. Many will find this presentation helpful to develop their own replies to the questions that bother the minds of today’s searchers.”
- Romanus Cessario, O.P., Saint John’s Seminary, Brighton, Mass.

On October 27th, Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and talked about evolution as one of God’s probable methods of Creation. News reports in English had the Pope saying, “God is not a divine being.”

What the Pope actually said was, “….Dio non è un demiurgo….” which is the Italian for “God is not a demiurge.”

In heretical Gnostic theology, the creator of the material universe was an evil or depressed lesser being called the Demiurge [Builder] who was often identified with Satan, whereas God was a higher being (or beings, or eight beings, or….) who never wanted matter created at all. Christian Gnostics justified this term (like many others they used) because it was used once in the Bible in Hebrews 11:10 – “For [Abraham] looked for a city that has foundations, the Architect and Builder of which is God.” (Of course St. Paul didn’t mean it like they meant it.)

So yeah, maybe some of you will believe me now about the pathetic inaccuracy of the current Vatican English translations. :)

UPDATE: Actually, it wasn’t an official or even an unofficial Vatican translation, so apologies to vatican.va and the translators! (However, the English version still isn’t up as of 10/31/2014, so what’s up with that? Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, but no German or Czech or English? Are you guys on vacation?)

No, it was Religion News Service that messed up. Here’s Dawn Eden’s initial story on Get Religion, with comments from RNS: “Religion News Service monkeys around with that Pope Francis evolution speech”. Here’s a story about the RNS comments, and Get Religion’s defense of Dawn Eden being critical. Basically, they don’t expect reporters to know stuff or to be able to look stuff up. Reporters don’t dig for information. (Yeah, there’s a surprise.)

For the past month or so, I’ve had the pleasure of assisting at the 7:00 am weekday Mass at Madeira’s St. Gertrude parish, long administered and staffed by the Dominicans, whose priory is on campus. The Mass is always celebrated reverently and faithfully, and the preaching is top-notch — this is the Order of Preachers, after all! Fr. André-Joseph LaCasse, O.P., the pastor, is frequently the celebrant, and his homilies are personal favorites. Speaking from notes, he appears to put in as much prep time for a Monday as he does for a Sunday; his preaching is structured, doctrinal, and practical. So it comes as no surprise that he uses his bulletin to similar ends. For the past several years, he has penned “little catechisms” on several topics, e.g., on how to receive Holy Communion, and his latest, from yesterday’s bulletin, concerns “Godparents/Christian Witnesses for the Sacrament of Baptism.” Here’s a snippet:

Often we run into misunderstandings concerning who is permitted to act as a Godparent for the Sacrament of Baptism. So, I believe it is important to explain the Godparent’s role with proper catechesis.

The term “Godparent” only applies to baptized Catholics. Protestants cannot act as Godparents, but as a “Christian Witness” to the baptism. There must be at least one Catholic Godparent for a person to be baptized in the Catholic Faith. In the case of emergency baptism, this is waived. There may be one Godfather, one Godmother, or one of each [Canon Law 873]. In infant baptism, the Godparent(s) together with the parents assist the baptized to lead the Christian life, primarily by example, in raising a child in the Catholic faith [Canon Law 872].

Readers might find interesting a “comment controversy” on the website for the Cincinnati Enquirer  involving an accusation by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the recognized dialogue partner of the USCCB and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, of “hate crimes” against a Moslem candidate for public office in nearby Butler County.  Here’s a link to the story and here’s the text of my comment:

CAIR, the US front for the Hamas terrorist organization, has zero credibility on “hate crimes”; you can’t so much as cock an eyebrow at a Moslem on a bus without it making their notorious and risible list of such crimes.* Steven Pomerantz, former FBI assistant director and chief of the FBI’s counterterrorism section under President Clinton, once charged that CAIR’s activities “effectively give aid to international terrorist groups.” Learn more about this dangerous organization at the following links:

http://www.anti-cair-net.org/

http://www.meforum.org/916/cair-islamists-fooling-the-establishment

* It’s worth noting that this comment, originally posted on Oct. 17, disappeared from the Enquirer’s website, most likely after CAIR complained to the editors, one of their tactics for silencing critics. I posted a follow-up comment on Oct. 18 noting its removal, and now my original comment is back. It’s also worth noting that the editors have removed from the story the unfounded charges of CAIR representative Karen Dabdoub. In any event, at a time when most major news organizations discount CAIR’s claims due to the group’s track record of deception and their well-documented ties to terrorist organizations, it’s a shame the Enquirer still treats them as a legitimate news source.

Our quote of the week comes from the level-headed Fr. Dwight Longenecker in his boldly charitable essay, “Advice for the Pope in Light of the Synod”:

Compassion without content is mere sentimentality. Mercy without truth is an empty gesture. Kindness without correction is cowardly.

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