Parts of the United States Most People Don’t Even Know Exist

Parts of the United States Most People Don’t Even Know Exist

The United States has fifty states, right? We tend to think of the United States only in terms of these states. And if we’re being honest, a lot of Americans even forget about Alaska and Hawaii because they are not contiguous with the other forty-eight. But there is far more to the United States than just these fifty states.

Did you know that at one time Cuba and the Philippines were also part of the United States? Or that the US military fought a pretty bloody series of conflicts in the Philippies in the early 20th century?

How Do States Come into the USA?

The Northwest Ordinance is an important piece of US legislation, passed in 1787 by the Congress of the Confederation of the United States and then reinstituted in 1789 after the US Constitution was ratified. The Northwest Ordinance guaranteed that any US held territory could enter the union as a state on equal footing with the other states once it met the minimum requirements of statehood. Eventually, the implications of the Northwest Ordinance contributed to the causes of the US Civil War, and it took a while for the United States to sort out everything; but it has been the law of the land for the entirety of our nation’s existence and has been one of the fundamental instruments of guaranteeing that US territories are always treated equally.

Until the mid-19th century, the United States was uninterested in acquiring territory beyond North America. Even then, there were serious debates raised in Congress over the acquisition of land like the Louisiana and Alaska Purchases in 1803 and 1867, respectively. Still, as Americans moved into these newly acquired lands, they carved out states which were readily admitted to the Union under the Northwest Ordinance.

Unfortunately, during the late 19th and early 20th century, the United States government began to develop increasingly imperialistic tendencies, and the nation began to acquire territories far beyond the North American continent. Worse still, many of these lands were populated by people with different colors of skin who spoke languages other than English. This was the nadir of race relations, when xenophobia and rabid nationalism gave birth to segregation. It was also the time of ruthless commercialism, when large and powerful corporations dictated much of government policy with an aim at greater profits.

As the tentacles of US power spread over these territories which were either claimed for commercial reasons or given to the US through international treaties, the questions of how to administer them and whether they should be permitted statehood became serious concerns.  Essentially what happened was that the United States stopped adding states in 1912 once Arizona completed the statehood of the continental area.

Only two other states – Alaska and Hawaii – have been added in the last century; and these were added because of the enormous economic boon they provided to private business. The outlying territories, some of them just a short trip away from the continental holdings, were placed in a bewildering array of relationships with the nation. They were basically placed in a subservience to the federal government through a different interpretation of the “Territorial Clause” of the US Constitution:

The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State. (Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2)

Since the jurisdiction of these territories is not placed in the hands of the populace of the territories but rather in the hands of Congress, appeals for statehood are often denied. Congress simply refuses to allow them into the union.

Still, the people born in these territories are United States citizens, and as such are supposed to enjoy all the privileges and rights of US Citizens. They pay federal taxes (although Puerto Ricans are generally exempt from federal income tax because of their status as a “free associated state”) and partake in federal programs.

Here then are the territories of the United States and a little of the story of why they are US territory.

1856: The Guano Islands

Because guano was a vital component of fertilizers, the US Congress passed the Guano Islands Act, which stated:

Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States.

Under this legislation, the US claimed over 100 islands, although they have rescinded most of the claims. The remaining islands are mostly small and uninhabited, but they remain US territory.

  • In the Pacific Ocean: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnson Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Midway Atoll
  • In the Caribbean Sea: Navassa Island, Bajo Nuevo Island, and Seranilla Bank

1898: The Spanish-American War

The United States acquired virtually all Spanish-held territories in the Pacific and Caribbean, including the Philippines and Cuba. Cuba almost immediately declared their independence in 1902. While the Philippines were granted their independence in the wake of World War II, many of these territories remained in US hands:

  • In the Pacific: Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • In the Caribben Sea: The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Under the Treaty of Paris, the Spanish retained the Northern Mariana Islands while ceding Guam, which is the southern island of the same archipelago, to the US. Then they sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany. After World War I, the islands went to the League of Nations, who handed them over to the Japanese. During World War II, the Japanese then invaded Guam. After the war, all the Mariana Islands were given to the United States, but Guam remains separate from the rest of the chain. The Mariana Islands are a good example of a territory which could easily be a state. The total population of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands is over 200,000; and the people are considered US citizens.

While Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are considered organized territories, their governments operate wholly under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Free Associated State (or as it is commonly called, Commonwealth) of Puerto Rico is technically an independent government even though it is US territory and populated by US citizens. The citizens cannot vote in federal elections and are not represented in Congress. The people of Puerto Rico have repeatedly called for statehood and been denied the right by the US Congress.

1899-1900: Pacific Islands

In 1899 and in the wake of the Spanish-American War, the United States simply annexed Wake Island as a telegraph station. Although one of the most remote places on earth (nearly 600 miles from the next island), the island became a major stopping point first in shipping and then in aviation. When commercial aviation stopped needing fields in the Pacitic, the United States Air Force took over operations and uses it for missile testing.

Also in 1899, the United States and Germany split the islands of Samoa between them. This was in the wake of armed conflict between vessels of the two nations’ navy during the Samoan Civil Wars. With a population of nearly 55,000 US citizens, American Samoa consists of five volcanic islands – Tutuila, Aunu’u, Ofu, Olosega, Ta’u – and two coral atolls – Swains Atoll and Rose Atoll.

In 1900, the United States annexed the archipelago of Hawaii and formed it into a territory. When the territory was organized into a state in 1959, the Palymra Atoll was excluded and became a territory. It has no permanent inhabitants, but since it remains an incorporated unorganized territory, Palymra is the southern most US territory.

1917: The Treaty of the Danish West Indies

The US Virgin Islands were originally administrated by Denmark, but the United States had been attempting to purchase at least two of the islands for their Caribbean naval base since the US Civil War. In 1916, the US finally purchased the three large islands – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John –  for $25,000,000. The deal was finalized in 1917, only five days before the United States entered World War I.




Mormonism is Not Orthodox Christianity

Many Christian apologists who answer Mormon doctrine do so on the basis of looking deep into their lesser known beliefs and pointing out that there is some wild stuff going on there. For example, Joseph Smith taught that Methuselah and Abraham used the urim and the thummim as magical telescopes to discover the star Kolob, which is said to be the star nearest to the throne of Elohim. That’s pretty wild stuff right there. But such criticisms are not a solid argument against Mormonism, anymore than arguing that most Flat Earth nutters claim to be Christians.

There are, however, blatant statements in the public instruments of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which defy biblical orthodoxy. Here I will consider just a small part of what is posted on their main proselytization site, None of this is hidden. It is all posted on their website in plain view. When a Mormon says that he/she is a Christian, you should have reason for pause. The beliefs represented here are at odds – great odds – with the Scriptures themselves. They are reliant not upon the Bible but upon additional “revelations” given exclusively to the Mormons.

I will content myself to address two main areas here. First, the nature of God and man that the Mormons adhere to makes a mockery of the Bible. Second, I will address the Book of Mormon, which is the basis for almost all of the misunderstandings concerning the nature of God and man. The headings provided are the headings on

Home > Beliefs > Godhead

Like him [God] we are divine in our nature and purpose…We are all God’s spirit children.

Like us, Jesus was created in the image of God, the Father, and They both have perfected bodies of flesh and bone.

One of the core tenets of the Mormon religion is that God is and always has been a physical being. To be specific, the creator is Elohim. One of his spiritual children was Yahweh, who eventually came to earth as Jesus to progress to true divinity (Gospel Doctrine, 70). Jesus had to progress to this fulness of deity through the resurrection (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:33).

Understand that the Mormons believe that Jesus enacted the progression as the firstborn of Elohim, but this progression is available to all true believers, since they are also the spiritual children of God. Jesus was simply a volunteer to put the plan into effect (The Mortal Messiah, 1:48-49).

When the Mormons speak about God, they are speaking about Jesus and only Jesus. Joseph Smith made this plain. “The Father has never dealt with man directly and personally since the fall, and he has never appeared except to introduce and bear record of the Son.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:27). They disavow any knowledge of Elohim – this distant god – because Yahweh/Jesus is the god of this world.

Home > Beliefs > The Creation and the Fall

Like Adam and Eve, we left paradise to seek progression, and we can return the same way they did.

Mormons believe that human beings are eternal beings who existed before their birth on earth (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29) in a spiritual body. The purpose of coming to earth and taking on physical form is to be transformed into gods. “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” (Doctine and Covenants 77:2)

Adam was the spiritual child of the creator god, specifically he was the archangel Michael. He came to earth, was perfected and then returned to god. This was all part of a plan which God had laid out before his chosen beings (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 209, 511). In other words, in our pre-existing, spiritual state, God summoned all of us together, made a plan for how we could progress to becoming gods; and then set about enacting that plan through our lives on earth.

Home > Beliefs > Book of Mormon

Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon is an ancient record of God’s teachings to His people.

This statement is an obfuscation. The only witness to the Book of Mormon is the copies of the Book of Mormon made available after Joseph Smith “discovered” it and dictated a translation, beginning in 1829. NO ancient versions of the Book of Mormon, even the originals Joseph Smith supposedly translated exist. The only evidence to the existence of this “ancient” book is the testimony of three men – Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer. All three men broke later broke with the Mormons. The only authorities that recite their testimonies are, of course, the Mormons.

This is a very different situation from the Bible. The Qumran caves contained 1st and 2nd century BCE copies of much of the Old Testament, and references to every book except Esther. Fragments of the New Testament dating to within a generation of the events described in it have been found and catalogued. There are literally thousands of manuscripts of the ancient books of the Bible, all of which have been studied in-depth by scholars of every conceivable creed. It is, without a doubt, the most studied book in the world.

The audacity to claim ancient origins for something like the Book of Mormon with absolutely no verifiable provenance and no extant ancient copies is a bold statement, which the site makes without offering a shred of evidence.

The Book of Mormon is a fundamental part of Jesus Christ’s restored Church on the earth today. [emphasis mine]

The Mormons are a radical restoration movement, something that was quite prominent in the 19th century. These movements claimed that the true church had been lost, and Christianity as it existed was in error. Their leaders, such as Joseph Smith, were therefore given a special revelation to restore the true faith. In Smith’s case, this includes restoring the priesthood of Melchizedek, temple worship, and some rather idiosyncratic beliefs.

Their additional revelation is necessary to support their claims because there is no way to draw their faith or practices from the Bible alone. We are therefore forced to either accept that the Book of Mormon has the authority by which Smith has “restored” the church, or we can reject it. There is no empirical evidence for the acceptance of the Book of Mormon or the restoration, while the Bible’s historicity and continued use is undeniable.

Home > Beliefs > Bible

The Holy Bible is a book of scripture that tells of the Lord’s interactions with His people over the course of 4,000 years. [emphasis mine]

There is a subtly bait-and-switch that occurs in the language of the discussion of the Bible. The website is careful to refer to the Bible as a book of scripture, but then to also refer to all of God’s scripture and they also point out that the Bible serves only as “powerful precedent” for the Restoration of the Church.” What is being done here is simple. The site appears to be talking about the Bible, but it is actually talking about “the four standard works” which contain the full revelation to the church (Doctrine of the Gospel Student Manual, 4-5). These standard works are the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. These three latter documents are the official interpretation of the first.

The Mormons believe that the Bible was altered by the Church. They refer to the period between the death of the apostles and the restoration under Joseph Smith as “the long night of apostasy.” (Doctrine of the Gospel Student Manual, 59) They even hold that Jesus’s work was only a restoration of the true Church (Mormon Doctrine, 133). The corruptions included the addition of philosophy, additions and alterations to the rites of the church and unauthorized changes in organization (Jesus the Christ, 748-749).

The Mormons believe that anyone claiming to follow the Bible but rejecting Mormonism is an apostate. Only their restored Church is valid. The true keys to salvation were given solely to Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants, 110:16, 5:10, 28:2-7); and he has selectively sent the leaders of the Mormon Church to further Smith’s mission (Doctrine and Covenants 138:53-56).

Make no mistake about it. Mormonism rejects all forms of Christianity except their own on the basis of their additional revelation. They reject any church but their own. “Once or twice in a thousand years a new door is opened through which all men must enter if they are to gain peace in this life and be inheritors of eternal life in the realms ahead.” (Bruce R. McConkie in Conference Report, October 1975).


I have not taken the time to reiterate the orthodox Christian view on these matters; but any moderately well-versed Christian will tell you that the teachings on God and Jesus are contradictory to orthodoxy. Likewise, the statements which undermine the authority of the Scriptures should resonate as major errors if you know anything about the orthodox view of the Scriptures.

Reading these statements, all of which come from publicly available sources generated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints themselves, how could anyone say that Mormonism is just another brand of Christianity? At its very core, Mormonism denies two fundamental tenets of orthodoxy: the eternal, triune nature of God and the inspiration of Scripture.

Even if there were no other issues with Mormonism (and there are plenty), these two disagreements set Mormonism outside of the flow of orthodox Christianity.

Don’t get me wrong. Mormons are free to believe whatever they wish. We must respect their right of individual determination and practice of faith; but when Mormons attempt to present their faith as if it is Christianity, they are either ignorant of their own religious leaders’ teachings or blatantly lying. Mormonism simply is not compatible with orthodox Christianity on a fundamental, doctrinal level. Pretending that it is would be folly.

Jesus Freak – 20 Years Later

Jesus Freak – 20 Years Later

The summer of 1996 was a peculiar time for me. For the first time in my life, I started to take my faith seriously and really ask whether I would stick with the Christian thing or move on to something else. I had spent the spring working like a dog at both college and work (I went full-time at a mutual fund company that spring), trying to get over a particularly difficult breakup, and attempting to sort out my various feelings about my life up to that point.

Music has always been the vocabulary of my life’s journey and in the preceding year, I had spent a lot of money on music. The early 90’s were a great time for music, sort of the last gasp before the digital revolution of the internet transformed the music world. I had all kinds of music – from Spanish guitar to emo metal to pop to country to classical. I even owned a couple of rap albums, although it has never been my kind of music.

Then, in the summer of 1996, I picked up one of my first “Christian” albums. It was DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” which had been released the previous November. I picked it up pretty much at random although it had been recommended to me by a friend. I had heard that beside being done by “Christian” artists, it was just a good album. Up to this point, my experience with Christian music had been mostly in the realm of Southern Gospel – not a genre known for innovation or lyrical depth.

(For those who don’t know anything about DC Talk, they were a pop-rap trio formed by three classmates at Liberty University in 1987. I knew a little about them because the “rap kids” in college listened to them; but like I said, rap was not my thing.)

DC Talk’s previous album, “Free at Last” had done remarkably well for a pop rap album, but Michael Tait wanted to do something else for the next album. The three developed a genre-defying fusion of the grunge rock style and rap that allowed them to innovate on multiple levels. The lyrical depth of the songs they created for “Jesus Freak” was unprecedented in popular Christian music at that time. In many ways, it shadowed the work of Rich Mullins who had taken his own spiritual struggles and placed them in the lyrics of his music. Tracks like “What If I Stumble?”, “In the Light”, “Mind’s Eye” and “What Have We Become?” asked questions about struggles of faith while “Colored People” and “Mrs. Morgan” celebrated diversity with a knowing smile and a joke.

The album got fairly wide exposure in even the “secular” world, debuting at #16 in the Billboard 200 and eventually going double platinum. DC Talk got a big contract from Virgin Records, but their follow-up album, “Supernatural,” had disappointing sales and the group went on a hiatus shortly thereafter.

For me, the album was tranformative. Here I was an unintentionally rebellious preacher’s kid with real questions about my faith; but I was surrounded by Christians who gave cliched answers that simply did not work. I had dived head first into all kinds of bad habits and lifestyle choices looking for what I could not find; and yet I knew that Christ was calling me back to himself.

When I first heard it, all I could say was that “Jesus Freak” was one of the most perfect albums ever recorded. I do not say this lightly. For me, it opened all kinds of musical and spiritual doors I did not know I had shut. Here were three guys who had reinvented themselves to tell the Jesus story to an entirely different group of people. They were honest. Their music was rocking. I listened to it every day for over a month. I had the cassette for my car and the CD for my room. I memorized lyrics, reciting them to myself. I tried to play the songs.

All of this was the beginning of a spiritual awaken for me. When I got back to school, I met my future wife and she introduced me to Rich Mullins. Then, I stumbled on Michael Card. The two of them could not be more different from DC Talk, and yet they were so honest and so real.

When I listen to tracks from DC Talk now, I am no longer as drawn to them. In a sense, I have outgrown most of the music on the album. It has a nostalgic draw for me, and I turn it on every once in awhile and rock out to it. It also has tremendous spiritual significance for me because it (and Petra Praise II, but that’s another story) was instrumental in righting the ship of my life and drawing me back to Christ.

So, 20 years ago I got this album (I’m not sure what day); and I have DC Talk to thank for being God’s instrument for me at the time. Some of you might say, “How could God use a rock band?” My answer is: He used Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and Cyrus the Persian to do his work. Why couldn’t he use a rock band?


God Made You Beautiful

God Made You Beautiful

My daughter turned nine last month. She is one crazy, smart, rhythmic kid. She got all of the best of both parents, and I have no doubt that when she grows into womanhood she is going to be outrageously, stunningly beautiful.

This is both a source of great joy and unholy terror. I know how our world views beautiful women, and the way they are both idolized and debased by popular culture. We elevate beauty to the point of worshipping it. If you don’t believe me, just look at the extremes aging celebrities go to in order to preserve their youth and their beauty. We do everything we can to stay young and beautiful.

At the same time, we expect beauty to be accessible to all of us. We tend to expect that beautiful people will share their beauty with everyone. It is just assumed that if a woman is beautiful or has a shapely body, she should share her beauty with the world.

Now in a sense, God gives us beauty for us to appreciate it. We should be thankful for women and their beauty, because God made women beautiful so men would be attracted to them and continue the multiplication of the human race.

At the same time, we need to understand beauty as what it is. A woman’s beauty is meant to be fully enjoyed by her husband. Everything about her that makes her sexually attractive is meant for him – not for us. Most pastors shy away from words like sexy, but I have no problem saying it. Women, you should want to be sexy. You should want to drive your husband crazy with desire for you. But sexy is for your husband – not for the world, not for every lingering eye and lusting mind.

The beauty of your sexuality (and it is a divine beauty) is meant for the one man you choose to live your life with, to give yourself entirely to.

When we tell women that it is normal and expected to flaunt their bodies before everyone, are we not giving everyone around them (male and female) permission to trespass on holy ground reserved for that most beautiful union – marriage? When we make sexy a part of our life beyond the bounds of marriage, aren’t we opening a secret garden for public degradation?

I know this makes me weird and slightly backward in most people’s eyes. I can live with it.

When I go to the beach, I don’t stay long. Do you know why? Because almost every women and girl on the beach is running around with her body exposed to anyone who wants to see. You know what happens in my mind? My mind, which is naturally and divinely designed to find the female body attractive, meanders off into secret longing. Longing becomes fantasy. Fantasy become covetousness. Covetousness becomes…

And that is wrong. It is sin. Those women’s sexuality – their bodies, their beauties – is not for me. My wife’s sexuality – her body and her beauty – is not for you. And when my daughter reaches sexual maturity, her body and her beauty is not for you either. It is for her husband – the man my wife and I pray for often, although we do not know his name.

God made my daughter beautiful. I know that one day, he will bring along that man who will become the steward of her beauty. He will (prayerfully) treasure her beauty that is entrusted to him. He will revel in it and be blessed by God’s handiwork. Until that man comes along, I have always encouraged my daughter to hold her beauty in trust for him.

Reading an Antitheist Former Pastor’s Blog

I have taken to reading Bruce Gerencser’s blog. Bruce is a former pastor who left the pastorate in 2003, the church in 2008 and theism in 2011. He is an open and vocal antitheist who has no problem attacking Christianity, the church and individual believers.

You might ask why I would read such a thing? Because I think a lot of Bruce’s criticisms are valid. Most of what I have read involves frustrations that I identify with. As I’ve told people before, I am an atheist who just can’t get past Jesus. If I had to judge the Savior by his disciples and the organizations they have built, I would be an antitheist as well.

You might ask if I have ever tried to persuade Bruce about the error of his ways? The answer is absolutely not. Any attempt to “persuade” Bruce would be entirely for my own benefit, to assuage some sense of outrage that he has turned on “my” faith. That is just balderdash and bravado.

Bruce has made a very personal and difficult decision, and I would much rather that he be openly antitheist than to try to pretend as if he still believes something that he does not. When I read some of the things that believers say in the comments on his page, I feel as if I need to apologize to him for their brashness and sometimes downright rudeness.

It is interesting to note that the apostle Paul’s greatest condemnation is not on those who leave the faith (though he mourns for them) but for those who claim to adhere to the faith and do not practice basic charity (1 Timothy 5:8). Often, when we take a person’s departure from the faith personally, we act in a manner that dishonors the very Christ we claim to be following.

So, I read Bruce’s blog. Sometimes the things he says upset me. Sometimes, I find myself asking, “Yeah, why do Christians do/believe that?” Sometimes, I just shake my head.

I like reading atheists and antitheists. I always have. In high school, I read Nietzsche. In college, it was Sartre, Darwin and Huxley. In adulthood, I read Dawkins and Ehrman. About the only one I have found unreadable is Christopher Hitchens. Gerencser and John Scalzi are recent online finds.

I’ll never stop reading atheists because I never want to be complacent. I never want to find myself comfortable in my faith, insulated from all that can go wrong in Christianity (and trust me, there’s a lot of valid issues that these people bring up).

A Crazy, Connected World

I was sitting at my computer, making stupid jokes on people’s status updates when I realized that I have a web of interlocking relationships that baffle my mind.

FACT: I met our music director and his wife when they were in 11th grade at a Christian school and then reconnected with them twelve years later at a mutual friend’s wedding in Florida.

FACT: One of our bands is fronted by the husband of a woman who had me as her 8th grade homeroom teacher.

FACT: Our video/computer geek lived a couple towns over from my wife for most of his life, joined the church I used to work at right before I left and wound up with us years later through a relationship with someone else.

FACT: When we visited my dad’s church in Franklin, Massachusetts, we ran into someone that my friend Greg Jones (one of our elders) knew from years ago in Manchester.

FACT: A friend of Greg’s came to New Hampshire for a funeral and she turned out to be the cousin of another of my friends, Sean.

There’s more stuff like that, and it gets pretty intense. It is hard to think of any relationship that doesn’t somehow intertwine with another one.

Technology has intensified the relationships we experience. It used to be that you spent most of your time with a small groups of people (co-workers, family, etc.) and interacted with others only occasionally. Now, our entire lives are exposed and interwoven online. If you don’t post it; someone else will!

Social media makes the interconnection of relationships so much easier in our modern world. I remember once going to Boston with my friend Steve back in 2006 and having a conversation about the internet becoming a social hub. Who could have known the way this would have become a reality?

Thanks to Facebook, I can stay connected with people whose lives have intersected my own even if they are not nearby. There’s also no place to hide.

I’ve had to really consider the notion of offending people on Facebook. Something that I consider inoffensive or fun (like the time I posted a question about the most annoying worship song you’ve ever heard) can be offensive to people. There really is no place to hide, and there’s no way to bluff or present a false front of Christian perfection when everyone can see everything.

The demand for authentic faith has become almost overwhelming because I do not think the mechanics of Christianity in most communities can adapt to the constant exposure and pressure it creates.

Not only that, the constant connection illuminates our inconsistencies. You either embrace this new accountability and be willing to take criticism or you shut yourself off from everyone and live in your own private world where your opinion is king. (I’ll never forget the first time someone googled an illustration I used in a sermon and offered the correct information.)

We are more connected now, on a techno-relational level. This kind of community relationship within culture is exactly what church leaders have been trying to develop for years, and now that the tools exist for it, I think we need to embrace it. We need to celebrate it and become capable of communicating in this new media.


King of Hopelessness, pt 4 (1:19-22)

וַתֵּלַכְנָה שְׁתֵּיהֶם עַד־בֹּאָנָה בֵּית לָחֶם וַיְהִי כְּ‍בֹאָנָה בֵּית לֶחֶם וַתֵּהֹם כָּל־הָעִיר עֲלֵיהֶן וַתֹּאמַרְנָה הֲזֹאת נָעֳמִי׃
וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶן אַל־תִּקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי קְרֶאןָ לִי מָרָא כִּי־הֵמַר שַׁדַּי לִי מְאֹד׃
אֲנִי מְלֵאָה הָלַכְתִּי וְרֵיקָם הֱשִׁיבַנִי יְהוָה לָמָּה תִקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי וַיהוָה עָנָה בִי וְשַׁדַּי הֵרַע לִי׃
וַתָּשָׁב נָעֳמִי וְרוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה כַלָּתָהּ עִמָּהּ הַשָּׁבָה מִ‍שְּׂדֵי מוֹאָב וְהֵמָּה בָּאוּ בֵּית לֶחֶם בִּתְחִלַּת קְצִיר שְׂעֹרִים׃

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?”

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. (ESV)

Name change. Here Naomi chooses to adopt a new name. Where Naomi means “celebration”, Mara means “bitterness.” She accepts that she has been handed a bad hand in life and wants to wallow in it. Of course at her side is a Moabite woman named Ruth, which means “friend.”

The Almighty. If you remember, earlier I mentioned that Naomi seems to believe that YHWH has a female consort. Here is where I first suspected it. Every time that Ruth speaks about her suffering, she does so in a couplet. She speaks of the LORD (יהוה, YHWH) and the Almighty (שַׁדַּי, SHDY). Most Christians have been taught that “The Almighty” is just another name for God, but Naomi does not seem to agree. The actions she speaks of are reciprocal, as in a partnership. SHDY does something, and then YHWH completes the action.

  • SHDY has dealt very bitterly with me…YHWH has brought me back empty.
  • YHWH testified against me and SHDY has brought calamity upon me.

Of course, there is nothing definitive about this, but archaeology has demonstrated quite plainly that the inhabitants of the Judean highlands believed that YHWH had a female consort, whether Torah allowed for it or not. This does not make their belief correct or normative, but it would not be out of keeping with what we now know. There is no reason why Naomi would not have believed this.

At this point, I need to take a bit of a rabbit trail. I have written elsewhere that David is the keystone of the Hebrew Scriptures, and I need to emphasize the point again. While the Genesis narratives, most of Torah and the Joshua/Judges stories existed in some form before David, the Hebrew language as a literary language did not. David’s reign is vital not just because of his rule but also because he unifies a Hebrew ideology. If you read David and the Monarchy first (1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings) and then go back and read Genesis-Numbers, Joshua and Judges, you will realize that those narratives took form during the Monarchy period. They contain in them the seeds of the Monarchy, of the claims of the House of David and the reasons why Ephraim rebels against them. (Sorry, spoilers.)

Therefore, it is not surprising in the least that early Israelites did not worship YHWH according to Torah. While Torah existed and many of its laws and customs are representative of cultural behavior, there is no reason to assume that they were monotheistic. This is especially true if we consider Deuteronomy to date from the time of Josiah (7th century BCE) instead of pre-dating the Monarchy. (It is called Deuteronomy, after all, which is Greek for “second law”.) But I digress, back to Ruth.

Barley Harvest. It might shock many readers to realize that barley in all its forms was a key component of the Judahite diet. Barley is not a fun grain to eat, and it does not make very good bread. Emmer wheat is far better for that. Barley is, however, good for feeding livestock and for making beer.

We possess cuneiform tablets dating to before 2500 BCE detailing the process of turning barley into beer. The Egyptians did it. The Sumerians did it. Everyone did it.

But why?

Beer is a great way to store carbohydrates for winter. The fermentation process produces alcohol which keeps the brew from going bad. Whereas grain can rot relatively quickly during the rainy season (which is all winter is in Judah), beer can last for months if stored underground or in caves where it is cool.

Beer actually features prominently in the story of Ruth. We know from archaeological research that the first beers were made from the spring harvest of the winter barley, which is when Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem.

Emmer wheat, which was the domesticated wheat available in Late Bronze Age Palestine, does not grow in the winter. It requires relatively dry conditions. Barley on the other hand sprouts quickly and grows well under wet conditions. Therefore, it was planted in the winter and harvested in the spring.

Not everyone finds the idea of the Hebrews drinking beer to be something they approve of. The simple question is, “What did the Hebrews offer to YHWH in their drink offerings? Kool-Aid?” A drink offering, or more appropriately a “poured offering” (נָסַךְ, nasak) was given in connection with the wave offering or sheaf offering (תְּנוּפָה, tanuwphah). When taken with the grain/bread offering (מִנְחָהminchah), it is pretty clear that there is a lot of emphasis on the derivatives of grains. While the drink offerings could be of wine, they were often of beer as well.

Hebrew Feast Days. In fact, the Hebrew religious calendar revolves around three important harvests: the lambing, the barley harvest and the wheat harvest.

The Pesach or Passover is celebrate in the early spring. This was when the lambs are born, and this is why the passover meal revolved around a lamb.

After Pesach, the Israelites were commanded to go home, harvest their barley, lay down their beer and then plant their emmer wheat. Then they were commanded to return and observe a festival of first fruits called Shavuot. This was the celebration of the barley harvest, and it figures prominently in Ruth.  

The first in-gathering of barley was threshed then malted in the wetness of the early spring. Then, the malt was turned into loaves which were crumbled into water, boiled and then allowed to ferment. At the end of the harvest, the fermented beer was drunk as a celebration.

Pesach and Shavuot were the important spring festivals of the calendar. They were the first two of the Shalosh Regalim, the holiest days of the year that required the entire nation to gather. The last is Sukkot or Tabernacles, which is observed at the end of the wheat harvest.

It isn’t hard to see the natural rhythms that dictated both spiritual and physical cycles in this agrarian world.

Don’t think, however, that the Hebrews were drunken slobs. Beer was a necessary item for them. Without it, they could not survive from harvest to harvest. The celebrations held at the festivals were not drunken orgies. The mood was not artificially created by alcohol and loss of inhibitions as many modern partiers seem to think is necessary. The harvest was cause for celebration, but the drunkard was still considered a fool.

Back to the Barley. So it is that we find Naomi and Ruth arriving in Bethlehem during the barley harvest. This meant they arrived at the perfect time for eligible bachelors to be looking for a wife. It also meant they arrived too late to plant Elimelech’s fields which had lain fallow for at least ten years.

We cannot be certain that Naomi was leveraging for a new husband for Ruth, but certainly she must have been aware of the presence of kinsman who could marry Ruth and continue the line. This particular arrangement is known as levirate marriage, and it was very common in the region. A man’s close male relation could marry his widow and their first child would inherit the dead man’s property. If they had only one child, then that child would inherit both men’s property. This fact is significant when we get to the end of the book. (No looking ahead!)