On not noticing the wild beasts and why the desert may be busier than you think.

At morning prayer on Tuesday no psalms were set for the day but instead we had the wonderful Benedicite, which is an ancient song of praise in which all the created order, from snows to whales, sing to God in thanks. The human voice which recites it speaks on behalf of all making it an act of liturgical solidarity- we are one with the created order, not a special privileged bit!

It is a beautiful text which originated in the famous Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, which is in fact the Scripture from which Christianity was born. The Benedicite slipped into that translation in the middle of the book of Daniel, but is nowhere to be seen in any extant Hebrew editions, so all those denominations which since the Reformation have mistakenly thought that only the Hebrew texts count have lost a marvellous treasure.

Reciting it got me thinking about our tendency to not notice the animals in the Bible hence another mistake often rightly condemned by external critics of the church, Christianity’s anthropomrphism! A good example is the idea that Jesus’ spell in the wilderness was a kind of spiritual Greta Garbo moment, in which he sought absolute solitude- Jim Crace’s admirable novel, Quarantine makes the same mistake! But what about the wild beasts that get an honourable mention in the gospels; were they allluded to simply to ramp up the sense of menace  , or might that be to remind the reader of the original  inter-species harmony in paradise where Adam names all the beasts as friends and all the prophecies of lamb and lion lying down together when God’s day finally arrives?

In his series of paintings of Jesus in the wilderness Stanley Spencer seems to have had the same intuition- he even pictures Jesus with a docile scorpion in his hand!

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