Ninth of Av-A Symphony by Leonard Bernstein

This evening I was thinking, was there a symphony written for this most sorrowful day of remembrance for the people of Israel mourning in recollection of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 586 B.C. and again in 70 A.D. This is what I found which was based upon the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations which we just finished reading.

Symphony No. 1 -by Leonard Bernstein housed at the Milken Archive of Jewish Music in Santa Monica, California.

https://www.milkenarchive.org/music/volumes/view/symphonic-visions/work/symphony-no-1/

Visit there online for the links to the Symphony. The following is their excellent post by Neil W. Levin.

Tracks
PLAY
TRACK
TIME
I. Prophecy 07:39
II. Profanation 06:29
III. Lamentation 11:04

Liner Notes:

Leonard Bernstein was a mere twenty-four years old in 1942 when he composed his first symphony, which he subtitled Jeremiah after the biblical prophet. He wrote it initially for a competition sponsored by the New England Conservatory of Music, and although it did not win that particular award, it received a much greater and unexpected “prize” in 1944 in the form of a world premiere performance by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that its director, the venerable Fritz Reiner (Bernstein’s teacher of conducting at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia) permitted him to conduct.

Bernstein always explained that despite its subtitle, the symphony was not a programmatic work. Indeed, it does not have a specific story line, but rather it reflects what he called the “emotional quality” of Jeremiah’s dire prophecies of impending doom for the people of Judah (Judea) and Jerusalem, in which he foresaw and foretold their destruction and captivity by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar.

Jeremiah felt impelled to speak the truth, of which he was certain, even at great risk to himself (he was often imprisoned and even in mortal danger). He began his preaching in 627 BCE, convinced that his country and his people were under Divine judgment for their corruption (and that of the priesthood in the Temple cult) and their flaunting of the moral principles of the Sinaitic covenant. In particular, he railed against idolatry and the worship of gods other than, or in addition to, the one, true God—adonai. His “Temple sermon,” sternly indicting Judea and its unfaithful ways, was an attempted appeal to the conscience of the nation and a courageous but unsuccessful challenge to its leadership. His admonitions ran against the accepted authorities, the “party line,” and the tide of popular beliefs; and consistently rebuffed, he was forbidden entrance to the Temple. But he continued to denounce and to warn of imminent calamity as Divine punishment, maintaining that he spoke with the higher authority that formed Judah’s true historical and religious basis.

Judah’s leaders thus considered Jeremiah an enemy, especially since—as he was unsuccessful in convincing the nation of its impending doom—he had come to regard the Babylonian army as God’s instrument for national punishment, a military force against which opposition would bring only complete disaster for Judea and Jerusalem.

Speaking in God’s name, Jeremiah also prophesied Israel’s eventual restoration and reunion with Judah, the return of Judah’s captives, and an end to the exile: “Your children shall return to their own land. I will gather them from all the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to this place, where I will cause them to dwell in safety” (31:15). According to that prediction, God would eventually make a fresh covenant with a new generation.

Bernstein described the first movement, “Prophecy,” as a musical attempt to “parallel in feeling the intensity of the prophet’s pleas with his people.” He envisioned the second movement—a scherzo titled “Profanation”—as portraying “a general sense of the destruction and chaos brought on by the pagan corruption within the priesthood and the people.”

The third and final movement, although it too lacks an actual program, has a literary foundation in its sung text taken from the Book of Lamentations. Bernstein called it a “literary conception—the cry of Jeremiah as he mourns his beloved Jerusalem, ruined, pillaged, and dishonored after his desperate efforts to save it.”

The biblical Book of Lamentations—eikha—is a collection of five poems. These comprise elegies and dirges that describe the collective agony of the defeated people and bewail the destruction of Judea and Jerusalem. They also express the hope that God will one day again bestow His grace and favor on them and restore the Jewish people to its national home and its holy city, Jerusalem. Tradition—though not necessarily objective modern scholarship—has attributed eikha to Jeremiah.

Eikha is recited (i.e., chanted) in its entirety in the synagogue on Tisha b’Av—the annual fast day and day of national mourning on the ninth of the Hebrew month of av. It commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, traditionally assigned to that same date in 586 BCE and in 72 CE, respectively, nearly six centuries apart. The ninth of av also coincides with the fall of Bar Kokhba’s fortress, Bethar, in his stand against the Romans. (For Sephardi Jews, the date has an additional significance; by tradition, they have assigned that date to the 1492 Spanish expulsion edict.)

The mezzo-soprano part in the third movement is a setting of excerpts from eikha (1:1–3; 1:8; 4:14–15; and 5:20–21). Its lines and the movement as a whole are based on the traditional Ashkenazi cantillation of Lamentations. Its constituent motives are sometimes quoted directly—both by the voice and by the orchestra—and sometimes liberally and artistically developed, altered, and extended, with interludes that exploit a rich array of orchestral colors and timbres. Apart from the cantillation references, the entire movement recalls the somber, mournful, and lugubrious aura of a typical traditional Tisha b’Av service—the intoned recitation of eikha, the congregation seated on low mourning stools with dim lighting and burning candles, and the singing of additional elegies and dirges known as kinot. And even with the added emotional intensity of quasi-operatic vocal lines at their climactic points, as well as the orchestral counterpoint, the principal motives and pitch cells of the traditional eikha cantillation are easily recognizable to all who experience annually this sacred ritual—beginning with the initial motive of an ascending minor third stated by the horns and continued by the vocal entrance.

In a letter to Bernstein, Aaron Copland offered his candid assessment of the symphony: “It’s the best thing of yours I’ve seen so far—more consistent in style and more grown-up in many ways. I like best the beginning and the end.” At that relatively early stage in Bernstein’s creative path, this work, in addition to its ingenious use of authentic Judaic material, reveals the positive influence of a number of American composers at the same time that it displays the intenseness and highly charged energy that defines a memorable aspect of Bernstein’s trademark.

A month after the world premiere in Pittsburgh, the Jeremiah Symphony was performed in Boston—also conducted by the composer. The critic for the Boston Globe cited it as the “best new composition of the year.” And following its New York premiere that spring (four performances), the New York Music Critics’ Circle voted it the “outstanding new work of the season.”

By: Neil W. Levin

The Book of Acts

EGL2020. Although we are still reading through the Old Testament and will continue to do so at our present pace, we have finished our journey through the New Testament. However, we thought that it would be a profitable experience for those who choose to during the remainder of our reading year to experience what it would be like to plunge into an exposition of one book of the New Testament.

We have chosen the Book of Acts. We fondly recall as new believers devouring audio tapes each evening after work. With Bible and pen in hand, we intently listened at our little kitchen table in Santa Monica, California, to Pastor John MacArthur exposit the Book of Revelation and First John.

Much of our exploration of the Word this year has been built upon the foundation of our years at Grace Community Church listening to three live sermons by Pastor MacArthur each week as he taught through the Scriptures verse by verse on Wednesday evening, Sunday morning and Sunday evening. We have utilized his excellent Bibliography on commentaries and helps along with our experience of his multitude of references to historic resources of the church from Gurnall to Owen, to Spurgeon to Watson.

So here’s the plan. While we may not get through the entire Book of Acts, we will be reading the Word along with his two set commentary on Acts and each day posting the verses we will read accompanied by a link to the appropriate sermon on Acts. They are about 50 minutes long, but so worth your time as is the Word of Grace website which is a treasure house which you will want to visit over and over as you continue to mine the riches from God’s Word.

Before we plunge into the verse by verse study of the Book of Acts by Pastor MacArthur, we start today with his excellent introduction. You may not have his commentary set, but neither did we when we first started attending Grace back in 1985. You will definitely want to have your Bible, your pen, highlighters and pad of paper ready for a most profitable journey through this exciting Book.

We look forward to your comments and questions along the way. Please subscribe to this blog for the daily updates. And if you haven’t joined us before on the journey, Welcome aboard!

May God bless us all on this journey,

James and Elizabeth Stephens

Exploring God’s Library

An Introduction to the Book of Acts.

An Invitation to Join the Journey

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Our invitation to join us on a life changing journey:


EGL2020

Beginning on Saturday, October 26, 2019 and ending on Friday, October 16, 2020

Background. Elizabeth and I, James Stephens have profited greatly over the past thirty four years through reading the Bible and from sitting under excellent expository preaching from gifted teachers. Over the past four years we have done a significant amount of research and experimentation looking at various Bible reading programs and studying the history of the Bible in the English language.

We have also experimented using online programs as well and while various assets are quite helpful, we felt we were slowly losing touch with our own Bible. While we were disciplined in reading the One Year Bible for our morning devotions, we recognized that we had lost the opportunity for grasping the order of the Word by using our own personal Bible on a daily basis. We missed that familiarity as one experiences with an old friend who knows many of our fears, trials and joys. Indeed, a well-marked book signifies a relationship with its author.

Some nights, I ask my wife Elizabeth what she’s reading and she will say, “my favorite passages” whether it’s the Word of God or a novel like Ben Hur or Jane Eyre. I do the same with many of my marked books where I underline and mark passages that I want to savor once again. They are a source of encouragement whenever I’m discouraged, perplexed or need a dose of inspiration. Their authors have become our historical mentors. But we still miss many elements in our daily reading either because our mind gets distracted with the tasks of the day or because we don’t take time to study the passage in its context.

Elizabeth related to me that when she was growing up without access to a Bible, she found one in the school library and checked it out, but soon returned it because she couldn’t understand it. Her situation parallels that of the Ethiopian eunuch who was sitting in his chariot reading from the Prophet Isaiah and found himself at a loss. God knowing his need called on the Apostle Philip who, “ran to him, and heard him read the prophet Isaiah, and said, do you understand what you are reading?”

The Ethiopian eunuch replied, “How can I, he said, unless someone explains it to me? So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” Then Philip guided him through the Scriptures. (Acts 8:26-40).

Several years ago, while I was taking my morning walk, I was admiring a beautiful flowering crape myrtle and a man who I never had met came up behind me and asked me what I was looking at. I replied, “I’m admiring God’s wonderful creation.” He then asked, “Would you like to walk with me?” I replied, “Sure.”

It turned out he had been the Minister of Education in Nepal and was directly responsible to the King of Nepal. For the next nine months, during his stay in California while his wife recuperated from a surgery, we would walk together three times a week. Each day we would talk about a wide range of things from California to Nepal. He also was quite interested in the proverbs, stories of creation, family stories of Abraham and Jacob, and Joseph and Jesus. At the end of nine months shortly before his departure back to Nepal, we were able to find him a copy of a Nepali Bible which he had requested. During that time we developed a friendship as we exchanged ideas and stories on various topics.

Recently, I spent time with three old friends who all came from various religious backgrounds and each told how they were reading the Bible prior to becoming believers. One took a course on the Bible and had many questions. Another friend who worked in Mongolia, was told by an administrator who had been under Soviet rule for years and although he had given him a rough time about his Christian faith, that he was so impressed by his joyful attitude that he secretly read the entire Bible.

Others say that they would like to read the Bible, but are too busy, but have time during their morning and evening commute to listen. But they desire to find a way to do so.

How Much Time Will It Take Me a Day?

Elizabeth estimates that you are able to read the entire Bible by reading proscribed passages each day in about twenty minutes. So, it doesn’t take that much time, but it does take personal discipline. The passages are laid out like this: 1) One short passage from the Torah (first five books of the Bible written by Moses); 2) A passage from the Historic Books or the Major or Minor Prophets also from the Old Testament; 3) A Chapter from the New Testament Letters; 4) A Daily Psalm which the Jewish community reads each day, followed by another Psalm; and 5) A short Proverb.

Why is it called Explore God’s Library?

The Bible is not just one book, but rather composed of 66 different books written by a number of different authors moved by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Some have called it the Bibliotheca, or Library.

Guide on the Side. We are not theologians, but followers of Jesus Christ and have a desire to read His Word and introduce others to the most influential and perhaps controversial book in all of human history. This in some ways is like a literary group except that we are reading and studying 66 books in a year (The Bible). It is for people who want to read through the Bible and would like to join others in the process. We are not the sage on the stage, but are simply guides on the side to help guide you through the process.

Markers. Our method of facilitating this exploration of the Word is by the application of what we call “Markers” which point out aspects of a passage. The idea parallels an exercise I would give to my students when visiting a religious site where I would assign each of them some observation lesson such as “look how hands are used.” This heightens their awareness and assists them in discovering new insights which might otherwise be overlooked. Likewise, we will highlight various passages within a particular reading which may tie into a prophecy or other marker. For example, while reading Genesis 12, we would call attention to the third verse by providing a Marker #27-Prophecy which points out-that through Abraham’s seed, God will bless all nations.

Resources. Over the years we have discovered many wonderful teachers, films, links and resources which have contributed to our understanding of the Scriptures, and while there may be some disagreement, they all help us understand the precious Word of God and the breadth of resources which are available. We hope to be able to procure major films such as The Passion, The Nativity, Joseph, The Ten Commandments and other films for private screenings for those who are local and links for those who live at a distance.

Recordings. We have also procured the right to use the recordings of Alexander Scoursby so that you may listen to the proper pronunciation of each term by a master reader.

What’s required of me?

The only cost would be to purchase a Bible. We do recommend the MacArthur Study Bible, New King James Version because of its copious and excellent study notes written by a pastor teacher who has faithfully taught and studied the Scriptures for over 50 years. The choice again is up to you. We have no membership fees.

At the same time, we will recommend the best commentaries and other resources, which you may want to purchase or not, depending on your own goals. The year does provide an opportunity for a small church or pastor or Bible Study or individual to build their own library for a lifetime of study.

Ground rules. We do ask for an open heart and consideration of others who may want a place or opportunity to study God’s word. It is designed to encourage those reading the Bible for the first time as well. So while we are in group sessions each Tuesday evening via Facebook Live or on conference call.com, we ask it not be a place for evangelism or sharing our own particular view of Scripture or personal philosophy. Any questions are welcome, but may not only be answered that evening time permitting. It is recommended that if you have questions during the week which you desire an answer tat you send us an email and we will do our best to get you an answer or find someone who can address your question. We are not suggesting that there is no place or time for a theological interchange, but that would best be done at other times individually.

One of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin hosted a group called the “Junto” which met weekly with an eye upon self-improvement. One of their standard questions was, “Do you love truth for truth’s sake, and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others?”

Differing perspectives will arise as a matter of course, but please recognize that the diversity of this group necessitates a certain set of ground rules for it to run smoothly so that everyone feels supported in freely exploring God’s Library. We realize that it is a personal discipline and want it to be a place where others feel free to share various helpful links to resources for us to understand the Word of God. It is a time and place to share the discoveries from the reading and study of God’s Word and encouraging one another along the way.

When Do We Start?

We begin on Saturday, October 26, 2019. We will be sharing via Facebook Live on Exploring God’s Library Group each Tuesday from 6-7pm Pacific Standard Time. You may request the Bible Reading Guide by sending an email to: exploringgodslibrary@gmail.com.

If you have a Facebook Account you can join Exploring God’s Library. It is a closed group so that no one from the outside may see who is a member of the group or what they post unless they have been invited. You may post anytime. Please post according to the readings assigned that week. Logistical questions of course are welcome.

Again, Facebook Live session Tuesdays 6PM-7PM Pacific Standard Time.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/exploringgodslibrary/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GodLibrary

Email: exploringgodslibrary@gmail.com.

Please email us and we will send you a Daily reading chart for each period. We will also be sending out a form which you may want to print out with the “Markers” and also a form for taking daily notes.

Welcome aboard!

James and Elizabeth Stephens

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton