The Bible in the News
Maybe it was the warm weather, but a few words popped into my head recently: “birds do it, bees do it.” Then a few more: “even educated fleas do it.” Just one more line—“Let’s do it, let’s fall in love”—and I was in the midst of a characteristically clever Cole Porter tune. From there it was but a proverbial hop, skip and mental jump to an expression from the Book of Genesis that I had been much considering, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). What then could be more natural, at least for me, than to explore the myriad methods through which modern writers make use of these Biblical words in their accounts of everything from clementines to investments?
Especially near and dear to my heart is a story from London’s Guardian, which speaks to the many events that were scheduled to celebrate last year’s 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible: “Tonight a church in Preston has a nonstop reading, while over the coming weeks commemorative events will be fruitful and multiply.” May it ever be so.
From an entirely different continent and on an entirely different topic comes this financial advice (from The Christian Science Monitor): “Given the vulnerability of even the strongest economies to inflation and recession, they say, the truly wise and insightful among us are those investors, large and small, who know how to send their money out into the world so that it might be fruitful and multiply via mutual funds and pension accounts and property deals. And then the money will return home safely before being sent out again on some other lucrative mission.” Or, more simply, in the words of Ecclesiastes 11:1, “Cast your bread upon the waters.”
Perhaps it is not surprising at all, given Cole Porter’s “birds and bees,” that it is from the variegated world of nature that so many references to fruitfulness and multiplication are drawn. As is fitting, the garden is a plentiful source: “Grow mint, lemon balm and chamomile, then brew your own tea and enjoy a party in the garden. Use grafting to be fruitful and multiply. Clementines—seedless tangerines—are everywhere this time of year. Okay, if they’re seedless, how do you grow more? Answer: They’re propagated by grafting” (from Florida’s St. Petersburg Times).
A bit farther up the coast, The Washington Times ran a piece about a visit to the National Aquarium: “While on the tour, a sign promoting one of the aquarium’s many endeavors caught our eye: ‘An Aquatic Treasure: Through the National Aquarium’s Sexual Coral Reproduction Project, we are raising more than 400 live coral species’ … Yes, it seems in addition to the snakes, tropical fish and alligators cohabitating at the aquarium, the coral likes to be more fruitful and multiply too, and, thank goodness, because coral protects the shorelines during storms and is a haven to many species of marine wildlife. So go have at it, guys!” Well, that’s not advice that we often see.
Saving the best for last (or is it the least for last?), we turn to humans. Several stories featured A.J. Jacobs, the quirky author of The Year of Living Biblically, including this one from The Toronto Star: “Some Biblical mandates Jacobs pulled off spectacularly well. Others not so. He failed to break a cow’s neck at the site of an unsolved murder (Deuteronomy 21:4). But following God’s injunction to Adam to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ he became the father of twin boys before the year was out.” Now that doesn’t seem so quirky after all.
Judged solely on the ability and/or willingness to follow that injunction, Jacobs has nothing on Solomon Burke, described in the headlines of his 2010 obituaries as an “influential soul singer” (in The New York Times) and a “Grammy-winning R&B Singer [who] was also [a] Pentecostal Preacher” (in The Washington Post). The sire of 21 children, 90 (so The New York Times; a mere 89 as reported in The Washington Post) grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren, Burke reportedly declared: “I got lost on one of the Bible verses that said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ … I didn’t read no further.”
If higher birth rates are your thing, we should look at the weather, at least in Israel (as reported in The Jerusalem Post): “Very cold weather in the Rehovot area in January  was the explanation given by the city’s Kaplan Medical Center for its highest ever number of births in October … January 2008 was the coldest month since 1992, which—he postulated—caused couples to stay at home and observe the command ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’”
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