Robert W North
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I was educated by Sisters and priests for 20 years — at St. Mary’s Grade and High School in Jackson, Michigan; at John Carroll University, in Cleveland, Ohio; and in the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) through the University of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan and Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois. These wonderful, self-sacrificing people facilitated my love for Jesus and God, for the monastic life, and for history, literature, the arts, and philosophy. Impelled by these experiences, I also came to feel painfully divided between a controlling Church and my desire to follow the promptings of what I then knew as the “Holy Spirit.” After six years with the Jesuits, I chose to become free of religion, but not of the love I hold for Jesus, God and soul-guidance.
I entered a Humanistic Counseling program at the University of Florida in 1968, hoping to discover how to integrate spirituality with mental health. Halfway through my PhD studies, I realized that this would not happen, because none of the professors and students seem to have such a thirst. So I reconnected with a Jesuit mentor, Rev. Bill Mountain, S.J., who had decided to live among the poor in the Bowery of New York City to devote himself to discovering the real Jesus in the Gospels. He showed me that most people “read into” those Books, rather than really reading them, and that no one, including the great Catholic scholars Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, had yet discovered the true message of Jesus, and that no one had yet determined the organization of each of the Books of the Bible. He explained that the chapter and verse divisions we now use were applied to the Books over 1,000 years after they were originally composed, and that they prevent us from reading the works correctly. He convinced me of his belief that unless we understand the internal clues that the authors left to explain how to interpret their works, we cannot fully understand their ideas.
Further, when these clues are deciphered, it will present a challenge to the theology underpinning the three Abrahamic religions. I became so fascinated with his ideas that I asked him to tutor me in his scripture scholarship methods.
In 1974, I earned a Ph.D. in Counseling. While teaching at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Fla. and at the Universities of Georgia and New Mexico State, and while working as a management consultant, I continued my research of the Bible with Bill Mountain and with Dr. Paul J. Achtemeier of Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and read the work of many others who were on the same quest to find the original organization of the Books of the Bible. During my studies, I became aware of the significance of a concept known as Semitic Parallelism.1 2
Since the second century, people have lost the ability to experience the Bible the way the ancients did, because they were designed for an audience that did not read; rather, the Semitic people listened to recitations of the compositions, memorized them, and accurately passed them on to others. The texts primarily contained cues for the ears, not for the eyes. We have lost the ability to compose and edit mentally, to memorize exactly what we hear, and to study the compositions in our minds by following the interpretation cues provided by the author.
Consider the significance of this. Some of the ancients in their mud huts and caves carried their cultural library in their minds, including much of the Old Testament. They would sit around their fires at night with family and friends, comparing one author to another more easily than we can when using a computer.3
Jesus did this. He memorized the Old Testament and other works, and composed and edited over 200 wisdom poems, parables, allegories and sayings in his mind. He was more of an author than a preacher.
When we read a Book of the Bible according to Semitic designs, we discover its organizational layout, as well as the meaning of its metaphors and expressions. In doing so, the themes originally intended by the author appear, and usually in ways that upset our prevailing notions of the work. Over the years, I have become quite fluent at reading the Bible according the rules of Semitic Parallelism. I have also discovered more of the rules myself.
"The Gospel of Thomas has always held a particular fascination for me"
One discovery will shock many: the authors throughout the Bible were advocating for one of two opposing Ways of being in the world. One of these I call the “Way of Religion,” which nearly everyone associates with the Bible, and the other, I call the “Way of Wisdom,” which only a few of the Bible authors followed.
When I began to see the implication of these discoveries 15 years ago, I decided to quit my job, sell everything, and dedicate myself to finish a book in isolation within a year. I was not able to complete that task. My goal was to present the real Jesus. However, it became clear after a year of work that I was incapable of doing so until his wisdom became my practice. Therefore, I continued studying and following the Way of Wisdom.
After six years of living alone in a cabin in the desert outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, I packed up a few things, and with my dog, sought balance and civilization on the shores of the Sea of Cortez, in San Carlos, Mexico. There I met my incredible wife, along with her four daughters and endlessly large family. We ended up moving down the trail to Guanajuato and then on over to Punta Banda, Baja California.
Today, her daughters are out of the house. Looking around, I see only my wife, my grandson who calls us “Mama” and “Father,” and the dog, Vidal. Of my life’s work, the first book is finished, and eight more sit in draft.
1 William Reuben Farmer, The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis, Mercer University Press, 1976, p. 253.
2 Dennis Pardée, Ugaritic and Hebrew Poetic Parallelism, A Trial Cut, Brill, 1988, P. 181
3 Paul J. Achtemeier, "Omne verbum sonat: The New Testament and the Oral Environment of Late Western Antiquity." Journal of Biblical Literature 109, 1 (Spring 1990): 3-27