My favorite passages from the ASL Bible: Little Kid Wanders Through Big Temple, Awkward Erotic Poetry, and CYMBALS

August 12, 2014 – 4:09 pm

In preparation for helping a local 8-year-old Deaf boy get ready for his First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion, visit this  I’ve been enjoying the Deaf Bible (ASL) as an Android app (free, patient and also available for Apple and Kindle!) It isn’t the Catholic Bible, meaning Tobit, Judith, etc. are missing (which is, for now, totally fine with me). More importantly, it just plain isn’t… finished, so it’s missing big chunks (biggest bummer: all of the Psalms) but all the Gospels are intact and I’ve learned a lot about ASL just watching it.

My favorite “Let’s Learn About ASL, This Is Hilarious!” bits so far:

“God Calls Small Boy; Small Boy Wanders Through REALLY VIVID ARCHITECTURAL SETUP,” or 1 Samuel 3, which exemplifies the idea of “before you tell a story, set up the location, as if you were setting a stage.” The first two full minutes are devoted to location setup — the signer’s hands draw the temple walls, courtyards, fires, animals, etc. in space — before the story of the Lord calling the boy Samuel even begins. But it’s fantastic, because when the story starts, and the boy Samuel wakes up and wanders through the temple (indicated by the signer’s index finger) to find the old priest Eli, we see him like a tiny doll traversing this rich, imaginary architectural space — here’s little Samuel leaving the tent, walking by the wall, climbing in this doorway and that, etc. Way more interesting than just the words “he ran to Eli,” which is how the English translation goes.

“How To Translate Erotic Poetry Without Being Incredibly Awkward” aka The Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs), which is done in costume. With characters. I could not stop laughing. The Song of Solomon is incredibly erotic love poetry; there are breasts! there are tongues! Not just tongues of fire, the… other kinds of tongues, like… uh… erm. Yes. There are — look, its English translation opens with “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” and it goes on from there, okay? (I will not, by the way, be covering this particular section of Scripture with the 8-year-old. I’ll… let his mom do that.)

It’s overwhelmingly sensual, terrifyingly volatile — at least to me. It’s the only part of the Bible I could not read, could not stand to read, until last spring when I decided that for Lent, this was the fear I wanted to face head-on right now, just reading that short section of the Bible and not trying to escape/avoid it. (Now that was an adventure, but it’s another story for another day.) And now it’s one of my favorites, if not the favorite of all of Scripture to me — still volatile, still terrifyingly overwhelming, but… wow. Wow. Mystery.

Anyway. They do it in ASL in costume and with characters, which is — it’s way more formally dramatic than it plays out in my head, but that’s why I was laughing — because as hard as they try here, the comparison between the video and the way I experience this section of Scripture is like the difference between watching an excellent production of the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet (or perhaps more contemporarily, The Fault In Our Stars*) and watching those scenes as reenacted by very excited third-graders! who really can’t… feel, or understand, or express… very much… of the words they’re saying. But then again, anything would pale in comparison to how I experience the Song of Songs; I don’t think you can actually physically capture it. But boy, do these folks try a lot harder than any spoken-word rendition I have ever heard! (It stuns me how a hearing reader can make “turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle / or a young stag on the cleft mountains!” sound like a set of clinical instructions for assembling IKEA furniture. Seriously, hearing people. Really?)

“WHEEEEE CYMBALS BOOM BOOM BOOM” – And finally, 1 Corinthians 13, because of the gong in the beginning. That’s it, just the gong. Totally cracked me up.

*Edit: after writing this post, while being distracted by The Fault In Our Stars‘s Wikipedia article, I found to my surprise that Fr. Robert Barron had written a film review that ends with a reference to Song of Songs 8:6, “for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.” I now feel totally vindicated by referring to that book in this blog post.


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  1. 3 Responses to “My favorite passages from the ASL Bible: Little Kid Wanders Through Big Temple, Awkward Erotic Poetry, and CYMBALS”

  2. It’s totally appropriate for the Song of Songs to be recited as a play. Some translations indicate the current speaker(s), just like in a play. It even has a “Greek chorus” (the Daughters of Zion). However, I also didn’t imagine it so formally theatrical. It could be because Christians (in Europe, at least) have so thoroughly allegorized it that it’s impossible to read literally.

    For example: “Wer ist, die hervorbricht wie die Morgenröte, schön wie der Mond, auserwählt wie die Sonne, schrecklich wie Heerscharen?” I can’t possibly read this (Song of Songs 6:10, Luther-Bibel) without having a theophany in mind. I think of Beatrice’s arrival in the Divine Comedy, or of Jakob Boehme’s “Aurora.” The literal context doesn’t call for a theophany, though; it’s no different than the feeling expressed in 6:5 (“Wende deine Augen von mir; denn sie verwirren mich”).

    By Mark Hoemmen on Aug 12, 2014

  3. We’ve been bouncing around a little, basically choosing books of the Bible we think we should know better than we do. Currently, that means the epistle to the Romans. And this is problematic because I stand against Paul on principle because generally Paul stands against women, and a lot of the core parts of the Lutheran lectionary are drawn from there, but sometimes we’re both disagreeing with his theology. Anyway, there are some verses that are just unexpectedly, knock-you-over beautiful. It was the first time I ever really got the Christ as bridegroom, Israel/us as bride metaphor.

    By Bonnie on Sep 4, 2014

  4. btw, “Little Kid Wanders Through Big Temple” is the plot of Rilke’s first poem in “Das Marienleben” (The Life of Mary).

    By Mark Hoemmen on Sep 4, 2014

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