I’m Not Here to Write You a Small World


I’ve been thinking about something. Every once in a while, a reader will object, with a tone of moral indignation, that they don’t like “PC” fiction (I think they mean “politically correct”; I don’t think they’re objecting to thriller novels about desktop computers) or that they don’t think I should be “forcing diversity” or writing “political fiction” or “ramming a message down their throat” or “rubbing a message in their face.” It’s always weird to me when a reader describes a fictional story with elements they dislike using metaphors for bodily invasion or assault, but that’s a topic for another time.

What I am thinking about is why there is a seemingly fundamental disconnect between these particular readers and other readers (including myself) who I write for. I think it has to do with how we have defined our communities – in religious terms, with who we recognize as our neighbors.

When I tell a science fiction story with Muslim characters, or characters with various ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, levels of physical ability, etc., these objecting readers think I am “forcing” these elements on them because what they have defined as their community does not include or welcome people who are different from them in these ways, and the presence of people different from them is seen as an invasion or violation.

But I don’t write the characters I write because I have a “message.” Or to be “PC.” Or to ram a character “down someone’s throat.” I write the characters I write because people in my community, people I love, my family and friends and colleagues – they inspire and are reflected in the characters I write. My characters are influenced by people I’ve known.

There is a 150-year-old Chinese gunslinger in a wheelchair in my current work in progress not because I want to rub diversity in a reader’s face, but because my daughter is in a wheelchair and she is as fierce as a gunslinger, and because several of my dearest college friends were from China (Yi and I used to stay up all night playing Starcraft; I usually lost), and because I think in a future scifi novel, people might live to 150.

And I wrote into Ansible: Season Three a love story between two bi women not because I have a “political” message in mind but because some people very dear to me are bi. And they have love stories. When I write science fiction stories about people marooned in alien bodies in which they never felt at home … I know people who live that experience, though their bodies are not literally extraterrestrial. That’s the scifi part.

To me, the presence of these fictional characters isn’t an invasion of the reader or an authorial intrusion that I have jammed into the story; their presence is just a given. These are people. Readers who object think that I am “adding” people into the fictional world that they don’t want there, and who they think I shouldn’t want there. Unwelcome people. But I’m not adding anyone to the fictional world. I’m just refusing to subtract people who are already IN the world we share together.

If I write a hijabi bi superheroine, I didn’t write her because I want us to be “PC.” I wrote her because I wanted to tell her story. It would be utterly exhausting to censor my fiction and shrink my imagined worlds and their casts of characters merely in order to accommodate the bigotries or discomfort of some readers.

If your own world is small, then good stories might be uncomfortable. And maybe need to be. Because good stories make our world bigger.

(But if it is truly too uncomfortable, there are so many stories out there that are written with smaller worlds inside them. Readers can go read those stories and inhabit those smaller worlds if that is truly what they want. But I don’t have any obligation to my readers to write them a smaller world. That is not what I do.)

Stant Litore

Something I Want to Say


I have been told a few times recently that I cannot love God or serve God faithfully without condemning my LGBTQ+ neighbors, or without supporting policies and actions that threaten their rights, their lives, or their wellbeing. A few of my siblings in the faith believe that.

And I answer, “I think you are confusing me with someone who worships a small god. My God is not a small god. My God does not care about outward appearances; my God cares about the heart. My God is less interested in whether you squat or stand when you pee than with whether you love. I say ‘my God’ but he is not ‘my’ anything; I am trying to be his. I would be ashamed of owning a god, especially a small one. The God I love never told me to sit in judgment over my neighbor. He told me to love my neighbor, recklessly and deeply and without conditions, as he does.”


Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

New From Stant Litore: Colosseums for Dinosaurs


Look what’s here!

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Colosseums for Dinosaurs is an omnibus edition of all the dinosaur stories. It includes The Running of the Tyrannosaurs, Nyota’s Tyrannosaur, and The Screaming of the Tyrannosaur.

Once each year on orbital space stations, nano-engineered young women compete on the backs of dinosaurs in races as brutal and bloody as any witnessed in the Roman Circus 3,000 years before. Highly skilled and capable of superhuman feats, these gladiators live isolated lives—except for the resurrected beasts with whom they form their deepest bonds. Tonight, on the red sands of the arena and inside the hollow asteroid where the dinosaurs are grown, the secrets these gladiators discover will shake their entire world.

Join Livia Tenning (Egret), Nyota Madaki (Jaguar), and Mai Changying (Timberwolf) in Colosseums for Dinosaurs.

“This is a pulse-pounding story, a triumph of world-building – a story of gladiatorial combat and of bonds strange and transcendent. Without a doubt, one of the most enthralling stories I’ve come across.” – Samuel Peralta, The Future Chronicles

To Understand is to Stand Among

Etymology of understanding - Photo of a woman gazing out

I love the word “understand.”

It’s a very, very old English word, dating back to a time when the word “under” did not mean “beneath” but meant “in the middle of” or “among.” To understand a place, you must stand in the midst of it, looking around at everything there and being a part of it. To understand a people, you must stand among them, not outside looking in. It’s a beautiful word.

Our word “comprehend” is from the Latin. The verb, back when the Romans had hold of it, literally meant to seize or take something completely, to grasp hold of it and pull it to you. Prehendere is the same verb used for seizing criminals; it also becomes our English word “apprehend.” Over time, by metaphor, comprehendere came to mean seizing knowledge, approaching something that’s outside of you and taking it by force, taking ownership of it, taking it into your mind. A very Roman idea. To comprehend someone or something that’s outside of us, we approach them, take them, capture them, and own them in our mind. They are now a known quantity. In this way, the empire desires to “comprehend” the world.

But the Anglo-Saxon verb understandan meant … to stand in the middle of things and look around and see what’s there, which you can do because you’re in it and a part of it.

I really love the word “understand.”

We need more understanding in the world.

Stant Litore

(A shameless plug: If you would like more language nerding from me, please get the book Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, because you will really enjoy it.

You can find it here:

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931
Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP)


Photo credit: Marina Vitale on Unsplash; @marina_mv88

Things I’m Excited For


It’s stunningly expensive (and probably should be, as it represents twenty years of work), but it’s also exciting; Robert Alter’s new translation of the Hebrew Bible into English is scholarly and brings a lot more accuracy to the table than many existing translations: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BN5HWWX

What I am eager for that has not happened just yet is a full Hebrew Bible translation from a translator who is a woman or from a committee of women. As we saw when Marcia Falk translated the Song of Songs, when Anne Carson translated Sappho, and when Emily Wilson translated the Odyssey, centuries of male or majority-male translation committees can miss some pretty big things. (I am sure the notion that men sometimes miss “obvious” things will come as no surprise to any woman reading this post.) So I eagerly await the day when the number of biblical translators who are women grows.

Meanwhile, I am excited to dig into Alter’s translation as soon as I can afford a copy or secure one from the library. (Fortunately, many individual books or sets of books like the Torah or the Psalms are already available as individual volumes.) I want to see especially his treatment of the poetic texts.

For those who share either my interest in the Bible or my interest in language nerdery, I just wanted to share the news that this is out!

Stant Litore


Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

Triceratops Traveling in Vast Herds, Vast


Things I learned in the past year:

1. Triceratops traveled across the continent in majestic herds of hundreds of thousands, like wildebeest or bison, a flowing ocean of hide and horn;

2. There was once a species of crocodile that could gallop 40mph, and they snacked on dinosaurs.

3. In Finnish, poronkusema is a unit of distance referred to in some rural areas. It literally means “reindeer piss” and it describes the distance a reindeer can travel without urinating in the snow. The space between blotches of yellow snow is roughly six miles.

There. These are things you know now.

Also, come learn from my books. For dinosaurs, go for Nyota’s Tyrannosaur; for language nerdiness, go for Lives of Unforgetting.

(Get the books. Get the books. Get the books.)

Oh yeah, and:

4. Pumpkin toadlets (a species of tiny frog in Brazil) have a glow-in-the-dark skeleton. That is also a thing you know now.

Stant Litore


Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

About that Gorgeous Cover


People have been curious about the gorgeous cover of Lives of Unforgetting, the new book. The cover design is by Roberto Calas, and the art is by The Rustic Vegan, used with his permission; his photograph makes me think of being welcomed to a lovely meal with people who have stories to share that may not be the stories I expect. Thank you for joining me at the table! Make sure to check out the artist’s work on Instagram: www.instagram.com/rustic.vegan – it will make you both delighted and (I think) hungry.

And please get a copy of my book. I will be delighted if you read it and share word of it with others who would be interested. Lives of Unforgetting is here:

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

New Book from Stant Litore: Lives of Unforgetting


I am delighted to announce the release of a new book: Lives of Unforgetting, subtitled “What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, And A Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure.”

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

The ancient Greek word for “truth” means unconcealing or unforgetting. Yet today many ideas and stories that were once critical to how early Christians understood, practiced, and defended their faith often remain “hidden in plain sight” in our Bibles. These ideas are concealed from us by the distance between languages, between eras, and between cultures—yet they are so worth unconcealing and unforgetting.

In Lives of Unforgetting, discover:

  • The forgotten women who co-founded Christianity
  • Whether the first-century church thought there was a hell
  • What happens when you realize that in Greek, faith is a verb
  • Why gender in the Bible is more complicated than we think
  • Which concepts our modern tradition often takes for granted that would have been alien to the original readers (like homophobia)

We have also forgotten that to read the Bible is to receive an invitation to adventure—to encounter the impossible, to move mountains, to walk on water. Instead, we have been taught to read the Bible tamely, to make no choices, to risk no questioning of our tradition. What would happen if we took the adventure? If we readers walked out into the wilderness toward God, leaving home far behind? If we stepped out of the boat of our received tradition, out onto the crashing waves?

Let’s find out.

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NTRT4DP
Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732086931

Keeping Momentum in a Troubled Time


On my mind:

Makes me sad: The global extinction crisis.
Makes me mad: The senseless cruelty of our border crisis.
Makes me glad: Cirdan learning words. Learn, little guy, learn! Learn all the things.
Makes me rad: Gladiators riding T-Rexes.
Makes me hope a tad: Kindness. Like when your kid is in the hospital and a friend is planning to bring dinner and they show up with like a carload of food. Just … kindness.

If I can hold all five in my hands, sad/mad/glad/rad/tad, I can keep moving. I can take action, neither spending my energy in passive outrage nor hoarding my energy in passive apathy.

If I can hold all five in my hands, if I can be both angry and kind, then I can keep moving.

Stant Litore


Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

“The Excellence of the Ladies”


In ancient days women were able to do
extraordinary things to impress the world
by their excellence in arms (to name but two,
I offer Camilla and Harpalyce, who hurled
spears and wielded swords). And not a few
were followers of the Muses and uncurled
their scrolls as Sappho did with uneven lines,
and Corinna, and their light forever shines.

Women have achieved in every art
and craft the highest distinction, and their fame
is great indeed. They’re strong and they are smart.
Without them history couldn’t have been the same.
I rather think it is envy on men’s part
that keeps concealed the honor and acclaim
they have deserved. If their work is not taught in schools,
it is because men are jealous–or fools.

In our own age, fair women of talent and
worth are everywhere and deserve that pen
and paper record their prowess and their grand
achievements, so that in the future, when
people study our times they will understand
the excellence of the ladies.

– Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso Canto XX,
Published in Ferrara, Italy in 1516.

502 years ago.

The lines above are translated by David R. Slavitt.

The Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

Old engraving of Nero fiddling while Rome burns

The Roman emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, desiring the worship, adoration, and awe of millions, had to have the biggest, gaudiest, flashiest everything. He had big plans. One time, Nero proposed to the Senate and People of Rome that they make Rome even greater than it had ever been by tearing down a third of the city and building a series of magnificent palaces on top of the newly cleared land. The conjoined palaces would be called Nero City (Neropolis).

The Roman congress was adamantly against the proposal of building Nero City, no matter how Nero Claudius Caesar raged and tantrummed and insisted that he’d simply shut down the whole Roman government if they didn’t build what he wanted. Curiously, shortly after the Senate rejected their executive leader’s plans for Nero City, a devastating fire burned down the senators’ ancestral family homes on the Palatine Hill and much of the rest of the city, too. It was rumored that the fire was started by arsons employed by Nero.

In the place of those lost homes, Nero built a Golden House (Domus Aurea), the biggest and most golden house in all the world. It covered the Palatine Hill and the slopes of several other adjacent hills in Rome. The palace covered more than 100 acres and may have covered more than 300 acres; we don’t know the size for sure, because we haven’t dug up the entire grounds. We know that the Golden House had 300 rooms covered in polished white marble, as well as vast halls coded by theme and color. There was a massive revolving dining room where guests at dinner could be showered with flower petals and perfumes while the room slowly, slowly turned. There were parks and woods inside the palace, and a vast artificial lake where Nero had fleets of gladiators perform re-enactments of Rome’s naval combats, showing in the storm of swords and the crash of timber and the cries of battle just how much Rome was the greatest and had always been the greatest. Nero also had a 100-foot statue of himself carved and parked inside the lobby of the Golden House. The statue of Nero may have been even bigger; it depends on which ancient source you’re reading. Nero paid for a 120-foot statue, but he may have only gotten a 99-foot statue in the end. And judging by the differing reports from his contemporaries, there may have been some public contention over what the actual size of his finished statue was. It was, regardless, the hugest statue in Rome, the city in the Empire that had all the statues, all the best statues.

Nero also had to be the best and greatest at everything. He wanted to be the best athlete and the best boxer, and he competed in the Olympic Games. He wanted to be the best musician and actor and entertainer, and he composed songs and would sometimes hold a concert for an entire night that no one attending was permitted to leave, though there were reports of guests going into labor during Nero’s concert, or feigning death in order to get out. The safer option, of course, was to wait until the end and give Nero Claudius Caesar your fullest applause. He believed that he was the best architect, the best shipbuilder, the best engineer, that he knew more about each of those subjects than those Romans who had spent their lives in those professions. On one occasion, in an elaborate (but so very Nero) plot to assassinate his mother, Nero designed an ornate pleasure boat that would collapse and sink, and then sailed his mom off in it. It did collapse and sink, but too quickly, so she swam ashore. Another time, he built her a collapsible house.

Nero was incredibly popular with the masses. He would put on vast gladiatorial games for them, he built baths and gymnasiums that anyone could use, he bragged incessantly about the greatness and glory of the Roman military and the Roman people, and he always found someone to blame for all of the problems that hardworking Romans had to face. Their gods were being besmirched and their jobs were being taken by immigrants from the Middle East. And when the great fire of AD 64 burned much of the city, it was clearly the immigrants’ fault. They had come here, sneaky-like, with their alien religion and their violent Middle Eastern ways, and they hated Rome and Romans, and they had started the fire. They were terrifying arsonists and violent people and they needed to be dealt with. Thrown to the lions, burned alive, executed in very showy ways so that the Roman people could see the retribution for their lost jobs and lost homes and lost family, and so that Rome could be rebuilt and be made great again.

Epictetus, a Roman philosopher of the day, criticized Nero Claudius Caesar for his need for adoration. Epictetus said that Nero was a childish, unhappy man who did everything he did in order to get as much praise as possible. If anyone else was getting praise from the Roman masses, Nero would fly into a rage and smear and attack that other person. Or even have them done away with. Suetonius, a historian, said that Nero was possessed by an “unreasonable craving for immortal fame.”

Nero talked a lot about the Roman economy. He talked about closing loopholes in the Roman tax laws and making taxation fair. He talked about spending only on things that mattered and made Rome great … like Nero City. And, curiously, he bankrupted the empire’s treasury and sent Rome into a deep abyss of debt to foreign banks. And though Nero talked all the time about the greatness of Rome’s military, he wasn’t actually very interested in military plans or details. He announced that he intended to abandon the empire’s campaigns across the sea in Britain, he consistently ignored the advice of Rome’s military commanders, and in the end, his military leaders rebelled. Reportedly, Nero’s last words were “Qualis artifex pereo! (What an artist the world is losing!)”

All this, naturally, has nothing to do with current events or persons in today’s world.

Stant Litore


Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

3 A.M. Thoughts


3 a.m. thoughts, in sequence, upon waking:

1. Life is most likely not as bleak and drear and futile as it briefly appears when you wake at 3 a.m. with a headache and an overabundance of snot.

2. That cyborg ceratosaur that you just fled in your dream for an hour while firing a ray gun over your shoulder and yelling at your crewmates to run faster, dammit…that ravenous robotic dinosaur did not actually eat your friend Jorge. No matter how choked up you just got at the memorial service, where his casket held only his favorite helmet because the rest of him was inside that ceratosaur’s half-mechanical belly, Jorge is not really dead in real life. You didn’t lose him. You don’t have to feel like you abandoned him on that world, down there in the belly of the beast. It’s ok. Sometimes you fight the cyborg ceratosaur and overcome, sometimes you fight the cyborg ceratosaur and you’re breakfast. That’s life in the fleet. It’s ok. You did all you could. Also, that was a dream, silly, and Jorge is just fine. His memorial service can wait a few decades yet. You can tell him about the dream tomorrow after sunup and laugh about it together.

3. You do not actually know anyone named Jorge.

The History Behind “Hocus Pocus”


This was written tongue-in-cheek to entertain a friend yesterday, though it is mostly accurate. I’ll share it with you, too.

The question was: Where does “hocus pocus” come from? So I took a deep breath before the plunge, and then told this story.

OK, so. England. Early 1600s. For a half century England has been a theological and political war zone between the Anglicans, the Catholics, and various Protestants sects:

  • Much of the Church of England wants a good middle-of-the-road religion with a Bible written in King’s English and that isn’t too obsessed with squishing England’s many folk traditions.
  • Half of the Protestant splinter sects want to ban anything that looks remotely Pagan (which in their minds is a code word for “Catholic,” except for when “Papist” is a code word for “Pagan”), such as stained glass and Christmas and orphanages and kissing.
  • The other half of the English Protestants are smaller sects assembling hastily around a charismatic prophet, in quite a few cases an educated woman who can read Latin and English and has Some Thoughts about the biblical text.
  • The Catholics want England to be Spanish. Now, some of the English don’t want that because their grandfolk saw Bloody Mary and the Spanish Inquisition and the horror of Inquisitors rooting out heretics and “secret Jews” and just torturing and burning people left and right and up and sideways, but since over on the continent the Protestants are now performing their own genocides, many of the English don’t want *them* either.

Super turbulent.

Many English folk whose parents were Catholic and whose county now isn’t Catholic would love to pay alms to an orphanage or a chapel or a hospital whose patients can sing prayers for the souls of their dearly departed to get them out of purgatory into heaven faster, but the Puritans are busy telling them, “HOLD ON NOW, ALL YOUR PARENTS ARE IN HELL, THERE AIN’T NO PURGATORY OR NO GHOSTS OR NONE OF THIS CATHOLIC STUFF NOW WE AIN’T HAVING IT, THIS IS A GODLY AND PROTESTANT LAND, YOU ALL ARE PROTESTANTS NOW, Y’HEAR. EXCEPT THE KING, HE’S A TOTAL HEATHEN (AND GAY), BUT HE’S FUNDING US.”

But not being able to fund doctors and orphanages to sing for the beloved dead (which used to be the big engine driving philanthropy), lots of English folk with dead loved ones who apparently are burning in hell now have the major sads. (As Stephen Greenblatt argues in Hamlet in Purgatory, it’s part of what Hamlet is about. How do you mourn for the dead when you’ve been told ghosts and purgatory aren’t real and most of the dead are in hell, and what if a ghost does show up and tells you to avenge your dad and off your uncle, who do you believe then??? Someone is playing you an unkind trick, and something is rotten in the state of Denmark.)

And Catholic Spain sends in an invading armada, and a generation later, a terrorist tries to blow up Parliament, so the Pagan Pontiff in the east is clearly out to kill all good English people and also bring kids presents and hang glass balls and ribbons on trees in the middle of the winter. Nefarious bloke, that one. And Ben Jonson puts on a masque for the king when the king visits London, where Father Christmas is led out in chains by the London Guard, to plead his case before the king. Yes, he dresses fancy and gives gifts and decorates trees, but Father Christmas insists that “he’s as Protestant as any,” and the poor orphan children should be allowed to see him this December. Meanwhile, every street in London has its own new religion forming because now the middle-class can read and the Bible’s done been translated into English and everyone Has Thoughts.

Now into this colossal mess walks the Great Hocus Pocus of London! With his billowing stars-and-moons cape and his gift for lifting an object over his head, intoning the solemn, allegedly Latin magic phrase “Hocus Pocus!!” and BOOM, his scarf just becomes a bunny wabbit, or something. He was a great illusionist of the early 1600s. There was no Vatican II yet, so every Catholic liturgy was in Latin and most folk didn’t know Latin. So, it was a common misconception at the time that when the priest lifted the bread and blessed it, he was performing a work of Magic, transforming the bread to the body of Christ, and the wine to the blood. Transubstantiation was something scholars could debate until they were blue in the face; the working class, many of whom still celebrated Yule and Samhain and the rest, knew it was Magic. So the Great Hocus Pocus of London would hold up items, mimicking a Catholic priest, and intone solemnly, “Hoc – us poc – us!” And BOOM! The item changed to something else. Hocus pocus was a seventeenth-century corruption of the Latin phrase “hoc est corpus” (this is the body) from the Eucharist.

His magical illusions earned the Great Hocus Pocus many coins and noisily excited crowds, and many Puritan scowls. He got to perform before nobles great and small. And the Puritans published a street pamphlet condemning the Great Hocus Pocus, with a little engraving of the Pocus himself in his cape with a malevolent sneer and with the Pope following along at one elbow and with a little horned devil with a long tail and shrivelled little bat-wings following along at his other. I saw it when I was a graduate student at the Bodleian Library.

But for ever after, street and stage and vaudeville illusionists would cry “Hocus Pocus!” as they performed their spells, and Puritan polemicists would adopt “The Hocus Pocus” as a slur for the Pope. Mid-century, the Puritans take over the country, behead the king, and criminalize Catholicism, Christmas, maypoles, theatrical productions, laughing too loud, and wearing colors other than black. A generation later, they’re overthrown, Oliver Cromwell’s head is stuck up in a steeple, and England reveals to the world just what happens when a people who have been repressed by Puritans for twenty years suddenly get to let loose: they launch a non-stop party, open opera houses and brothels and vaudeville theaters (where an actress-witch might entertain a drunk crowd by yelling “HOCUS POKE-US!!!” and appearing to transform a fellow nude actor’s manhood into a bouquet of flowers. Or a rabbit, I suppose), and they rewrite all of Shakespeare’s tragedies with happy endings and mad cool sparkly special effects. (You haven’t *really* seen King Lear until you’ve seen Lear and Cordelia dance off stage at the end to a sprightly tune while the audience is showered with flowers, let me tell you.) Also, the Anglicans get to hang up Christmas stockings and burn Yule logs again, and some Catholics get to come back, too, although good Anglicans still celebrate escaping the Gunpowder Plot by burning Catholics in effigy every 5th of November.

There is a 1680 Restoration-era political pamphlet that urges the king not to allow the Puritan faction to get any more power because they are “Fanatics.” The pamphlet stages a debate between the Pope and a “Phanatick,” and caricatures many common Puritan arguments. In one, the “Phanatick” names the Pope the “Anti Christ” and “the Spiritual Pasha of Mystical Babylon, the great Hocus Pocus of Christendom, Son of the Scarlet Whore!” Because the Puritans used to throw phrases like that around a lot.

So Hocus Pocus was originally “Behold, I transform this wine into blood and also your dangly parts into a fluffy bunny! POOF!”

It was a phrase invoked by London street magicians and by Puritan brimstone preachers who had an itch to fight the Pope. And because the two catchiest things in the world are brimstone preaching and lewd comedy, we still hocus pocus things today.

Stant Litore

Photo above Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash.

A Comfort on the Long Road

Portrait of Teresa of Avila

The statements being released by some members of my faith, filled with hate and prejudice and a desire to disclaim responsibility rather than accept the radical responsibility that Christ teaches … It makes me tired. It makes me mad. It makes me grieve. It makes me want to take some of my brothers lovingly but so, so firmly by the shoulders and shake them.

A friend reminded me today of these words from Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Dear Teresa of Avila, she and Julian of Norwich, have been a comfort to me on many long roads. From Julian: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Stant Litore


Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

The Invasion of the Acropolis

Painting of the Acropolis by Leo von Klenze

I am alternately amused and mildly appalled while perusing my old Greek textbooks today. Athenaze were my texts and for my money they’re still the best available for learning ancient Greek. They teach the language the same way modern languages are often taught: by having the reader follow a story and learn as they go. It’s very effective, and I recommend the texts for anyone who’s interested; Greek doesn’t have to be as hard to learn as folks make it out to be.

That said, the cultural norming happening in the story written for the textbook is getting a wry look from me. The farmer in the story is hardworking, honest, but occasionally henpecked by his wife; the slave is lazy; the wives set out to persuade their husbands sweetly and submissively to let them go on an outing; the son likes to scare the daughter with gory stories, and the daughter is appropriately horrified; etc. It’s a somewhat Victorianized version of the Attican countryside.

I think if I were ever to write a textbook for ancient Greek (which I would NOT; I will leave that to those who are far better at it! and who have grants to fund it, too), I think I’d help the student learn Greek by walking them through the story of the winter when the Amazons invaded Athens and fought the Greeks toe to toe on the Acropolis in an attempt to rescue their kidnapped queen and bring fire and death and the wrath of Ares on those who had trafficked her across the sea. Now that would be a story to build a textbook on. Will the temple of the Thunderer burn, or will Theseus retake it? Will Hippolyta’s sister succeed in her night raid on Theseus’s camp? What do the slaves who are keeping the war-camp fed have to say about all this? You can find out as soon as you conquer the sigmatic first aorist active verb endings and thus unlock the next chapter.



Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

A Military Metaphor in the New Testament, and Where Our Translation Goes Wrong…


Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!


Now on to the post…


All right, with a friend’s help, I found a much faster way to say what I’ve been wanting to say about “hupotassomenoi allelois” (Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις) in the letter to Ephesus. So here is the more Internet-friendly, tl;dr version.

People often quote Ephesians 5:22 (in English, usually a variation on “wives, submit to your husbands”), and there are several problems with how this verse is usually used.

First, people usually forget to also quote Ephesians 5:21 (“submit to each other in reverence of Christ”), despite the fact that in Greek this is all part of the same sentence and that in that sentence you can’t talk about wives submitting to husbands without simultaneously talking about husbands submitting to wives.

Second, if you look at the original words, you realize that “submit” doesn’t mean “obey.” Our modern “submit” doesn’t even mean what “submit” meant in English when it was used originally, four hundred years ago, in the King James translation of the Bible. The older English translations used “submit” because they were drawing from Latin “sub + mittere,” meaning to deploy oneself like a soldier under a command, to get a mission accomplished. (In fact, we get the English word “mission” from the same Latin verb.) And the Greek “hupo + tassomenoi” means to deploy or arrange yourselves in military formation under a command. The original passage isn’t making a statement about obedience, but about the disciplined and alert support that Christians who are in relationship with each other are called to provide each other as they wear the “full armor of God” and face (spiritual) opposition. It’s actually a remarkable word to use in a first-century Greek text because military metaphors were usually reserved for men. But people of all genders are being asked to deploy themselves in a battle-ready unit in support of each other within the early Christian community. Ephesians 5:21: “Deploy yourselves in support of each other, in reverence of Christ.” The tense is one we don’t have in English, one that suggests continual action: Be always deploying yourselves under and in support of each other. These lines in Ephesians are part of a longer sentence and a longer passage that offers an extended metaphor for how each member of a first-century Ephesian community can be continually, spiritually battle-ready, regardless of their gender, class, or position.

Third, by missing both of the points above, we end up trying to take one piece of a Greek sentence and use it as an isolated aphorism to hang a doctrine on, specifically about women’s roles in [the household / the church / society – take your pick], and we then proceed to miss entirely the point the original writer appears to have been making, which has to do with the need for a community in which all members are actively supporting each other, each member ready to step in wherever the other is vulnerable — operating in concert (“homothumadon,” of one mind) like a Greek phalanx or a Roman battle square. And the use of the military metaphor to apply not only to the citizens and freedmen in the community but to the slaves as well, and not only to men but to others also, subverts the traditional class and gender hierarchies of the community the letter is being written to: treating all believers as though they are all soldiers working together in a unit. It’s a radically subversive idea in the first century, and we don’t have easily equivalent words or concepts to translate it to in modern English.

So when we pluck out the one verse by itself and use it as rhetorical backing for a gender hierarchy that is traditional in *our* culture, we might possibly be committing two errors.

First, we’re missing the forest for the trees. Imagine that we’re grabbing up one branch and whacking women with it while the writer of the passage is standing to one side shouting indignantly, “Wait! Look at the forest! Put down that branch a moment and look at the whole forest! It’s important!” (And there is an impressive, deep, beautiful, and useful forest here, if we don’t busy ourselves waving twigs in the air and we get to see it. The larger message about community that this letter is trying to convey is a very powerful one that is no less radical today than when it was written. It’s just being conveyed within a language and context that’s very different from our own.)

And second, we may be advocating a message that, in spirit, is opposite to the message the epistle was written to convey. That is, we’re enforcing culturally traditional divisions (and doing so potentially in divisive or oppressive ways) in a passage that was all about how to operate as a cohesive and interdependent unit inside of and against what was at that time a divided and highly stratified culture.

Something to think about.

(That’s still quite a long post, I suppose. But much shorter than my other attempts.)

Stant Litore


P.S. Sometimes, the King James Version actually gives us a really good translation, but we get in trouble because the meanings of many words have changed in English over the past four centuries (like “submit”). Another example my friends and I have been talking about a lot is the Proverbs 31 “virtuous woman.”

The Hebrew is “eshet chayil.” It doesn’t mean “virtuous woman.” It means “woman of valor.”

The King James translated “chayil” as “virtuous” because in the 17th century, “virtuous” still suggested the French “virtu” and at the time it meant “manly” or “brave.” This is the woman who is also, in the King James translation, clothed in “strength and honor.”

The Hebrew doesn’t suggest “manly”/masculine though. Just: valorous. Brave, persistent, daring, and ready for anything.

“A daring, warrior woman, who can find? Her worth is incalculable” would be a much better English translation. (In fact, the JPS Tanakh used for Jewish worship in the United States translates the verse closer to that.)


Photo above by Caleb Wright on Unsplash.


Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

So Many Different Ways to Say Hello


Greetings fascinate me, as they are sometimes really different from one language to the next.

The Hebrew “shalom!” means “let’s have peace!” and a very specific kind of peace: the flourishing of the whole community.

The Greek “xaire!” means “rejoice! celebrate! be glad!” or, more jovially, “Party!!!” Bill and Ted are very Greek in the first half of their famous greeting: “Party on!”

The Latin “salve!” means “be strong!” Very Roman sentiment, that. You could soften it to “be well!” because strength and health are largely the same concept in that language.

The English/Germanic “hello!” is a modern adaptation, several words removed, from “hail!” which literally means “Be healthy!” Guess we’re pretty Roman, too. (The Russian “Zdravstvuyte!” means the same thing, just with more syllables.)

The French “bonjour!” is a cheerful “good day!”

The Swahili “jambo!” appears to be derived from a word meaning “matters, business, things,” so it may have begun as a cheerful “Things to do!” or “Let’s get to it, friend!” Which maybe makes a lot of sense when we remember that East Africa, a few centuries back, was a network of the most bustling trade centers of the Old World, with merchants constantly arriving and leaving at the docks to do trade with everywhere from Persia to Indonesia to China. Those ports were busy places, and prior to the circumnavigation of the world, there were no ports on the planet that were busier.

The Chinese often say “nǐ chī le ma?” (Have you eaten?) and the expected response is, “I have, how about you?” I rather like that way of greeting someone: [Have you been taken care of? Do I need to feed you? I care about you.]

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I remember learning that there used to be, a century or so back, a formal Romanian greeting that literally translated to “I’m not holding a knife” or “I’m unarmed.” As in, hello, don’t attack me. Which likely made a great deal of sense as a greeting in a region that had been invaded constantly and relentlessly, practically in each generation, for over a thousand years.

Stant Litore

P.S. And of course the Fae open with “Ill met by moonlight,” because if you should encounter the Fae, you are probably going to get messed up. By moonlight.

Storytellers and Troublemakers


If I’m not careful, I’m going to get a reputation as a troublemaker, which isn’t what I intend at all. I really just care about my novels about biblical prophets standing against the hungry dead and my stories of naked people competing on tyrannosaurback aboard orbital space colosseums. But I get so excited to have people to nerd out with about history and language. Then inevitably some pundit or politician or false prophet says something absolutely atrocious, my brain responds, “That’s not what it says in the text,” and then the teacher in me wakes up. If there are two things I can’t abide, they are tyrannosaurs without feathers and people who wrap up their avarice, bigotry, or fear in a coat made of scattered, out-of-context biblical verses and then have the audacity to strut about in it, as if the Word is a showy uniform you wear for your convenience rather than a flame blazing in your heart.

Stant Litore

About the Rebel Virgins of the Roman Empire…


Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!


Now on to the post…


Because I think this is worth knowing: many of the verses quoted by teachers of American “purity culture” and taken as justification for the subordination of women were likely originally intended to have the opposite effect. Chastity and virginity were prized in the early first-, second-, and third-century Christian churches in Europe and Western Asia partially as a way to free up men and women to preach and to work in the community outside the home. Roman law after Augustus required young men and women to wed and bed and produce healthy Roman babies. That’s right, likely in response to the extremely high infant mortality rate, the state mandated getting married and knocked up — and penalized those who didn’t. However, there were at least two exemptions I am aware of, one for registered and professional prostitutes and one for priestesses. Rome had this idea that priestesses needed to be virgins and therefore shouldn’t wed and bed Roman men – so priestesses didn’t have to marry.

Now, in most recognized Roman religions, it was very hard to become a priestess, and the number of priestesses were few. But in Christian doctrine from its earliest days, every single Christian was a priest/priestess of God, and the members of the church collectively were the “bride of Christ.” So…during those times when the Empire didn’t ban the religion outright, any Christian woman could claim the marriage exemption, declare herself an official virgin, and rather than devote her life to raising a good Roman family, she could teach, she could preach, she could run a business (as many Christian women did – just look to Lydia of Thyatira for a quick, biblical example), and/or she could join one of the sisterhoods of the holy widows, gathering funds for the poor and organizing efforts to care for the community’s orphans and homeless.

This is one reason that during the times of Nero, Trajan, Domitian, and Diocletian, Christianity was so hated by the Roman government. It wasn’t just that Christianity was nominally monotheistic (and so Christian mothers raised their children not to sacrifice to ancestral deities, a circumstance which eventually led to the crash of several major industries), it was all the growing numbers of women who were unmarried and teaching and leading and bursting into activity in their communities (though others were also withdrawing into secluded communities of scholars or anchoresses). There is a reason the letters in the New Testament name as many or more women apostles and teachers as they do men. To men in power in Rome, this may have appeared to be a bit of an apocalypse. “Women not getting married??? Women preaching??? The world as we know it is ending!! Stop them! Stop the Christians!”

Emperor Diocletian draws my particular ire. He attempted to exterminate Christianity in the Roman Empire in the year 303 specifically by attacking Christian women. He revoked the state’s recognition of Christianity as a legal religion and required that all Christian women marry. All women who refused were either raped by order of the state and then killed, or forcibly married (and then raped), or forced to register as prostitutes (and then raped). It was a systematic, state-ordered enslavement of tens of thousands of women.

After Diocletian, women were much more marginalized in the church, both because many Christian women who had been leaders in the church no longer existed — or lived in enforced marriages — and because the church that survived sold its egalitarianism in exchange for government recognition. The lesson the church seemed to learn from the early fourth century was: Women ministers aren’t safe from the government, and the church isn’t safe while women lead it; let’s have the women sit back and we’ll play it safe.

But it was not so in the beginning.

When you read stories of early Christian women martyrs who refused to give up their virginity, this is the context. Their state-recognized virginity permitted them to travel between churches as apostles, to lead, and to gather as financially independent sister “widows” or “virgins” who could take action in their communities. When Thekla, in the second-century text “The Acts of Paul and Thekla,” repeatedly escapes attempts at rape in order to continue traveling and preaching (where the rapists are hired by someone who had wanted Thekla to marry their son and took spiteful exception to vow of chastity, or by a village magistrate), the context is that rape was a weapon employed by local and imperial authorities to limit the spread of this subversive new religion and to enforce proper, Roman family values. At that time, a woman’s chastity was seen as an act of rebellion.

And today’s purity culture, which often hijacks the language of chastity in Roman-era texts to insist on the seclusion and submission of women … is such a bizarre (and arguably offensive) anachronism once you realize that the original teachings on chastity were intended to free women for public work, leadership, teaching, and preaching. It is one example of how, if you take a teaching out of one cultural and historical context and plunk it down into a different place and time without any consideration of context, you can actually end up with the same verses and the same words having opposite implications.

Stant Litore

P.S. For more on the role of women in the early church, see the book God’s Self Confident Daughters: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women, my own favorite though there are many more studies on this, and also this witty little article in Atlas Oscura entitled “Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers.”

P.P.S. Even the Apostle Paul, while he did write about marriage being an acceptable outcome and one to be preferred in his mind to a promiscuous state (in 1 Cor 7), he also advocated in very strong terms that an unmarried state and the pursuit of God’s work was preferable to marriage. In the early church, the two — chastity and active work in the community on one side, and marriage on the other — were seen as alternate paths for a Christian’s life to take. We often take from that passage Paul’s parenthetical remark “better to marry than to burn” and treat it as if that’s the important point in the passage; by doing this, we skip the actual point he is making for his first-century readers, which is that to his mind it’s better to be single and do God’s work than it is to marry. When we lack the context in which he’s writing, we emphasize very different things in the passage than his original readers would have.

First-century Christians were called to lives of active involvement in their communities as the agents of God, his “hands and feet,” serving collectively as the body through which God operated in the world. The first-century ideal of chastity was intended to expand the agency of young men and women, whereas modern purity culture so often seeks to contract and limit agency.

P.P.P.S. This post is receiving some love in Likes and Shares on social media, so I will add this list to it:

Lydia of Thyatira.











Damaris of Athens.

Dorcas of Joppa.

The unnamed “elder” who was a “woman appointed by God” (2 John).

These are all women who were called to active leadership within church life in the first century and who are named in the Book of Acts or the Epistles as leaders, apostles, businesswomen and philanthropists, and as organizers or heads of sisterhoods. It was not just one or two women. And that’s just the first century, and this doesn’t even include the names of women leaders Paul wrote to but whose specific names he couldn’t remember (“the sister of Nereus”; “the mother of Rufus”; etc.). It also doesn’t even include the female leaders among those who, according to the gospels, organized and funded Jesus’s original ministry, like Susanna and Joanna.

The list gets long once you dive into second century texts.

So, if you are a woman in the church reading this post whose heart is called to an active life or to leadership, may this list give you courage. You are not some aberration of modern society, as others will insist. This is a list of your sisters. It is a list of names honored and trusted by the writers of the New Testament.

Stant Litore


Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

The Badass Women of the Bible


Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!


Now on to the post…


Both in protest of our nation’s rampant misogyny that walks around wearing religion’s clothes — and also because I love their stories — here’s a shoutout to the badass women of the Bible: to Rizpah, who guarded the bodies of her children from wild animals and carrion beasts all night, defying the king and his soldiers; to Deborah, a middle-aged prophet who settled the court cases no one else could and led armies against an invading force; to Jael, who drove a tent peg through a dude’s head; to Mary, who fled to another country to keep her baby from being killed and then later after returning raised her child in a small town where everyone thought she was a “slut” — and raised him so well that the world still reveres his name (and hers) to this day; to Mary Magdalene, who endured the disbelief of everyone she ever told about what she saw, but didn’t disbelieve herself; to Judith, who seduced an invading general in order to get close enough to chop off his head; to a woman whose name we don’t remember, who stood on the wall of a starving city and killed the tyrant Abimelech by chucking a brick down at his head; to Miriam, the first of the prophets of the Children of Israel after their departure from Egypt, singing on the shores of the Red Sea moments after seeing her people’s enemies crushed under falling water; to Huldah, who commanded such respect that when the lost sacred texts were discovered, the priests handed them over to her and said, “Please interpret these for us, Huldah”; to Dorcas the healer, who refused to leave those dying of fever, no matter the contagion; to the Queen of Sheba, who traveled a continent to meet people of learning and establish trade deals for her nation; to Joanna and Susanna, who funded Jesus’s ministry and had a great deal to do with the early disciples not starving on the road; to Prisca, Mary, Julia, Phoebe, Junia, Chloe, Euodia, Syntyche, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and others, apostles and leaders of the early church; to Mary sister of Martha who studied with a rabbi, and to Martha sister of Mary who did the dishes and cooked so she could; to the unnamed, brave woman who suffered continual bleeding and a life of being outcast and untouchable by her community and who yet found the courage to seek out a miracle worker and commit what her community would treat as an unforgivable act: to touch him; to Anna, who spent nearly a century prophesying in the Temple; to Jochebed, who sent her baby down a river in a basket rather than let him be found by genocidal soldiers; to Abigail, who prevented a massacre; to Dinah, who got blamed for one; to Hadassah (Esther), who stopped a genocide from happening on two continents; to Tamar, who found an unusual, daring, and quite horrifying solution to her father Judah’s neglect in leaving her unprovided for and starving; to Delilah, who outwitted and captured her people’s greatest foe; to Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, who marched up to Moses in the desert and said, “We don’t have a brother, and we want to inherit our father’s property”; to the eshet hayil (the “woman of valor” who “stretches out her hands to the needy”) who fed Elijah when he staggered, exhausted and starving, to her doorstep, though she had only a single cake of bread left in the house; to the Shulammite, who loved a foreign king, survived prejudice and brutality, and chose love over fear, even against all the terror-pressure of past trauma; to Bathsheba, so often remembered as a victim of either rape or seduction, so often reduced in our retellings to a momentary plot device, but whose actual story lasted decades and who successfully maneuvered her only son to the throne; to Naomi, who lost so much to famine and tragedy, yet found joy again; to Ruth, who immigrated to a land hostile to her people, yet stayed and kept her mother-in-law and herself fed and alive, daily risking rape or worse in the fields where young men followed the vulnerable, “exotic” immigrant gleaners at a near distance; to Lydia of Thyatira, the businesswoman who funded Paul’s missionary work in Macedonia because a story he told once lit her heart on fire; and to so many, many others who lived such stories.

Stant Litore


God’s Self-Confident Daughers: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women

The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers

The Misleading Translation of “Wives, Submit,” and a Tale of Battle-Ready Women

4 Facts that Show that “Head” Does Not Mean “Leader” in 1 Cor 11:3


Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore