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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » And the Ends of the Earth For Thy Possession

   
Author Topic: And the Ends of the Earth For Thy Possession
History
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My soul yearneth, yea, even pineth for the courts of the LORD...

The rap of metal upon metal rang within the small cabin, startling me. Knocking before entering was a courtesy the Jews on the transport neither expected nor received.

“Rabbi Makal? The Captain requests your presence.”

At sight of the officer, I nearly dropped my chumash, and the words of the Psalm were immediately forgotten.

“‘Requests’, Danel?” I asked.

The automaton’s face conveyed no emotion, but the human-like hesitation was unmistakable. Its voice softened. “‘Commands’ would be more accurate.” It paused, and then added, “It is good to see you, sir.”

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Denevius
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It's a little confusing, honestly. I had to read it a couple of times to figure out exactly what was going on. The Rabbi was meditating, there was a knock on the door startling him. I *think* someone enters the room, though I'm not sure. If someone does, then it must be the automaton, though the narrative cuts this bit of action.

I do have some questions about the first person narrator. I understand why you refer to Danel as 'officer' first to introduce the reader to who this character is. But it feels a bit odd that the narrator, who knows who this is, would choose to first use an impersonal designation for someone he seems to have had a prior relationship with.

The narrator is a lower status, but he calls the automaton by its first name. And the automaton, I assume, is on a higher status, yet he calls the Rabbi 'sir'.

Within the space of these lines, the first person narrator thinks of this character with three designations: officer, Danel, and automation. Something about this seems conflicting, to me at least.

But either way, an interesting beginning.

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legolasgalactica
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Diddo what denevious said. Also, was the rabbi reading, writing, or just thinking/remembering?
From this snippet, I'm guessing this is steampunk?

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genevive42
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Having the name Danel for an automaton feels awfully close to Asimov's, R.Daneel. As an Asimov fan, it bothers me a little.

What's a chumash? Is this for non-Jewish readers? I ask because I work near a Jewish neighborhood and I know what a ketubah is, and a mezuzzah, but I've never heard chumash. From the context, my guess is that it's a book.

Also, when you mention 'the officer', it seems you should mention he's an automaton then.

This does evoke a question of what might happen next though, and that would keep me reading.

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Denevius
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quote:
What's a chumash?
I don't mean this to be antagonistic, but I get comments like this a lot in my writing, and I'm just like, look. Most web browsers come with dictionaries. Just highlight the word and right click:

quote:
Chumash (Judaism), a Hebrew word for the Pentateuch, used in Judaism
Or highlight the word, and google: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chumash_Judaism

A long time ago, you used to actually have to go to a physical dictionary when you got to a word you didn't know. And if a house had only one, who knows what room it'd be in. But now we have the world under our fingertips, and finding info could not be easier.

Again, I don't want to sound attacking, and depending on context, sometimes an explanation in the narrative is essential.

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genevive42
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I was asking not because I was too lazy to look it up, but to point out something that might toss me out of the story very quickly. It's a significant risk to ask someone to go look something up within the first thirteen lines of a story. The reader is not yet invested and may decide it's not worth the trouble.
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History
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Thank you for all your comments.

This is my 2013 WOTF Finalist story.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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genevive42
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quote:
This is my 2013 WOTF Finalist story.

History, what was your point in posting this then?
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History
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It didn't win, genevive.

Thus,
(1) I suspect it may be improvable.
(2) It was only released back to me this week since it was also not selected to be a "filler" for the Vol. 30 anthology [that's strike two [Wink] ]. I can now consider sending it out to market.
(3) I find feedback from our coterie valuable.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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genevive42
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Thanks. Just curious.

I also know that my Finalist took a significant rewrite before it got published.

Good luck!

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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To start with, I am no slouch when it comes to the size of my vocabulary.

That said, one of the things that really drove me crazy about THE WOUNDED LAND (from the second Thomas Covenant trilogy by Stephen R. Donaldson) were all the words he put in that I had to stop reading to look up and that turned out to have perfectly good synonyms that he could have used.

Example: "periapt" is a word for a magical device or charm, and not a particular kind, just any magical device.

To me, it gave the impression that he cared more about showing off his obscure and esoteric vocabulary than he did about moving the story along.

I'm not saying that using "chumash" without any explanation is anywhere near showing off, but I do want to add my voice in warning that what may feel natural to you as the writer may be more foreign to your readers than it needs to be.

Your work could be an opportunity for readers to broaden their experience and understanding, and that's all to the good.

What I'd suggest is perhaps including a glossary at the back of the book, or even at the front, so readers know it's there.

Something to consider, anyway.

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History
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quote:
Originally posted by genevive42:
I also know that my Finalist took a significant rewrite before it got published.

Then you understand.

On re-reading, perhaps you thought it odd, or uncharacteristically boastful, for me to note this was my WOTF Finalist story.

I did so only because no one had (or has yet) indicated any interest in reading/critiquing the story, and I therefore thought this might perhaps spark someone's interest.
quote:
Good luck!
Thank you.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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History
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
What I'd suggest is perhaps including a glossary at the back of the book, or even at the front, so readers know it's there.

Hi Kathleen,

Thank you very much for your thoughts.

I've had editors and professionals advise on either side of the issue on this one. Some say "yes", others "absolutely not."

The Good Doctor Asimov and his faux-nemesis Harlan ellison got away with it in their Yiddishe stories at times, but I'm no Jack Kennedy...I mean Asimov or Ellison.

The general impression I've been left with is that Glossaries are good for novels (there is one in my The Kabbalist novel, for example) but not for short stories. In any case, one should (and I do) strive to make less common or foreign (or completely fictional) vocabulary self-explanatory whenever you can--as long as you are not overt in doing so, for that also risks drawing the reader out of the story.

All the Hebrew, Yiddish, French (even so-called "literary") words I use in this and all my tale are "common" to me. There is no intended pretense. I think that helps. While giving careful consideration to the knowledge of the reader, I do not ever think them unintelligent, or lazy. The Golden Rule is applicable here. I love words, including "periapt" [Wink] , ftm; and I love learning new ones (and Google and the Kindle makes this so very much easier now).

Anyway, as in all things, moderation is best. I've known the word "chumash" (derived from the root for the Hebrew word "five") as a book containing the Five Books of Moses (Torah) since pre-school. Implying that it was a prayer book I hoped would be sufficient. But thank you very much for making me aware of the potential problem it could cause.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Denevius
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quote:
I did so only because no one had (or has yet) indicated any interest in reading/critiquing the story, and I therefore thought this might perhaps spark someone's interest.
If you're game for a swap, I'm interested. Let me know the word count first, though. And yeah, my piece will be an excerpt from my novel of comparable length. Just email me.
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extrinsic
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A WotF finalist ostensibly is but for other more popular finalists publishable. Longer length short works as noted do not have as many outlets presently as in the '50s pulp heyday. Putting all that aside and approaching this opening as though a project in progress, how then might the excerpt reflect strengths and shortcomings of the whole that might impact its placement? An item offered for workshop response is assumed to be wanting constructive criticism.

A foreground strength of the excerpt from an objective opinion is the Jewish milieu has potential appeals for Jewish readers. Perhaps a younger Jewish audience more so than an older one. Science fiction's principal appeal appeals to young people; that is, escapism. Not escapes from reality, but literature that projects events, characters, and settings--milieus as well--where protagonists operate abroad from their domestic homes. This phenomenon of science fiction in terms of folkloristics mirrors a desire to escape from the constraints of the natal family creche, to operate independent of parental authority.

A rabbi protagonist contradicts that characteristic due to being of an older age and representing patriarchal authority. That appeal to Jewish readers' strength is also a potential distancing effect shortcoming from overlooking an audience that is ideally suited to science fiction: young, male Jewish teenage and early adult rebels. This is the age of familial detachment processes.

But just going abroad does not in and of itself fulfill that audience's literary needs. Going abroad is tangible; however, for every tangible essence of any given literary attribute, an intangible one must lend the tangible one human, epic--larger than life--meaning.

Going abroad as an intangible feature could be a trial and error heuristic out in the world away from home, could be a rebelious response to a tyrannical home life, could be a struggle to establish an at-large identity that will serve the emotional needs of the sojourner--the prodigal son out in the world striving for respect, so to speak. Whatever intangible personal journey characteristic that suits the overall theme of the whole.

I don't know and can't tell from this opening what the story is about on either the tangible or intangible meaning levels. I see little to incite my empathy or excite my curiosity. Again, though, that the protagonist is Jewish and operant in space does have a small degree of intrigue. What is a Jewish person up to out in space?

This opening opens with a fully developed rabbi. Being older, he has few if any emotional needs that may engage a conventional science fiction audience. Dramatic complication, in other words. No want, a very minor magnitude problem intruding on his travels, that of the spaceship's captain wanting to meet him. Very minorly ominous that the robot allows the invitation is in fact a command.

By the way, who ignores a captain's invitation? Such an invitation no matter how courteously couched is nonetheless a command not to be taken lightly. I mean that expressing that the invitation is in fact a command tells readers directly that it is a command. The implication could be more strongly and clearly developed and readers infer rather than directly being told the invitation is a command.

In all, the opening feels to me both rushed and too slow. Rushed in that the context and texture development of the dramatic complication is skipped over. Slow in that this part expresses pleasantries and doesn't develop a dramatic complication.

The age of the rabbi, the opening's underdeveloped context and texture, the minor magnitude dramatic complication, these suggest to me the whole might have similar shortcomings. I would not read on. I do assume circumstances take a turn at the meeting bewteen the rabbi and the captain, that prior auditors read up to that point and were engaged enough to read the whole, that the whole made up for to a degree the slow and rushed opening. The coordinating judge found enough writing craft skills to deem the story a finalist on par with others. I don't see it in this part.

I wonder then if this time and place is the strongest place to start. An exposition act is for introductions. What does this opening introduce? Event? Not much dramatic about the scene's event; that is, a visitor knocks on the door, interrupts a scripture reading, informs the rabbi the captain commands him to a meeting. If this is where the story starts, some sense of a danger at the door should be given. Otherwise, this is a minor routine interrupted scene. Developing the problem aspect of the dramatic complication is I believe called for.

Introduces characters? Not much in dramatic terms. Setting introductions? Not much. Narrative voice? Not much--little attitude beyond a congenial encounter. Dramatic complication introductions? Not much.

For example, suppose the rabbi travels incognito because he's on a mission that requires the discretion. A knock on the door might mean his identity has been discovered. Oh my, trouble coming. Or the rabbi is aware of other trouble and hopes it doesn't involve him, say, that the ship is a legally gray transport, some legitimate business, some illicit business, and the knock on the door signals to the rabbi he's in trouble over an event beyond his control. Whatever. The knock on the door is the potentially inciting event moment from which all else ensues. The rabbi is only startled, drops his scriptures, and lets in a visitor--ostensibly a crew person messenger who delivers an invitation to a visitation scene. Would not such a visit take place at the door or hatch or manway? Adding context and texture for what the scene is dramatically about would linger a moment or two in what the scene means dramatically and start plot movement off at a faster pace.

[ January 12, 2014, 12:24 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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legolasgalactica
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Well, I am picturing a different story, apparantly, than others here. I thought he was in a steamship in possibly alternative pre-WW2 where automatons had been invented. I didn't know but assumed the chumish to be a hat, glove, pen, or book.

A slight hint at what the chumish was--like the pages rustling, etc. would have helped--but I wasn't even sure if he was reading the psalm.

[ January 13, 2014, 03:16 AM: Message edited by: legolasgalactica ]

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Smiley
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I've always enjoyed Dr Bob's writings.
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History
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
A foreground strength of the excerpt from an objective opinion is the Jewish milieu has potential appeals for Jewish readers. Perhaps a younger Jewish audience more so than an older one.

Hi extrinsic,
Thank you for your thoughts.

Are you suggesting such a tale would not also appeal to non-Jewish readers? If so, how do you objectively support that contention?

Anecdotedly, I would say what you suggest is untrue. The success, and interest in, Jewish character works far exceeds the world's Jewish population (e.g. Fiddler on the Roof, Sophie's Choice, Schindler's List, Seed of Sarah, The Devil's Arithmetic, The Source, The Chosen, Tuesday's With Morrie, the works of Isaac Singer, Steve Stern, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, etc.).

Personally, I have found far more non-Jews interested in my Jewish character and/or Jewish themed stories than my fellow landsmen. There is a curiosity concerning Jews--that strange/different people who've been around since before dirt and who nearly everyone has heard of but who are so few in number. We're the single hamantaschan in the great bakery of the world. [Smile]

quote:
Science fiction's principal appeal appeals to young people; that is, escapism. Not escapes from reality, but literature that projects events, characters, and settings--milieus as well--where protagonists operate abroad from their domestic homes. This phenomenon of science fiction in terms of folkloristics mirrors a desire to escape from the constraints of the natal family creche, to operate independent of parental authority.
Similarly, I am unsure that this is true. What is your source for this assetion?

I would suggest that science fiction's appeal is more to a personality type and temperment rather than to a specific age, such as nonconformist critical thinkers. [see: http://intergalacticmedicineshow.com/cgi-bin/mag.cgi?article=012&do=columns&vol=carol_pinchefsky ]. Readers introduced to sf/fantasy at a young age (often by older siblings or parents) are more likely to continue reading sf/fantasy; but I do not believe it is necessarily one's age that determine's the appeal of sf/fantasy.

quote:
A rabbi protagonist contradicts that characteristic due to being of an older age and representing patriarchal authority.
Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof and Harry Kellerman's Rabbi Small, in his best-selling series of mystery novels, etc., I believe demonstrates that the older Jewish protagonist has broad appeal across generations. There is perhaps, on reflection, a general mythos, even stereotyped anticipation, of the observant Jewish protagonist as being older, while the younger Jew as being more rebellious--though the expectation may be that a Jew of any age will overcome terrible circumstances and be paradoxically triumphant even if he/she fails or dies (e.g. Anne Frank, Prof. Morrie Schwartz)

quote:
But just going abroad does not in and of itself fulfill that audience's literary needs. Going abroad is tangible; however, for every tangible essence of any given literary attribute, an intangible one must lend the tangible one human, epic--larger than life--meaning.
The narrative device of the journey is as old as story-telling (e.g. The Odyssey) and represents in most tales, including this humble one of mine, not merely the literal physical journey but also the protagonist's personal emotional journey as well. However, 13 lines is not sufficient to convey this.

Thus, your comment: "I don't know and can't tell from this opening what the story is about on either the tangible or intangible meaning levels. I see little to incite my empathy or excite my curiosity," is reasonable, but it should also be expected.

quote:
Again, though, that the protagonist is Jewish and operant in space does have a small degree of intrigue. What is a Jewish person up to out in space?
Ah, there's the hook for you, then--even if you feel it is only a tiny barb.
quote:
This opening opens with a fully developed rabbi. Being older, he has few if any emotional needs that may engage a conventional science fiction audience.
That is a pretty generalized and, I'll argue, an unsupported statement. It is fallacious to suggest only the young have "emotional needs." In fact, what the old possess in far greater measure is their list of sorrows and regrets. This is an essential element of this particular tale. In fact, the whole story turns upon it.
quote:
Dramatic complication, in other words. No want, a very minor magnitude problem intruding on his travels, that of the spaceship's captain wanting to meet him. Very minorly ominous that the robot allows the invitation is in fact a command.
I chose to introduce the tenuousness of the position of the Jews upon the ship and foreshadow the conflict(s) that the "command" to meet with Captain infers and will subsequently introduce. Some readers, t'is true, may prefer to begin directly in the middle of conflict. Contrarily, I find foreshadowing permits the development of apprehension that increases the impact of conflict. A personal preference, I admit.
quote:
By the way, who ignores a captain's invitation? Such an invitation no matter how courteously couched is nonetheless a command not to be taken lightly.
The robot Danel chooses to be diplomatic and polite in his use of the word "requests", particularly because of the hint in these lines that Danel knows and has a favorable regard of the rabbi. However, the Rabbi is not fooled by Danel's politic speech. He knows where he and his fellow Jews stand (or kneel) upon this ship.
Your reaction suggests this may have been too subtle.
quote:
In all, the opening feels to me both rushed and too slow. Rushed in that the context and texture development of the dramatic complication is skipped over. Slow in that this part expresses pleasantries and doesn't develop a dramatic complication.

The age of the rabbi, the opening's underdeveloped context and texture, the minor magnitude dramatic complication, these suggest to me the whole might have similar shortcomings. I would not read on. I do assume circumstances take a turn at the meeting bewteen the rabbi and the captain, that prior auditors read up to that point and were engaged enough to read the whole, that the whole made up for to a degree the slow and rushed opening. The coordinating judge found enough writing craft skills to deem the story a finalist on par with others. I don't see it in this part....

I appreciate your comments and reactions, extrinsic, and especially your suggestions that followed.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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History
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quote:
Originally posted by Smiley:
I've always enjoyed Dr Bob's writings.

That is very kind.
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Smiley
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My fondest regards to you, sir. I have missed this place. God willing, I should return.
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Kent_A_Jones
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P2, S2, Tense shift to third person.

P4, Tense shift from first person to third in the last clause.

Same character referred to as ‘officer’ (P4), ‘Danel’ (P5), and ‘automaton’ (P6). I would suggest that you identify the character upon its first dialog and refer to it in the same way afterward. I believe you are trying to mete out information at a measured pace, but it is confusing rather than clarifying when done this way.

Good characterization of both characters, here. Good setup of conflict between crew and passengers. Solid setting. Plot is unclear as to whether the conflict must be resolved or a greater purpose must be accomplished by enduring mistreatment by crew. Theme is unclear, but I don’t see that as an impediment at this juncture.

I like the religious bent. So many writers forget that people will take their culture to the stars. Good job.
Kent

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kent_A_Jones:
P2, S2, Tense shift to third person.

P4, Tense shift from first person to third in the last clause.

Do you mean grammatical person shift? I.e., first to third person. A tense shift is a verb conjugation shift; i.e., present tense to past tense. First person to third person is a change from a narrative point of view and viewpoint to another, a viewpoint glitch. I see a few unnecessary tense shifts in History's fragment. I don't see a grammatical person glitch.
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Kent_A_Jones
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I beg your pardon, extrinsic, that is indeed what I meant. Thank you for pointing it out.
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InarticulateBabbler
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History, as usual, I like it. I agree with Kathleen on the word chumash, which I didn't understand and had to look up. For my own knowledge, is this interchangeable with Tora or can the printed form only be referred to as chumash? Because Tora would have needed no clarification for me.
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InarticulateBabbler
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Did you know the Chumash is also the name of Native America people?
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History
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Hi IB,

"Tora, Tora, Tora"? I think Japanese readers would find "chumash" more understandable. [Wink]

While the content is the same in the Torah and in a chumash, their construction and the actual use of these words in common (Jewish) speech are different.

"Torah" is the hand-written parchment scroll we use in our services.

"Chumash" is a book bound printed version.

One could use "sefer Torah" (book of Torah), but that is like saying "book of words" instead of "dictionary."

I chose to have the protagonist speak authentically, just as I would.

Admittedly, I don't coddle readers--and I suspect this contributes to my not being published. [Wink]

Then again, I don't wish to be coddled when I read. I find it patronizing. I enjoy looking up and learning new words with which I am unfamiliar (e.g. Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun quintology is one of my favorite works in all fiction).

I do believe context is important. I suggest that few would have considered "At sight of the officer, I nearly dropped my Native American people, and the words of the Psalm were immediately forgotten" as the appropriate meanng for "chumash". [Wink]


Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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