In our class today we learned about ancient texts - papyri, hide scrolls and codices. Our professor went through the different language translations of the Biblical texts, from Hebrew to Greek to the Latin, Ethiopic, Coptic and other versions.
For me, the most interesting and exciting part was when we also looked at these:
Above is a scroll of the book of Esther, in Hebrew, which is from the 19th Century AD and written on thin leather. Much more exciting (at least for me) was the Greek Papyrus that our university has from the Oxyrhynchus archive. Dated to roughly the 2nd Century AD.
Upon taking a look at the papyrus and spotting a few words (stuff like “and” and “the”, nothing fancy because I CAN NOT READ THIS O.O) the librarian was like “Oh, you should see some of the other ones and study them sometime”.
Oh you beauty. Mmmmmm…more delicious.
You never entirely know how much you’re going to love or hate an essay until you’ve started it. I spent weeks procrastinating on the project I have to turn in next week for my Old Testament class. At the beginning of semester we were told to choose about 7-12 verses from anything that is classified as Second Temple Period literature (so any book that is generally considered to have been written after the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon, their country conquered, their city and Temple razed, in about 586 BC). We were then to take that chunk of text and spend the semester writing an exegesis, an interpretation, paper. Our professor gave us 10 steps to follow, one a week.
Then we got to the weeks where we really had to hit the library. After weeks of making structures, looking at genre and narrative flow, we really got to get in there and start interpreting. Or at least, we could get in there, find out what other people had said about each little section of our text and then do stuff with their interpretations to come up with what we felt was the right one.
I really really procrastinated this bit. It was the idea of going through a short text that I’d been staring at for weeks, a text that seemed so obvious as to what it was about, that reading it was becoming mundane. It seemed so boring. I lamented as to how on earth I was meant to pull any great meaning out of it, any significance beyond what I could see on the surface - which was all I felt there was to see.
And now, I thought, I have to go through what other boring people from the past (and some of the present) have said about this chunk of text. Why can’t I be out doing something more fun or more practical than sitting here poring through dead people’s writings about a piece of text thatI like!But I alsoknow what it’s saying, so why make me write a big paper on it. How can I even stretch that over 2,500 words.
Well - 6 books, 4 journal articles, about 6 hours and 5585 words later, I can safely say that I am no longer bored and that I definitely managed to stretch my content over the word limit….wayover the limit (luckily apparently there’s no real word limit on this paper and the 2500 is a guideline…still….).
I realised something once I’d finally gathered myself up, went to the library, and found every book that had a commentary on my text.
I was sitting at my desk with a bible, my laptop and all of these books open to Isaiah 64. I had what I had of my project on screen alongside my articles. And I began to read and formulate a structure for this part of the paper.
And as I read I realised thatt I had been so wrong.
I did NOT get the full meaning of the text before. I did not understand the full gravity of each word. I did not understand the tenderness of the phrase “our Father” or the visceral image of impurity of “our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth” (or rather “like a menstrual rag”, not to say I’ve got a thing against women, but the OT doesn’t much like certain…bodily fluids. It’s a Leviticus thing, ask me sometime.). I learned so much about God and man and the nature of confession, lament, grace and prayer this weekend just from writing this ‘boring’ paper, about this ‘boring’ chunk of text, understood in light of all these ‘boring’ scholarly articles.
Oh wait, boring?
It was only at this stage I regained my love for the chunk of text I was studying. When I got to understand again the sheer awesomeness and power in the line “OH! that you would rend the heavens and come down and the mountains would QUAKE at your presence” (Caps Lock, Exclamation Mark, Italics all added for effect by moi). And in the face of power like that does this wee author confess that the people have failed God.
In the face of such power wouldn’t you bow low and beg for mercy and plead and make your case why you should live? But no, as a guy named Roy W. Howard wrote in one of the articles I used:
“Confession is prayerful speech that does not attempt to tame God or engage in denial. This is no banal confession to assuage a guilty conscience while ignoring the truth of what has been violated. Everything must be laid bare with language that leaves no one unexposed to the untamable God who will not be assuaged by false piety or illusions of moral righteousness. Everyone is unclean. The community’s standard for righteousness has itself become toxic”
The writer of the passage basically stands naked before the God who quakes mountains, baring all of the nation’s sins. Then as if like a quiet whisper of hope over the roaring winds of wrath:
“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord. Do not remember iniquity forever” (Isa. 64:8-9a)
That almost… tenderness, that “yet”, as if someone were pointing at all the evidence of what wrong things they’ve done and saying through tears:
“I’VE DONE THIS, AND THIS AND THIS AND THIS AND THIS AND YOU’RE RIGHT, I HAVE NO RIGHT TO GOOD THINGS, TO FREEDOM….but Daddy, don’t be angry please. Don’t leave out me here in the cold”
I didn’t describe it like that in my essay (oh if but I could in academia…) but used another writer’s quote that it was a plea to God “entirely on emotion, not on any legal right”. I had my roommate give it a read (he wanted to, there was no forcing….or blackmail….) and he said that everywhere after that I talked about an emotional plea, I should’ve said “relational”.
It’s that relationship that means that even when you are on the ground, fallen and failed. When there is no reason whatsoever that you should be shown any goodwill, when you have no legal claim to help and no power to go on without it. God is Father. He is a loving Father. And when Dad sees his kid on the floor, He picks him up. When Dad sees his kid in danger, even harm to Him will not stop Him from saving his beloved. To watch His child have to go through the punishment for what they’ve done is painful. SO painful that he came and joined His child on earth to share in and take the punishment for him.
One of my favourite little bits of commentary on the line “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter” was from the Cambridge Bible:
“Can the potter allow the work on which he has lavished his utmost skill and care be broken into pieces?”
Will the Potter let His most prized creation be shattered? Will the Husband abandon His beloved wife (read Hosea)? Will the Father let his children be lost (read the gospels)? Will God let His creation be destroyed and ruined (look at Revelations - here’s a hint: Jesus Wins)?
…AW HELL TO THE NO
Tonight, while studying and working, I was taken out by a surprise right hook (so to speak). I found myself looking at a text that looked like a poem of lament, a prayer for an absent God to return. And instead I saw grace, love, tenderness, relationship.
Definitely it was God who let me see that, who revealed more of Himself to me this weekend (in so many ways other than just this). But you know what? Part of what He gave me to light up that way was the books and articles.
And I realised that when I open the Bible to do something for class, I get the incredible opportunity to get lost in God’s story about Himself, Us and Me. Then I get to put that on paper. When I have to consult other books, I get to look at the Word of God and get pretty psyched out about that, then I get to look at the writings of people WHO WERE PRETTY PSYCHED OUT ABOUT GOD (for the most part), and and since God’s there showing me more of Himself I’m reading WITH God….
Not to say my essay’s going to be very good, but who cares at this point…
John Mark McMillan on the line “And heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” from the song “How He Loves”.
note: “sloppy wet kiss” ALL THE WAY!
Man, this message was waaaaay long ago in the summer and I never saw it. Funny, cos I didn’t even know I had a way for people to send me messages then….I am so clueless about tumblr…
The answer is yes, if you’re out there reading this, they were all recorded and are being…assembled. Hopefully out within the next month or two.
I’m so excited!
Whoever this is, thank you! What a message to wake up to :) (Yes, i did just wake up at 1pm)