Two short notes on marriage, drawn (without too much thought, and through very bad exegesis) from the study of ancient languages.

1) In (Sahidic) Coptic, “to dwell with” sometimes means “to be married”. “Dwell” can also be taken as “sit”. So, (and kids, this is bad, bad, BAD usage of etymology):

“to be married” = “to sit with”

Which is an interesting thought.

2) In Ancient Greek, σύζυγος means

“yoked together”, or, “marriage partner”

(if used as a substantive).

Which is another interesting thought.

I found a 1549 translation of 1 Maccabees online (The volume of the bokes called Apocripha translated by Taverner, edited by Becke ). This is how one of my favourite parts of 1 Maccabees (6:43-46) reads in the text:

Wherefore he ran wyth a corage unto the Elephante in the myddest of the hoste, smytynge them doune of bothe the sydes, and slewe manye aboute hym. So wente he to the Elephantes feete, and gatte him under him, and slew hym: then fel the Elephant down upon him, and ther he died.

In the story in Acts 27:33-35, after everyone on the wildly drifting boat has fasted for 14 days, Paul assures everyone that salvation is at hand; he then takes bread, gives thank to God “in front of everyone“, and after breaking the bread, starts eating.

Civilized folk (and communists) will be glad to know that in some ancient manuscripts (e.g. 614 and 2147), Paul did this “after also giving to us” (επιδιδους και ημιν).

Sorry, dear angels, I’ve always perceived you as white (and mostly male).

I’ve done a fair share of deconstructing my perception of God, and of Jesus. I’d like to think that I’m past putting the concept of “God” in a specific race or gender role; for Jesus, specifically, I’m more than willing to accept as his human nature a male Jew of the first century. But you guys: I still see you as white people.

May I speak openly, to your angelic faces? I don’t want to see you like this anymore. Thank you: for being the pillars of consciousness along this journey. For pointing out how far I’ve still got to go in order  to let go of myself. May your memory always serve to remind me, that plastering over does not remove; that skin-deep transformation of perception is not transformation at all, but trickery. Yes, I’ll leave you as signposts.

But now, I bid you adieu.


About a week ago, I participated in a conference, the venue – and most participants – being about 9000km away. Nothing new, one might rightfully say. Of course, I participated through electronic means. Welcome to the future, Alexander G. Bell, you might say.

The uniqueness, at least from my perspective, was the medium through which I participated – twitter.* To my delightful surprise, I could follow a lot of what was happening. I am no expert on the subject – the conference was that of the Southern African Missiological Society – but I could gauge pretty well what everyone was arguing. This, even though what I received where pretty much only short bursts of information. True, someone with almost no knowledge of the subject would probably have lost the thread; but this will be the case in “real-life” participation too.

Some of the speakers had put their papers online, and links to these papers were passed around on twitter. This meant that

a) one could read up on the matters later on, and

b) people attending the conference could probably follow the speaker even better, if they had internet access.

To illustrate another useful aspect of twitter’s ability to share links quickly: a few links to speakers’ blogs made the rounds. The audience (even those abroad) could get a general background perspective on the speaker – and these links and blogs are, of course, useful for the future too. Not only the blogs, but also simply other twitter users participating came to my attention. I will hardly go looking for twitter users; let’s face it: the 140 characters biography say almost nothing. But a shared interest, in this case identified by the hashtag #SAMS2011, did point to some interesting voices that I will listen to from now on.

Among other things, the usefulness of twitter for missiology was discussed (in a report back paper, worth the read!). I would like to emphasize here that twitter is a relatively cheap and accessible means of communication. Added to this, Africa has rather good cellphone reception (contrary to what some may think). The SAMS conference set up a screen with incoming tweets in the background – meaning just about everyone could make themselves “heard”.

I’m not hailing twitter as THE solution, or as the new way of holding conferences. In fact, I think a lot got lost in summary, so to speak. Some questions were left unanswered; some themes dropped, as is the twitter way. Obviously a lot of non-verbal communication went flying. And although meeting new people electronically was great, it’s no substitute for meeting someone in the flesh.

A lot of useful academic discussion (most useful academic discussion?) occurs after the day is done; over lunch; over dinner; over coffee. I’m sad that I’ve missed it – this time. Nevertheless, I at least got SOME input.

By the way, I’m sure some of the papers will make their way into Missioniala, SAMS’s journal.



* Members of the Society of Biblical Literature have been using twitter as a medium dating at least as far back as 2009, through the hashtags #SBL2009, #SBL10, etc. My hashtag search for the International meeting – I’m assuming it will be #SBL11 – is already on. I’ve also participated in other such experiments, where I’ve had a similar experience.

Reading a story as a story can be a beautiful thing! (With this, I don’t mean to imply that things aren’t necessarily true; I’m just referring to the concept of narratology – yes, it’s a word – where one looks at the characters, plot, scenery, action, etc. of a story.)

The same can be said of the Gospel of Matthew as a whole. By looking at Matthew’s depictions of his characters, the time in which the narrative is set, the “atmosphere” that is created, etc., one learns a lot about what he is trying to say. In this vein, I’d like to make a few remarks upon Matthew 25:31-46 – the so-called Last Judgement section.

Just to give a bit of background, Matthew has five big discourses cemented in-between the narrative parts. The first and most well-known of these is the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Chapters 23-25 forms the last one; of which verse 31-46 forms the last part.

At the start of this section of text, we are told that the Son of Man will “sit” on his “throne of glory”. “Sit” is very important here – because the bigger discourse starts with the pharisees and the scribes “sitting” on the “seat of Moses”. But wait! There is more! We are also told right at the start of the discourses, in the Sermon on the Mount (chap 5:1), that Jesus “sat” and taught the disciples.* So RIGHT at the start and RIGHT at the end we’ve got a reference to teaching (and to authority, and interpretation of the Law). We’ll return to that shortly.

Two ways to stress something (if one doesn’t have recourse to bold or italics etc.), is by repeating something or saying it V-E-R-Y   S-L-O-W-L-Y. Matthew does exactly this in his story of the Last Judgement. Which is kind of strange, because we tend to remember the following as being the main thought of the passage:

The Son of Man will come, He will judge people by separating them into “sheep” on the right and “goats” on the left, the former will go to heaven and the latter to hell.

Very well, a summary is always shorter than the main text. But what is interesting is that Matthew repeats a VERY long piece of text (by the standards of discourse in the Gospel; and seeing that words were used rather more sparingly in ancient texts). He repeats it not twice, not thrice, but FOUR times! It reads (NIV):

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

This is repeated two times in the positive** – for the “sheep”; and two times in the negative, for the “goats”. In other words, Matthew repeats this AND makes us read it V-E-R-Y   S-L-O-W-L-Y. Obviously, for Matthew, this thing that happens in the very present, not somewhere in the future (the judgement somewhere in the future / eschatology), is a key theme in the passage.

Now, back to the pharisees/scribes (P/S) vs. Jesus debate, into which I won’t go too much here. Matt 5-7 is generally seen as a “new” take on the Law – against that of the P/S. In the bigger scheme: Jesus taught with authority (7:29); the P/S were given authority but used it hypocritically (chap 23). There is also a final contrast between chap 23 and chap 25 – the final two opposites. In light of the P/S’ hypocritical nature, the drawn out and repetitive theme of actually doing and caring as being THE decisive factor becomes critical. The Last Word on Judgement, then, is not on the interpretation of the Law, but on doing it. We should always, always add this element to our eschatological understanding of this passage.

P.S. Gosh! I love what I do for a living.



* Sitting was the normal position for someone to teach in the ancient world.

** Matthew does some fancy footwork here. For the surprise of the “sheep” surprises the reader: these people were given permission to enter, yet still they pause to ask why. Although this may naturally serve some other purpose, it gives the opportunity to repeat this key theme in the speech of the “sheep” again!

I start this post with shame. No, not a mistranslation of humility from Afrikaans – downright shame.

I wanted to spew forth critique on the #ifoundjesus hash tag. In my selfrighteous attitude towards religion. But, like a Balaam of old, I am unable to do so.

My critique would have gone something along this line (which might make sense to the reader):

One can find Jesus everywhere. In fact, the #ifoundjesus hash tag that has been making its rounds on Twitter is a running commentary on this fact. The problem is, some people, the present writer included, listen between the lines. Thus, a tweet sounding something like this (extreme example):

#ifoundjesus in that He gave me a house and a farm and a huge bank account and lots of friends and … stuff #praiseyethelord

is immediately converted (and rightly so, I still maintain) into:

Jesus loves me more than other folks. Like poor sinful people sitting in the rain without a house and a farm and a bank account. #awesomeme #thelordismyshepherd

Yes, one finds Jesus everywhere. Which means every profane thing is sacred – or the other way round, depending on one’s religious tastes. (For this is a question which hinges between agnosticism and mysticism.) Consequently, the embarrassing situation above is pointed out in even greater contrast.

I could continue along these lines. My arguments have some merit, I would say – at least philosophically. However, the #ifoundjesus #thelordismyshepherd tweeter above would find him/herself a very #lonelysheep in the “real” world of Twitter.

I refer the reader to the #ifoundjesus hash tag on Twitter to defeat my own thesis above.

For, #ifoundjesus in the witness of others.