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I had the great privilege of attending a mini-conference on the 6th commandment last Friday & Saturday. (“Thou shalt not kill … ” ) Although I found all the papers read quite brilliant, one that really stood out for me was a paper read by Prof Ed Noort of Groningen University. (Now, I’m not sure if I understood everything correctly, so what follows is my reception of his paper.) The part that interested me most was his analysis (and my understanding thereof) of the book of Job. Especially the following, very vital information: we, as readers, know what is happening in the heavenly court, while poor Job is quite oblivious in all his suffering down on earth. He remains faithful throughout, while quite frankly, God and the devil is betting up there! This is almost ironic. In a  way, we can speak about the Darker Side of God. (One could add to this a whole host of other texts in the Old Testament, but that is not quite my point here.)

The really interesting part surfaced in the Q&A session. A comment was put out there that, unlike the other (Greek and Roman) traditions, which simply relegated tough questions like why pain and suffering exists to the realm of myth*, the book of Job actively levels critique and asks questions. Even more to the point: the book of Job spills into the “real world” by challenging the reader – if one is confronted by pain and suffering, is it simply God and the devil betting up there? The book challenges our interpretation in the interaction that we have with the real, physical world every day. The first scenes in the book open the possibility for us, the readers, to doubt the intention of God – in real life!

Perhaps this discovery is not new. In fact, to me, it seems very akin to Walter Brueggemann’s “core testimony” and “countertestimony“, as he developed it in Old Testament Theology: An Introduction. (Again, how I understood / remember it – I’m no old testament theologian.) Perhaps, too, Prof Noort’s paper especially struck me because of recent discussions and a recent blog post by a friend of mine on why we read the Bible. To summarise (and probably do violence to) his conclusions: one should be willing to disagree with the Bible.

In fact, to  do exegesis and always “agree” with the biblical text is simply dishonest. This would in many cases actually imply that one disrespects the author(s)’s intentions** and misuses the Bible to suit one’s own purposes. Sometimes, the best way to respect the text is to disagree with it – just as one can only be a true friend to someone if one is willing to also level respectful critique*** (and be willing to take the same – NB!). In reflecting on our tradition, this might be called an outside argument for reading the Bible – to honestly, honestly, honestly and respectfully read our tradition, and also point out how we disagree with it. Although it is still part of us.

In reflecting on the exposition of the book of Job with which I started this post, I would like to supply too an inside argument for reading and disagreeing with the Bible: the aspect of debate has been part of our tradition since – well, since time immemorial. In this we discover ourselves and are, again, formed by our tradition – even as we are shaping it.

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FOOTNOTES

*With myth, in this case, I mean mythological language and stories about the Gods. One might argue that this is also the case with Job – that it is a mythical telling of a heavenly scene. This argument has some merit; but my focus here is on the implicit critique that goes along with the narration.

** Yes, I know the “author’s intentions” is impossible to determine. But there are some cases where we can be pretty sure that what the author meant is not how we understand it today. To me, this also underlines the importance of historical-critical studies of the Bible. One should at least attempt to understand the intentions of the author(s); otherwise, one is misusing the text.

*** I thank all my friends for their past and future critique; also on this blogpost.

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Day 8: Passau

The last day – finally! By this time, I was pretty tired and ready to return home. I tried cycling again, and although the knees were better, there was ever the faintest reminder of discomfort. (This was to remain for about two weeks after!) Although Passau was but a mere 50km away, I decided to do perform the by now all too familiar ritual: catching a train. Luckily, Passau was to prove fully able in filling the “extra” hours gained by a train ride. For one thing, it was a challenge (again!) to reach the youth hostel – situated, as I have now come to see as quite natural in South Germany, on a mountain. This one’s location, however, was certainly the highlight of my trip. (Here’s a picture taken from below:)

The youth hostel was an old castle – part of it is now a museum. (Which is well worth visiting. I got a free ticket to a cake and coffee in the museum coffee shop – and shamelessly claimed it.) The youth hostel and its surroundings affords great views on the city of Passau:

One also has a great view on where the three rivers (Danube, Inn, Ilz) come together – which not only  made Passau a very important trade city back in the day, but is also simply quite scenic:

Walking around Passau was a pleasure. Of course, there are churches to visit (aren’t there always!?), and no visit to Passau would be complete without taking a look at the world’s biggest church organ (OK, to be honest, no visit would be complete without actually hearing the world’s biggest church organ. Which makes my visit incomplete, unfortunately.)

The old city isn’t that big, so I soon found myself strolling along the rivers, reflecting on my whole experience. In short, it was fun; but it is always a good idea to have a plan B. Even more poignantly impressed on my mind, however, was the fact that it was always a good idea to travel with someone. Although an introvert, I did find parts of my trip – well, tedious, even though I was surrounded by such amazing scenery. Had I a travel buddy handy, the experience would quite probably have been very different. Not that I am in any way regretful of the whole tour: it was indeed great, and I enjoyed the biggest part of it. Most of the parts I visited are to some extent “off the beaten track”; at least, with regard to tourists from outside Germany. Which was rather refreshing. They were all quite spectacular, too; some sights I will never forget.

On the last day, I rose before dawn to catch my last train – back to Münster. Aah! Münster! What a beautiful city! To top it all off, I had two friends, a Lecker pizza and a new apartment waiting for me. And a bunch of adventures, which I will share, all in good time. (At the moment, I’m behind with both a tour to Greece and to Switzerland. Oops.)

So, here’s another one of those posts. Bear with me, even though I mention the word “Greek”, this is more like Greek-extra-lite. With a “to the side”. Seriously.

There’s this thing in Greek. It’s called the genitive absolute, and mark my words, it’s absolutely fabulous. I’ve been trying to point this out to students, but, I fear, many of them just … don’t see the point. It’s all too grammary for them. So, maybe this will help – even for the unitiated. It’s a very short story in Matthew (9:32-34), here’s the first part in the updated NIV version:

32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

Now, I won’t go on about blah blah you’ve got to read the Greek to understand it. I’ll just imply that and continue. Notice how there is no mention of the action of driving out the demon, at least what concerns the story-line: the mute man comes, the ex-mute man speaks. One can see this in the English (“and when the demon was driven out”), but it’s even more clear in the Greek: enter the aforementioned champion grammar-thingy of the day, our genitive absolute.

To explain the important work of the GA in lay-man’s terms: it takes two sentences, scrunches them together; the most important sentence pops out on top. Thus, and mostly so in narrative, the GA kind of pushes one sentence to the side, while the main sentence is placed in the spotlight. This is exactly what happens at the start of verse 33. Not only the act of exorcism, but also the demon itself has been assigned a second place in the grammar. In Matthew’s story, the poor thing had no chance! There’s no battle, no reprimand, no … nothing. Just a storyteller who tells us: let’s leave this to the side for now, it would’ve happened anyway. (In plain Afrikaans: Gaan sit in die hoekie, demoon, die grootmense wil bietjie gesels.)

I feel obligated to point out that one shouldn’t go overboard with genitive absolutes (or grammar, for that matter), sometimes it’s just – grammar. For instance, verse 32 also starts with a GA, but in this case, it simply sets the scene for what is to follow. (The people left, they’re not in the picture anymore, a new stage is being set.)

Also, the story continues – verse 34 is still part of the story.

34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

But since I just wanted to highlight something in the story, and not explain the story itself, I’ll leave you to it. (But here’s a tip: Matt 12:24 and following might help.)

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FOOTNOTES

Verse 33 starts like this in Greek: καὶ ἐκβληθέντος τοῦ δαιμονίου ἐλάλησεν ὁ κωφός.

The reason why I group three days together: because they all seem a bit of a blur to me. Not so much because I didn’t like these cities, but because I was in a state of despair. I was so bent on the trip being a cycle trip, I hadn’t thought about what to do if something went wrong; and I simply didn’t want to do anything else. Of course, I was quite mistaken in this – the simple fact that I couldn’t cycle should have been my cue to do a lot of other interesting stuff, but I instead mostly wandered around from reading spot to reading spot. I finished a good deal of reading, I should add. This picture I took in Ingolstadt is pretty much symbolic:

Nevertheless, the cities were quite interesting. In Ingolstadt, I slept at the youth hostel as usual. The youth hostel is an old barrack – and one can still very much see this. For instance, one should speak more of sleeping quarters than rooms. The city itself was quite beautiful – and rather tranquil, save for the Volksfest that I stumbled upon totally perchance.

Regensburg is definitely a must see for any traveller of South Germany. Reminding a bit of Ulm, but then again, quite the opposite. One gets the impression that Regensburg is an old, old place … and so it is! After a free visit to the cathedral, and paying to see the Domschatz, (and, traveller’s tip: a free visit to the cathedral’s loo!) I simply wandered around the beautiful city, soaking in the surroundings. Although there are (of course) tourists, they don’t overrun the place. So the city has a real “European” feel to it – at least, that is my perception. Here are some photos:

(Don’t be surprised if you see this last one in a church service some day.)

Probably the most interesting experience I had during the whole trip occurred, by accident, in Regensburg. Now, this would be a good place to say that I showered everyday, had clean clothes to wear and of course took my razor with. This would have been a good place to say such things; but as fate, history, and reality would have it, I didn’t do any of these things mentioned for quite a while. So I probably did look a bit shabby – but not all that shabby, I would venture to say. I decided to buy myself some coffee to help against the pervading cold, after which I sat down at a fountain on an open square. (Not sure if this is acceptable behaviour in Germany, but the fountain was there, it had steps, and I wanted to sit. Ergo, I did.) Suddenly, people started … well, looking strangely at me. Staring – no even that would be an understatement. People started berating me with their eyes. At first I couldn’t figure out why, but then I realized they thought I was begging. To be honest, I was at first indignant. How could they think that? But then I started, well, experimenting. So I stayed seated for quite a while, absorbing the Scorn of Regensburg (and all her tourists) for a few moments more. How vain people are, including myself!

The second last city I visited on this (bicycle?)trip was Straubing. Again, not your average tourist hotspot. Somehow, though, I really felt at home in this place. The lady in the youth hostel spoke in a really, really difficult German accent – imagine a type of German which sounds like English as spoken by a Scotsman. (Which is true for most of Bavaria – once again, my personal opinion.) Nevertheless, we finally understood each other, and my stay there was really great. They were obviously not used to speaking English, anyway. I finally made it! I was out there in wild Germany! (Hehe. Traveller’s tip: you can speak English pretty much anywhere in Germany today, people will understand you, sort-of.)

The rest of my time, before leaving for Passau, I took really, really relaxed. Even saw a movie in a cinema (Ich Einfach Unverbesserlich = Despicable Me) after I saw almost all the churches in the city – I just didn’t feel like visiting museums this time. Here are some photos of Straubing, to end this post:

I woke up on the fourth day to disappointment: my knees were so sore, I couldn’t get out of bed, never mind getting down the stairs! My right knee started to feel a bit weird the previous day, but it wasn’t that bad, so I kept on cycling. After breakfast, I felt a bit better though, so decided to chance it – after all, the day’s cycling would start with a downhill stretch. Outside, it was raining – and I surely wasn’t up for 80km+ in the rain! By the time I got to the middle of the city, my knees were killing me. I adjusted the saddle of the bicycle – thinking that might have been the problem – but it still didn’t help much. Perhaps it was the saddle’s height’s fault – who knows? The damage was done. So I decided to take a train instead.

I thought about it, of course, for quite a while. Wouldn’t this make me feel like a failure? Then again, I was here to enjoy the trip – and I certainly wasn’t enjoying it at the time. So I decided on a comprise – visit the Oktoberfest in Munich instead! Yes, if I bought a Landesticket for Bavaria, I could go anywhere I like! So I did. (Ulm is still in Baden-Württemburg, but just across the Danube, in Neu-Ulm, I could buy a Bavaria Landesticket for 20 EUR, plus 4.50 EUR for the bicycle.)

So off to Munich I went. The Oktoberfest is probably Germany’s biggest cultural festival – at least, most foreigners would think so. And by golly, it sure was interesting with all the Germans dressed in traditional (Bavarian) clothing. But for the most part, it was just a big fair:

The beer tents, of course, were pretty interesting, but alas! I didn’t drink any beer, it was simply too weird a thing to do on my own. Rather, on advice of a friend, I visited other sights in Munich. Here’s a few random samples:

It was family day at the Oktoberfest, so a lot of bargains were to be got. Although I should have bought one of these, out of sheer interest:

I bought a whole chicken instead, out of monetary considerations. A bargain’s a bargain! The stall offered chickens at half price. No, correction: they offered a “buy one half, get the other half free” special. I know this, because they individually wrapped both halves. For lack of other seating possibilities, I made myself comfy on the grass, digging into one half of the chicken (was it the same chicken? or two right halves, perhaps?) with gusto. Perhaps with a maniacal glint in my eye, too – most people (be it Germans or foreigners) walked a wide circle around this gruesome sight. Because I couldn’t start the second half of the (other?) chicken, I was so full, I started looking around for someone to give the chicken too. And of course, I was pretty much the shabbiest-looking person around. Finally, with much reservation and mixed feelings, I ditched the other half chicken in a garbage bin. What else could I do?

I returned to Augsburg (which I did at least see before leaving for Munich, since I first stashed my bicycle at the youth hostel) to my single apartment (it was the only single apartment that I booked for the whole trip). I could at least shower and read a bit; quite happy at how the day turned out, after all.

After reading this post on the authority of scripture by a friend of mine, I thought it might be a good idea to get all geeky scientific and stuff and write the following post.

In the general context of reading the Bible, the small print is generally forgotten. And with small print I of course refer to the host of information in any critical edition of the Greek text, most notably the Nestle-Aland. (So even if you are reading a translation, this information applies to you!) The small print should warn us against reading the Bible “literally” and “word for word”; in any case, that’s what I’ve learned from being busy with textual criticism (i.e. the science of trying to understand how the text of the NT was delivered to us; trying to trace the traditions and see how people in different ages thought about the text)*.

There’s even a small print behind the small print: shall we call it the smaller print? The Nestle-Aland gives only a small (but informed) selection of the manuscript readings available to us. As an example, I will use Luke 23:34. (The example is well known among textual critics.) The words “And Jesus said: ‘Father, forgive them, since they don’t know what they are doing‘” are present in some manuscripts, but some not.** In fact, the editors of the Nestle-Aland (27) placed it in double square brackets, thereby indicating that they don’t think it is part of the “original text”, but that it is extremely old and important. Like I said, this is well known among scholars.

Now for the smaller print part. The reading is indicated in NA27 as not present in Codex Bezae (also known as D), a manuscript written about 400CE. On the other hand, D2 is indicated as having this reading. D2 would normally mean that a second corrector to the manuscript (i.e., someone who made changes to the text originally written on the manuscript). This is only half the story. There were a number of correctors to the text of D, many of them quite early and with a text very similar to D’s. The one responsible for adding these words to D was not the second one to make corrections to the manuscript; in fact, this corrector (we shall call him “L“, as all correctors in manuscripts are, according to true NT TC fashion, deserving of a descriptive and personal name) was a very late one (about the 9th century). Poor L was actually going through the manuscript to add the Ammonian Sections, a helpful system of cross-reference between the Gospels. Coming to Luke 23:34, L was probably pretty confused – the whole section was missing in this manuscript! The only thing L could do was to first add the text, and then get on with giving it a number.*** So the evidence of NA27 should be given an even further nuance – the reason why the beginning words of Luke 23:34 was added to the text.

The point I’m trying to make? To be honest, I just wanted to tell this awesome story of L. But, as I hinted at in my introduction, at least being aware of the “smaller details” of reading the Bible – most notably that there is a lively tradition of manuscripts, interaction with manuscripts, and different ways of reading, using and understanding the Bible in different centuries. This should warn us against reading the Bible as being “the truth” and being the EXACT words of God.

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FOOTNOTES

* This is not an attempt to give a definition of textual criticism. For some definitions, and a somewhat different discussion in the comments on the inspiration of scripture, look here. I should point out, my “definition” here is different from the traditional view, which would be trying to get at the “original text”. Yes, that is an important aim still, it’s just that I’m interested in something else, at present.

** Quite a number of manuscripts are listed; if you’re interested, you could of course go look them up. An easy way to do this online would be to visit the NTTranscripts. For the more visually inclined, it might be interesting to look at Luke 23:34 in Codex Sinaiticus, as it was present, a corrector deleted the text, and then another corrector added it again. Some more manuscripts are available at the very useful page of the CSNTM or likewise at the Virtual Manuscript Room.

*** This is the view expressed by Scrivener, who originally transcribed the manuscript (this edition is available for download here), and David Parker, who wrote an excellent monograph on the manuscript.

Day 3: Sigmaringen to Ulm

Day 3 started out really, really cold. I practically flew down the hill on which the youth hostel was situated to get to the river. I stopped every 500m or so; to make sure my bags were securely fastened, or to take a picture, or to look intensely of something. See the gallery below for some of the products of my attempts to avoid freezing to death.

I also saw my first non-captive swan.

Yes, I barely avoided frostbite. Nevertheless, I soon starting sweating under the jacket. What a strange sensation! Finally, the weather cleared up and I’m glad to report that the rest of the day was fairly sunny.

Cycling lets one see pretty much all the smaller cities along the way. Needless to say, this results in a criss-cross pattern rather than a straight line – this day leaving me with 30km more on the odometer than planned. (On arrival at the youth hostel, my odometer stood on 230,66km). Trouble is, too, that I tended to lose my way whenever I reached a city. The bigger cities proved to be more problematic, of course, but even small cities could throw one off the track. I lost my way in Riedlingen (which is, apropos, a breathtaking city) and this resulted on me having to drive on the highway.

Driving with a bicycle on the highway in Germany is not a good idea.

In fact, it is as scary as it is dangerous. Luckily the stretch between Sigmaringen and Ulm wasn’t that busy, but it was a hair-raising experience nonetheless; especially around the numerous sharp bends in the round. Finally, by chance, I stumbled upon the marked trail of the Donau Radweg again. From this point on it was thankfully mostly downhill. That is, until I got to Ulm, where the youth hostel is situated – oh, why! – on a hill. I struggled up this one, but threw in the towel when I was not even a quarter of the way up.

As we say in South Africa, I was totally paste. Yet, I wanted to see Ulm – so I bought a bus ticket and ventured into the city. I still had an hour or two of daylight left, so I walked around quite a bit. I stayed until after sunset, fighting off the urge to go sleep in the youth hostel – I was here, after all, to see places. (See the gallery below for some pictures of what I saw.)

I might have had the fitness of a relatively relaxed tree sloth, but I was as hungry as a wolf. My post exercise fuel intake included a Döner, a McDonalds burger (Fail!) with a big packet of chips (Fail!), a big packet of chocolate raisins and – I can’t remember what I still had left in my bag, but that was definitely consumed as well.

Exhausted, I managed to make my way back to the youth hostel and totally snubbed the people I shared a room with by going straight to bed – and falling asleep instantly.