Memorising poetry and getting personal.

Signpost, 13th October, 2013: Jer.29:1, 4-7; Is.66:1-12; 2 Tim.2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Thank you Paul, I didn’t know what an acrostic was till now. I thought it was something to do with cross-word puzzles. But I thought too, that the pieces of the Bible were arranged that way to help students to memorise important lists of facts. Bit like the English one “A fororses, B forbeeformutton, C foryerself, D forenshul, E vabrick, F for… No, seriously, an aeroplane pilot has the first letters of the words of a memorised sentence to tell him the order of all the checks he must make before he releases the brakes at the end of the runway.

It’s evident the acrostic must have been a popular way of writing at a particular time in the development of Hebrew theology. (The same process can be observed nowadays in the sort of hymns that are written, and which ones last). There were three more in Lamentations, one in Proverbs (31:10-31), and seven in the Psalms, including 119, which consists of twenty-two groups of eight couplets, mostly expressing the same ideas in different words, or looking from a different perspective.

Ps.25 tempted the anonymous translator of my bible (The New Jerusalem) to do in English what the author had done in Hebrew, without changing the meaning. Each group of lines that begin Aleph, Bet, Gend, Dalat… etc., he begins with Adoration, But, Calling, Direct, and so on. But he’s saved having to work beginning with x and z by the Hebrew alphabet having only twenty-two letters.

In the course of turning the pages to count the acrostics, I saw Psalm 71, a prayer of old age. This time last year I wouldn’t have noticed it. Now I’m going to print it in big letters on a card, which I will keep under my pillow, for sleepless times. (71 was a good age when it was written, I’m 82 before I’m wanting it’s comfort.)

Our Paul ended last Sunday’s Signpost with a question, how to integrate a “saying of Jesus” of the sort of “the rain was falling in buckets-full” type, with an imaginary Paul’s advice to an imaginary Timothy when the real ones were pushing up the daisies somewhere or other. There are worse inconsistencies in real Paul’s own writing. He ends his letters with greetings to men and women equally, and his instruction about women’s behaviour in church is appalling. (But I can’t remember where he says women should wait till they get home again, to ask their husbands to explain this or that.)

Let’s finish on a positive note. When there was still a Jewish king in Jerusalem, Jeremiah was treated badly for his prophecies. Written scrolls thrown on the fire, and Jeremiah himself put into a dirty drain up to his neck. Then all the top people were carried away by order of Nebuchadnezzar, and Jeremiah’s advice to them was to settle down in Babylon. These people and their descendants put together the early books of the “Old Testament” as we know it, inconsistencies and all. Must have been a good post service, eh? Jeremiah got away in the other direction later, landed in Egypt, & we don’t know any more of his life. Fortunately someone recognised the importance of collecting his writings, and a later Jewish theologian found he’d a gold mine, and the whole lot was put into the Hebrew Bible. An important concept that he brought on to the surface was personal relationship with God. We take that for granted, but up to his time, that relationship belonged only to special people, like Abraham, Moses, Samuel or First Isaiah. That set open the possibility of Christianity as we know it.



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