What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? by Ziony Zevit … A Synopsis


Hello, and how are you? I hope you enjoyed my blogs last week—I messed up and sent two by mistake (I usually keep one in hand for the next week). Too much on my mind. However, I promised you a quick review of the garden story, as told in the book by Ziony Zevit. If you want to check your English version, it’s at the front of your Bible, Genesis 3 and 4, the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

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The book is more interesting than the cover.

Zevit is a Hebrew scholar, and says the story can only be understood if you read it in Hebrew. His book is worth reading, and you don’t need to understand Hebrew to read it (but you probably do to evaluate his claims, so read it with a sceptical mind). He looks at the language used, and tries to assess what the story meant to the people who wrote it. It was told orally long before it was written down, and Biblical Hebrew is a translation of ancient Hebrew, so we can’t be sure, even when we read the Hebrew. Zevit makes some bold claims.

Firstly, he claims the story wasn’t written as a myth, but as an historically accurate event. (Of course, this doesn’t mean it was historical, only that those writing it believed it was.) He also says it overlaps a lot with the Gilgamesh Story, which would have been well-known to those reading it. You might not be familiar with Gilgamesh, so I’ll give you a quick summary next week—but Zevit is right, lots of it is very like the Genesis story (and it was written first).

Zevit makes some interesting translation choices. The one which has earned him a not-too-flattering nickname is his claim that Eve was not made from Adam’s rib, but from his penis. His evidence for this is the Hebrew word used means ‘side’ in most other places, and that Hebrew writing of this time used various euphemisms for body parts and this is just another example. He also notes that humans are the only species which don’t have a bone there, as it works on hydraulics (and he provides drawings of skeletons to prove it). Whilst it’s an interesting view, I think it’s bit speculative (and slightly weird). It’s true that the Hebrew doesn’t mean ‘rib’ and ‘side’ would be a closer translation (and every scholar I’ve read agrees with that). But I don’t think he’s correct on the rest of it.

Another point he makes is that humans were created mortal—in other words, they were always intended to die. I have heard lots of sermons (especially at funeral services) that say death is a result of sin, and not what was intended, but I think Zevit is right here. The story seems reasonably clear that humans were created with the intention to die when old. Otherwise the world would become too full (because reproduction also seems to have been intended) and why would ‘the tree of life’ have been created if people already lived forever? The Old Testament doesn’t see death as a bad thing, it talks a lot about people living to a good old age, and ‘going to sleep’ and joining their ancestors.

He also says that the idea of idle paradise is not what the story is about. The humans were created to work in the garden—first Adam, and then the woman to help him. (Please note, the word used to describe Eve as a ‘helper’ does not imply Adam was the boss! It’s the same word used many times in the Old Testament to describe God helping people, and if anything it implies a stronger being helping a weaker being. But we won’t go there.)

The most dramatic (for me) of Zevit’s claims is that the humans did not sin, and they were not punished. The language used to describe the command given to Adam (before Eve was made) was, Zevit claims, more of an ‘aside’ than a specific command. The main command was to eat from every tree, followed by, “Oh, but don’t eat from the tree of knowledge.” He sees the story as a ‘coming of age’ story, whereby humans gained knowledge, and this resulted in them becoming aware of certain things, which increased their discomfort. If you don’t know childbirth is painful, then you don’t fear it and it’s less painful.

I think some of his points are true, and I’ll discuss them in a later blog. Scholars such as James Barr and Joseph Fitzpatrick have similar beliefs and I found them more reliable. Certainly some of Zevit’s points are true—the woman was not cursed (a point worth making as I have heard the pain of childbirth described as a curse). He also makes the point that the words used about Cain being born, are pluperfect, so Eve ‘had previously given birth,’ before they ate the fruit. This ties in with Adam naming her ‘Eve’ and calling her ‘the mother of all living beings’ because that would make no sense if she hadn’t yet had a child. Only the snake and the ground were cursed, the people were simply told things would be harder for them. There is no evidence of anger in the story, nor do words akin to ‘punishment’ appear.

Of course, if you decide Zevit is correct, and the garden story is not primarily about sin, then Augustine’s notion of ‘original sin’ (which I mentioned last week) would need to be re-examined. But you need more information before you can do that. Next week I’ll tell you the Gilgamesh story—it’s bit weird (but possibly not more weird than a talking snake).

Have a good week, and take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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My Week


Hello, how was your week? I am writing this in a rush, because it’s the end of my college semester and essays are due and exams need to be revised for.

Actually, if you take away the fear of failing the above, it has been quite a fun week. My lectures were interesting, and I managed to meet my daughter for lunch one day and have a good chat. I also managed to lose my purple gloves, which wasn’t so good, but maybe they’ll turn up.

We did Eschatology this week. Not sure if it’s possible to do that in one week, but we tried. (This is a fancy word for talking about ‘the end times’ and what might happen.) It sounds more exciting than it was.

Wednesday we had a lecture about digital theology. This was more interesting than it sounds. It showed all the ways that we now use technology, and how it has stopped being weird and has become part of everyday life (even my mother can now shop online). This extends to us actually incorporating technology into our bodies, so lots of people have artificial hips, or new knees. Some people have brain implants to help control an illness, or prosthetic limbs. The natural extension of this would be sort of cyber-hybrid-people. Some people apparently hope to ‘upload’ their brain into computers, or replace enough of their broken body to delay death for decades, maybe even longer. So we were asked to consider whether technology, with its ever-present, all-knowing, reaching-inside-us aspects was beginning to replace religion. Do people look to technology where they once looked to God? And how should Christians react to this?

Thursday I had a Hebrew test, when I desperately tried to remember all the different verb forms (and mostly failed, but remembered enough to pass). The big exam is in a couple of weeks, so I have verb paradigms scattered around the house in the belief that if I have copies of them next to the loo and stuck on the fridge door, I will magically assimilate them. Not working so far…Maybe future theologians will be able to simply upload a file of them straight into the memory part of their brain.

Friday I wrote an essay. Well, to be accurate, I deleted most of an essay, to try and squash it into the tiny word-limit that has been set. I have always talked too much, now I find that I also write too much, and squeezing all my arguments, and referring to various scholars, into a measly 4,000 words is very difficult. I have to evaluate a book, so I made rough notes, and this came to over 10,000 words before I’d even started to refer to other scholars or give my own opinions. To make it even harder, every time I refer to someone I have to add a footnote (which counts as part of the word count) saying what they wrote and when, and I can’t use contractions (‘would not’, instead of ‘wouldn’t’) which all adds to the length. Writing the first draft was great fun, and I wrote a blinder! Now I have to delete most of it and hope it still makes sense.

Then it was the weekend, which is when I try to clean the house and have conversations that aren’t linked to theology. Not very good at either of those things. I did however move all the unattractive cleaning products off the downstairs washroom window sill and replace them with a plant, and one of those smelly diffuser things that I was given for Christmas. It smells quite posh in there now. Hoping it will help me to learn the verb paradigms that are stuffed behind the toilet rolls. Hope you have a great week, whatever you’ve got planned. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Anne E. Thompson

After Christmas


Hello, Happy Monday! How was your Christmas? Mine was wonderful, though with a few mishaps (there often are in my house).

Our first less-than-professional action was when we had friends for curry one evening before Christmas. They come most weeks, and Husband (bless him) decided it was time to use those left-over crackers that everyone has lurking in the Christmas decorations box from a bygone year. He didn’t mention his good idea to me, otherwise I would have warned him.

Friends arrived, smiled when they saw there were crackers, decided who would pull one with who, all very excited. I arrived too late to say anything, and sat there wondering if Husband understood about the crackers and had planned accordingly. He didn’t, and he hadn’t. The crackers were those ‘fill-your-own’ ones that I had bought (and filled) a few years ago, stuffing them with paper hats and packets of seeds and miniature whiskeys. Husband had not stuffed them with anything, so everyone pulled a completely empty cracker! We searched through the recycling bin and found the hats and jokes in the bottom of the box, but to be honest, they weren’t a great success.

The next major mishap was Christmas dinner, because I forgot to get the turkey out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature before I put it in the oven. Which meant that everything was ready to eat, except the turkey. The vegetarians didn’t care (I don’t like to think they were gleeful and suggested that none of us should have been eating meat) but I felt very annoyed with myself. I ended up slicing it (it was a turkey breast, not even a whole bird, so really I have no excuse). I then fried it, and people ate it after they had started eating everything else. At least I realised in time and didn’t give everyone food poison, but it was a rooky mistake and I should have known better.

The rest of Christmas was great. People were very generous, and we had some lovely moments with the family, just relaxing together, playing games and chatting. The house is now a mess, and my jeans have shrunk (happens every year at this time) and I’m tired. But it has been good.

My boys (who aren’t really boys any more because they grew into men while I wasn’t noticing) are currently downstairs cooking dinner. They are making a dish that involves a whole packet of blue cheese. I don’t like blue cheese, but they tell me that I will like it in the dish they are preparing, as it will taste completely different. This is the sort of thing I used to tell them when they were little, so I don’t like to argue (plus I am very grateful that I don’t have too cook). I’m sure it will be delicious.

Hope you had a nice Christmas, and are looking forward to the new year. Hoping for a healthy one.
Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Mary’s Story


Mary’s Story

by Anne E. Thompson

Things were not quite how we like to imagine them. There was unlikely to have been a stable (and certainly no dogs!)

I travelled to Bethlehem in a small cart. Every bump (and there were many) was agony. As I was jolted along, I was racked with pain. The baby’s time was near, you see and the pain was almost unbearable. Later, they would sing songs about a cute donkey carrying me. Nice thought! I don’t think there’s any way you could have got me on a donkey. As each contraction cramped every muscle in my torso, I huddled up like an animal and prayed for it to be over.

I could see Joseph, watching me as he walked alongside. He really didn’t have the first idea what to do. Oh, how I wanted my mother. I yearned for her to be there, holding my hand, telling me everything was all right and would be over soon.

When we arrived at Joseph’s uncle’s house, the women folk came and helped me inside. The room was crowded. All Joseph’s male relatives from miles around had come to the house for shelter and food. The women were busy cooking supper and the men were drinking wine and comparing stories. They all told Joseph how much he resembled his grandfather, Matthan and laughed at old stories from years ago. The smell of fish and fresh bread was nauseating. I was so tired and so uncomfortable.

Joseph knew I was suffering and asked if there was somewhere quiet that I could go. There was no chance that we would get a place in the inn, they had filled up days ago. Somewhere quiet, in a little house packed with relatives?

There were some fraught discussions and then his aunt suggested that the animal shelter, down on the lower floor of the house, might be best. It wasn’t terribly clean, but it would be quiet and private and at least it wouldn’t smell of fish!

Joseph helped me to go down, and a couple of the women came too. One of them examined me and told me the baby was a long way off yet, first babies always take their time in coming. This was not great news but I felt better having her there. I felt that she knew what was happening, had seen this before; it took some of the fear away.

I was frightened, you see. I was horribly afraid that somehow I would damage my baby. My baby and God’s. I knew he was going to be special, I knew I had a great task ahead of me but it all seemed to be going horribly wrong. I trusted that God was still in control but he felt so far away.

Could the baby not have been born in a palace, surrounded by comfort? Would these poor beginnings really be part of a plan? Could they really make this king accessible to the people? I had no idea.

I was a mere girl; I had no education and my memory of scriptures was often fuzzy. To be honest, at this present moment, I didn’t even care. I just wanted this baby OUT! Special or not, my body was tired of carrying him, tired of being stretched and pushed, of fitting something inside that was now too big to be there. I needed this baby to be born and I was too exhausted to wait much longer.

How I longed for sleep. The pain in my back was terrible. Great waves of cramp that seared through my body, making me oblivious to everything else. I was vaguely aware that someone was sweeping the floor and moving the animals to a far corner. They had laid out a mattress and blankets for me to rest on but I couldn’t lie still for long. I felt better standing, rocking in time with the pain, trying to remember to breathe: in out, in out. Someone offered me water but I couldn’t drink. I wasn’t thirsty—I just wanted this baby to be born.

I could see Joseph with his big anxious eyes watching me. He didn’t know what to do. Someone suggested he should go into the house to eat and I nodded in agreement. There was nothing he could do and the poor man must have been tired too. He had endured such an emotional time lately. First there was his fear and anger when he first heard about the baby (now that was a difficult conversation!) Then he had to endure the smirks of his friends when the pregnancy became public knowledge. He never complained, but I know he felt embarrassed, wished that God could have chosen a different girl.

We had been travelling for five days, with hardly any rest and the last couple of days had been chilly. I know he felt the burden of caring for me, watching for bandits on the roads and wondering if we would make it to Bethlehem in time. If the baby had come early I don’t know what he’d have done—left me with strangers on the road somewhere I guess and come to register on his own. One didn’t mess with a Roman decree. . .

The pain eventually became almost constant. Joseph had eaten and rested but I continued to sway in discomfort in the little room of animals. Every so often one of them would poop, and although the women with me cleaned it up quickly, the smell pervaded the atmosphere. It was hard to ignore.

I could hear the musicians gathering outside, someone must have told them the birth would be soon. That gave me hope, maybe soon the baby would arrive.

Then at last, in a final searing pain, the baby was born. I looked down at his blue waxy body as he wriggled on the blanket, and I knew that he was mine. My love for him was overwhelming. He was part of me, I would die rather than let anything hurt him.

One of the women wiped him down with oil and salt and I held him in my arms while they looked for the swaddling bands in our luggage.

How beautiful he was. His indigo eyes would soon turn brown and they gazed at me trustingly. I loved him with my whole being.

Outside, there was the sound of music and singing as the musicians heralded the arrival of a boy, and I smiled, knowing they would have quietly slid away into the night if the baby had been a girl. But there had never been chance of that, not this time.

Joseph came and took the baby from me. He held the tiny baby in his giant carpenter’s hands, hands that spoke of hard work and safety. He didn’t say anything, this man who had been chosen to protect me, he simply stared at the baby—looking, wondering.

Then the baby started to mouth for food and Joseph passed him back. The women showed me how to feed him, but he was soon asleep. Then we gently wrapped him in the swaddling bands, securing his tiny limbs so he would feel snug and secure and his bones would grow straight and true. He was so beautiful. It was hard to remember what the angel had told me, that this was God’s son too. I began to wonder if I had imagined it, if it were all a dream. This baby did not look like God, he was a baby. My baby.

“If it’s true God,” I thought, “Let there be another sign. He is so little and I love him so much, but this doesn’t feel like a miracle anymore, this hasty trip to Bethlehem, this crowded little house with me downstairs with the animals. Are you still in control? Do you still see me? Remind me again…”

I too needed to sleep. Joseph fetched fresh hay and put it in the animal’s manger, covering it with a soft blanket. I didn’t want him to put the baby there, I wanted to keep him on the bed next to me, but Joseph was worried I might roll on him in my sleep. Then he laid the baby down and told me to sleep. He looked deep into my eyes and brushed my collar bone lightly with his fingers.

“Soon you’ll be truly mine,” he whispered. I knew what he meant and felt myself blush.
I was so tired, I thought I would sleep for a week.

I actually slept for about two hours! I was abruptly woken by loud voices and a draft of cold air as the door was flung open. There, standing uncertainly in the doorway was a group of youths. Their clothes were dirty and exuded the strong smell of sheep. Joseph was with them.

“Mary? Are you awake?” he asked.

It would be hard not to be with all the noise from outside.

“These shepherds want to see the baby. They were told by angels where they could find him and they have come to look at him.”

I checked I was decently covered before nodding, letting Joseph know that it was all right, they could come in. They trouped into the room. They seemed so big and clumsy in such a small space, with their long limbs and rough clothes. I worried they might hurt the baby.

But they didn’t try to touch him, they just stared for a while and then one of them knelt and they all followed suit, kneeling before the manger, staring at the baby.

Then they told me their story, how they had been in the fields and an angel had appeared. They had thought they were going to die, to be struck down right where they were.

The angel had reassured them, told them that a saviour had been born, the Christ who we’ve all been waiting for. They would find him lying in a manger. Then suddenly there were lots of angels, all praising God and saying he was pleased with people on earth.

After the angels had gone, finding they were still alive after all, the shepherds decided to come at once and see for themselves. It was as though they couldn’t quite believe what they had seen and heard, they needed to actually see the baby with their own eyes.

I felt so humbled and so cared for. God had heard my thoughts. He was reassuring me. It was all his plan, not some terrible mistake; circumstances hadn’t caused us to drop out of his control, he could still see me. We were meant to be here. He even knew about the manger!

I listened and smiled and treasured my thoughts.

The shepherds left as noisily as they came. I could hear them in the streets, shouting their news, telling everyone what had happened. They were so excited, I expect they woke up half the town.

They had of course woken the baby who was now crying with a thin wail that jarred my nerves and was impossible to ignore. I fed him some more and then we both slept. A tired, contented sleep borne from exhaustion and wonder.

***

After eight days, Joseph came and circumcised the baby. How he wailed! It felt cruel, though I knew it was the right thing to do, even in this strange place we must obey the Jewish laws. We also formally gave him the name Yeshua, the name we had been told to give him by the angel all those months ago.

I wondered if Joseph minded, people would know it wasn’t a family name. I also had no one called Yeshua in my own family, though I did know a boy from my childhood with the name.

***

After forty days, we had to travel to Jerusalem, to pay for redemption at the temple. As Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, we had to pay five shekels of silver. We couldn’t afford a lamb, so bought two pigeons to sacrifice.

It was nice to leave Bethlehem and to have some exercise at last, to see people and to take my baby into the world. I felt quite excited as I approached the temple, our holy place. I didn’t recognise anyone, but everyone could see we had a new baby and lots of the women came over to see him. I felt so happy!

We walked through the Beautiful Gate and up to the Gate of Nicanor.

It was then that something strange happened. As Joseph and I walked through the temple, a man approached us. He came to look at Yeshua and indicated that he wanted to hold him. That was a little unusual but there was something about him, something that made you sure he was a good man, someone you could trust.

When he looked at the baby, the old man got all emotional and prayed, thanking God and saying that now he could die in peace. He blessed me and Joseph too and then he leant towards me and said something which was very strange.

He said Yeshua would cause “the fall and rising of many in Israel” and would be “a sign that would be opposed so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

What does that mean? I know that he is God’s own son and that he is part of the plan to establish God’s reign on earth. Will he be opposed? Surely everyone will accept God’s anointed one, we have waited so long for him.

But then he said something that made me afraid, this old man with his determined face and bright eyes. His face was very near, I could smell his breath.

He said that a sword would pierce my soul.

Something inside contracted, all the joy of entering the temple evaporated into a lump of fear. Fear and anger. I practically snatched Yeshua away from him. I want my son to grow strong and be happy, will I suffer for this? I will do everything in my power to protect him, he is mine.

I knew I was tired, not getting enough sleep and it was hard to care for a new baby in a strange place without my mother to help me. I felt that I did not want to hear the man’s words, even if they were true. I was coping with enough, and I felt that although I had been brave, I couldn’t be brave any more.

Thankfully the man left us and almost at once an old lady approached. She was ancient, her white hair showed under her mitpahath and she leant heavily on a stick. What I noticed most were her eyes. They almost sparkled! You could tell at once that she was a holy woman and also one who loved to laugh.

As soon as she saw Yeshua, the elderly woman started to pray loudly, thanking God and telling people nearby that if they wanted Jerusalem to be redeemed, they should look to the baby. I was glad that no Romans were allowed in the temple, we would have been in trouble!

We finished making the offerings and then went back to Bethlehem. I didn’t know whether to tell Joseph what the old man had told me. I kept thinking about his words, worrying about what they might mean. I was so tired, I decided I would wait and maybe tell him later.

***

The months passed and we settled into life in Bethlehem. We moved into a little house and Joseph found work on the many building projects that the Romans have introduced.

Yeshua continued to thrive. He grew into a sturdy toddler and would walk around the room holding onto the stools and baskets. I loved to feel his solid weight when I carried him on my hip, the light touch of his chubby fingers when he reached up to touch my face. There was pure joy in the gurgle of his giggles. He started to sleep much better at night and Joseph and I were thinking about having another child. But then everything changed.

It was one evening, still quite early but we had filled the lamp with olive oil and lit the linen wick. Joseph put it on a bushel basket, so the room was well lit and we could talk about the day. Suddenly, there was a banging at the door.

Joseph went at once and there, in the road, was a group of Persian travellers. They had dismounted from their horses and were peering intently into the house. They told Joseph they had seen a star and had come to worship the king. I was so glad I hadn’t gone to bed yet!

We let them into the house and I went to get Yeshua. He was damp from sleep and his tired eyes looked blearily around him. I wondered if he would cry but he seemed fascinated by our strange visitors. They wore their hair in long curls and one had a band of gold on his head. It glinted in the lamp light and I could see Yeshua watching it intently. Their clothes were patterned with birds and flowers.

We offered them wine, it was clear they were tired from their journey. I was embarrassed that we only had two stools to offer them, but they didn’t seem to mind and in fact insisted that I should sit on one with Yeshua and they were happy to sit on the rush mat. They didn’t really sit anyway, they wanted to kneel before Yeshua.

Then they gave him gifts. They were beautiful to look at. They gave him gold, signifying that he is a king. They gave him frankincense. The strong aroma filled the house and I wondered if Yeshua was to be a priest, even though he is not descended from Levi. They also gave him myrrh. Myrrh is costly but is for embalming a body. It was a strange gift for a baby and I wondered what it meant.

They told us their story before they left. In their Persian home, they were magi, watching the stars and foretelling the future. Many months ago, at the time of Yeshua’s birth, they had seen a special star which they knew meant a powerful new king had been born and they determined they would find him and worship him. Unfortunately, following the star caused them to go to Jerusalem first (I always knew that star gazing was a misleading activity!) They went to Herod’s palace and asked where the new king was. This was scary, Herod had shown he was not a king to be trusted and his cruelty was well known. I would not have wanted to visit his palace.

However, it sounded as though he had decided to be helpful. Herod asked the scribes to research the early scriptures and they discovered that the promised king was to be born in Bethlehem. The king told the Easterners, asking them to find the king and then return and tell him the exact location, so that he too could worship.

I wondered what would happen next. Would Herod himself come to visit my precious baby or would we be summoned to the palace? This was not a comfortable thought.

I also wondered, why had the palace scribes not come to visit us? Why didn’t they travel with the Easterners to see the baby? Did they not believe the scriptures that they studied so diligently? Surely, if they were truly expecting a redeemer they would also have come? I frowned, feeling uneasy. There was something that I didn’t understand, and it nagged at me.

The men left. They planned to sleep in an inn and return to Jerusalem the next day. We could not offer them lodging in our tiny house and they seemed content to leave now they had seen Yeshua.

I returned Yeshua to bed and soon afterwards Joseph and I also went to sleep.

I had not been asleep for long when Joseph woke me. He shook me awake, then went to light the lamp. I could see his face was tense and instantly turned to check Yeshua was well. He was sleeping soundly.

Joseph told me I needed to get up—at once—we needed to leave. He said that he had had a dream, like the dream when the angel told him that the baby inside me was God’s son. It was so intense, so real, that he could not ignore it. Joseph said he had been told we must leave Bethlehem, leave Israel; Yeshua is in danger, Herod plans to kill him.

For a moment I paused, wondering why I too had not been warned. But then understanding flooded through me, as I realised—God had told Joseph to take care of me and Yeshua—that was a hard task for a man, to care for a son that was not his own. So now, God was telling Joseph alone what we needed to do, underlining his role, establishing him as head of our family. It was a kind act, asserting Joseph’s value, his part in all this.

I began to pack our things, Joseph was hurrying me, telling me to only take what was essential, we needed to leave.

We were to go to Egypt. Egypt! Could this be right? Was Yeshua not to be king of the Jews? I packed hurriedly and we left that very night.

What would the future hold? Would we ever return to our home town? The future was uncertain but I knew that something bigger than us was happening. Whatever happened, God had a plan and no one could alter the course of that, not Herod, not the Romans. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were part of the plan—and that was enough.

******

Thank you for reading.

This account necessarily involves some imagination but I believe it is also as historically correct as possible (and more accurate than some of our Christmas carols!)
If you are aware of any historical errors, please tell me and I will modify it.
I used a variety of sources including:
The gospels of Matthew and Luke
Geoffrey Bromily (1995)
William Hendriksen
William Barclay
Joseph P Amar (university of Notre Dame)
Michael Marlowe
Tessa Afshar
Kenneth Bailey

I hope you have a very happy day.
Take care.
Love, Anne xx

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?

anneethompson.com

Not Ready for Christmas…


Not Getting Ready for Christmas…

Hello and how was your week? And are you ready for Christmas? A little bit? I am not, and it will worry me soon but at the moment I am too busy.  

My college lectures finished—well, more fizzled out, due to Omicron and Boris and having to revert to being on zoom which doesn’t feel as satisfying. No big farewells and ‘Happy Christmas’ or silly jumpers. (Not that there necessarily would have been even if we had all met in person, but probably I would have done those things, even if no one else did.)

Next on my list was essays (just practice ones) then getting the results and realising that writing an academic essay is far-removed from the fun of writing a blog. We are meant to provide lots of quotes to show we are well-read (I do read lots, but am not very good at remembering who said what, where, and we have to splatter our essays with page numbers, which is very unsatisfying). We also have to give our own opinion (no problem there!) but not in a personal way (is that even possible?) and it has to be backed up with evidence. I’m not sure anyone else shares my views, so the evidence bit is not easy. I am also very bad at extracting relevant information from books, whilst not reading the whole book. I start to skim read (which feels like cheating, by the way) but then the author writes something interesting, and before you know it, it’s 6pm, Husband is asking what’s for dinner (nothing) and I have read the whole book and completely forgotten to write the page numbers of bits relevant for my essay. Which means I am enjoying my course tremendously, and learning lots, but I may well fail due to chatty unsubstantiated essay-style.

Another distraction was having the Covid booster. This was all very efficient except for the last bit, when having socially-distanced in the queue and shown into an individual booth to be stabbed, we were then told to wait in a crowded seating area in case we turned blue or something. Of course, neither me nor Husband are very good at obeying rules, so we looked into crowded waiting area and decided we would sit in our car instead. Neither of us turned blue. Though I did have a horrible reaction later, and had a temperature that wouldn’t go for two days. Very unpleasant but presumably less unpleasant than having covid.

We also had our traditional family meal in London. We went to The Ivy this time, at Tower Bridge. Very lovely. I drank pink G&Ts and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I like my family (even without the G&T I like them, they make me laugh). London is very pretty at night, and there were Christmas lights, and it was all wonderful. We wandered back to the station via Hay’s Galleria, which had a big Christmas tree, and I tried to encourage the family to sing carols (this might have been due to the G&T) but none of them would. Never mind, lovely evening.

London Lights (and children who I do not know but honestly! They posed in front for ages!)

Another nice thing is my cyclamen plants. Now, I am not very good with plants, and generally have a row of dead plants on my windowsill, but I try. A few years ago, my sister-in-law gave me a cyclamen for my birthday, and surprisingly, it has survived. I noticed that it was growing buds that weren’t buds, so checked online and sure enough, they were seed pods. The internet said I should wait until they opened, and then wash the seeds in washing-up liquid before soaking overnight in clean water. This is because they have a sticky coating and a hard shell. In the wild, ants will carry them away from the main plant, eat the sugar from the coating and pierce the hard shell, so the seed can then grow. They then need to be left somewhere cold and dark.

I have a lot of bad luck with cats sleeping on my seedlings, so after the washing/soaking thing, I planted the seeds and put them in the loft. I left it a few days, then went to check if they needed more water. A mouse had dug them all up and scattered the mud all around the loft. I shoved them back into the pot (the seeds, not the mouse) and put them on a windowsill instead. Two chances. Live or not. I assumed not, but you never know. Anyway, when I looked yesterday, there are two tiny cyclamen plants just sprouting. How exciting is that!

Of course, all this means I have done almost nothing to prepare for Christmas. I would delay it for a few weeks if I could, but instead I will have to hide my books in case I read them by mistake, and force myself to wrap some gifts and bake some gingerbread. I did decorate the too-big-because-I-wasn’t-there tree that Husband bought, but to be honest, I just sort of flung ornaments on it while cooking sausages because I was trying to read about Calvin. I still have a week, it will be fine…

Hope you have a wonderful Christmas. Thank you for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Quick Trip to Zurich


Zurich

I am writing this in Zurich. My college had a week with no lectures, set aside for reading and reflection, and it coincided rather nicely with Husband having to visit Zurich for work. I had a mountain of reading to do, plus an essay to finish writing, but we agreed that I could work in the room, and breaks would be spent wandering the city and eating meals that I hadn’t had to cook. An excellent plan (which I hoped would turn out better than the Devon ‘excellent plan’ of earlier!)

We arrived late Friday night. As the aeroplane neared Zurich, I could see the Alps, white with snow, shining in sunlight. We appeared to be flying over a sea with islands, but as we dropped, I realised the sea was cloud, and we dropped down, into the misty ‘water’ to the gloom of a city in dusk. The mountains were like a basin of cloud, and the sunlight was hidden from the land below.

As this was a ‘work trip’, our room was a rather lovely suite opposite a park in the city centre. We had the weekend to explore, so after a run round the park and breakfast in the hotel, we set off. (The breakfast was good, but there was a lot of sausage on offer, and I am pretty sure one of the fruit options was coleslaw.) The weather was crisp but dry, and gradually some of the clouds dispersed so we could almost see mountains beyond the city.

The city has the river Limmat flowing through it and we walked beside it to the large glacial lake, the Zűrichsee. The houses are very Germanic, with pointy roofs and shutters at the windows. It was all very pretty. It was also hideously expensive for British travellers, as the exchange rate is very bad at the moment. There were coffee shops with seats in a pretty square, huddled around patio heaters, all the seats lined with fur to keep people warm. But to pay £6 for a coffee was off-putting, so we enjoyed looking but kept walking. Luckily we had access to the ‘members lounge’ in the hotel, where there was a coffee machine for free.

As I am studying theology, I felt that I should visit the church where Zwingli preached. Who, you might ask, was Zwingli? Ulrich Zwingli (not a looker, but you wouldn’t expect him to be with a name like that) was quite a character in the 1500s. He was a priest in the large Grossműnster church, during a time when the church was ruled from Rome and was very powerful. Zwingli began to preach against some of the practices (which made him popular with the people, but not especially liked amongst his clerical peers). He decided that fasting in Lent was wrong, and (somewhat controversially I feel) attended a sausage supper during Lent.

He learnt Greek and Hebrew (so must be a good chap) and sought to find the correct translation to passages that he felt the church had corrupted. He preached against celibacy for priests (which I cannot help but feel sceptical about, as he had a wife at the time so I feel he was perhaps slightly biased). He also tried to rid the church of icons, and told people they shouldn’t worship saints. He was a contemporary of Luther (who is more famous) but they disagreed over the Eucharist, and were never friends. When there was a plague in Zurich, many people left the city but Zwingli stayed to help the sick. He survived the plague, but died during a battle (which I think he partly caused by speaking out against the church).

So, an interesting chap with some strong beliefs. It seems silly now, that he and Luther didn’t work together, simply because they disagreed over one point of doctrine. It seems to me that Christians still do this today, it can feel a little like a club, where if you don’t agree with all the rules some people don’t think you belong. Perhaps that’s why Jesus never tried to start a new religion, he showed people how to live and left them to copy.

We saw Zwingli’s statue, and went to the Grossműnster, which was very plain because he had removed all the icons and decorations. I blame him a little, for the ugliness of Baptist churches. I understand the sentiment, that we should be worshipping God not the building/statues/icons. But I do feel people go too far. Baptists seem to thrive on very ugly places in which to worship. I find it off-putting.

I will leave you with some photos of Zurich. Lovely clean city, mortgage your house and pop over for a weekend. You will need proof of two vaccines to enter any public building, and people here wear masks whenever they’re inside a public building. Other than that, it’s almost the same as pre-Covid times.

Hope your day is good, wherever you happen to be.

Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

*****

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The Holiday That Wasn’t…


It was half-term, and when Husband suggested a mini break in Devon, it seemed like a good idea. A reward for forcing myself to confront lots of scary things during the college term. I had lots of study to do, but I decided I could study in a cottage just as well as at home, and my breaks would be striding over windy cliffs rather than walking down the road. Plus, no housework, so all rather lovely. We decided to take elderly dog, as she loves the beach and there won’t be many more opportunities to take her. Mother hasn’t had a holiday in ages, so we invited her too. It was an excellent plan. But even excellent plans can go wrong…

Things started to be difficult fairly early on, but we will skip the description of the dog fouling in the car on the way there, and jump straight into the cottage—which was lovely. A small semi-detached house with two bedrooms and three bathrooms, it seemed ideal. It was incredibly clean, and everything was comfortable and modern. They had painted murals on the walls, and there was a view of the sea from an upstairs window. I set up a table with my computer and books, and settled into a week of study and seaside.

It happened in the evening, when we were leaving to have dinner in a local pub. It was dark, and pouring with rain, and the wind was racing up the cliffs. The cottage had off-road parking a short walk from the house, and I set off with Mum while Husband locked the house. The wind was pulling at our hair, and the rain was beginning to increase, so I hurried ahead to unlock the car and open the heavy door before Mum got there. Such a mistake. Why did I not walk with her, holding her arm for support? Why did I not have a torch? Why did we even think taking an elderly woman to the pub was a good idea? Hindsight is a terrible thing.

There was a step up to where the car was, then a step down. Tricky to see in the dark.

“Mind the step,” I called as I unlocked the car and threw the keys inside.

Mum stepped up onto the kerb, but forgot the step down. I was heaving the door open, heard her call out, watched her stagger forwards. I left the door, rushed towards her as she fought to keep her balance, reached out to grab her hand, missed, lurched forwards and clutched the front of her coat, which slid from my gasp and Mum fell, straight back, smack onto the concrete.

The rain was still falling, relentlessly wetting everything.

“Mum!” I shouted, rushing to her.

No response. She lay, still, not a sound.

“Mum!” I called again as I reached her side.

There was a groan.

Husband arrived, tripped over the same step and managed to get his balance. I yelled to him to call an ambulance. There was no phone signal, so he ran back to the house to use the wi-fi. A man from the flats opposite shouted, asking if everything was okay, and could he help?

I asked if he had an umbrella, and he arrived, knelt next to us, tried to cover Mum. I took off my coat, hardly noticed the rain seeping through my cardigan, tried to cover Mum, told the man to get the old towel from the back of the car, and the blanket from the back seat, all the while telling Mum to keep still, she was safe now, the ambulance would soon arrive.

I tried to remember distant first-aid courses: Don’t move the patient in case of broken bones, keep them warm, reassure them, check for bleeding, check for breathing…but not in that order.

Husband came back to say the ambulance person wanted to ask some medical questions. I went into the house. They took some details, told me the ambulance would be at least two hours (two hours!) and then put me on hold. I was on hold for a long time.

The nice man from opposite arrived, saying they thought they should move Mum as it was so cold and wet. I tried (desperately) to decide what was best. “Don’t move the patient” was embedded in my mind. But it was pouring! And two hours! I told him I agreed it was best, but not to lift Mum, make her get up alone, with help supporting her, but never lifting. Then, if she had broken anything, the pain would make her stop and she was unlikely to make anything worse. If moving was too painful and she stopped, we could have a rethink.

The operator came back to the phone. I asked her whether I should give Mum a drink (sweet tea was in my mind) should I lie her down or sit her up for a head injury? Should I let her eat? Should I remove her wet clothes?

The operator told me not to move the patient. I could lift the visor of a helmet but not remove it. I should check for breathing.

I realised she was reading from a list.

I stopped her, and asked if she had any clinical training.

She told me not to move the patient.

I asked her again (using my teacher voice, which I’m not proud of) whether she had any clinical training.

Long pause.

No, she did not.

I thanked her, said she had been very kind, told her I understood everything she had told me. Ended the call. Dashed upstairs, grabbed duvet and towels, covered the sofa (because it wasn’t my cottage and we mustn’t spoil it) and removed the back cushions so soaked mother could lie down.

Mum arrived, supported by kind man from opposite and husband.

We sat her down, she wouldn’t lie. Should I make her lie down? She said the light hurt her eyes. I knew I needed to observe her, told her it had to stay on.

We tried phoning NHS 111, I needed to speak to a medic to ask what to do. It was on a continual loop, asking us to choose options, then starting again. Might have been due to dodgy wifi-calling with dodgy-internet connection (no phone signal). I realised that actually, I know a LOT of medics, half my friends seem to be doctors! I would message them and ask for help. Felt slightly cheeky, because they would be off-duty and trying to relax/live their life, but I decided I needed a favour. Sent messages to two friends who are doctors.

Managed to remove wet clothes from Mum, left them in a heap on the floor, wrapped her in duvets. She was too shaken to want to be fussed with dry clothes, and it was warm, so I left her for a while as she was. Tried to chat, told her funny stories (which weren’t funny) about the children when they were small, and about my course, and all sorts of strained boring conversation.

She was very shaken and weak, and I wanted to rouse her. I poured some sugar into my palm, told her to dip her finger in it and put some on her tongue. She did. I told her to do it again. Gradually I watched the energy return, it was like magic! Mum noticed too, and asked what I had given her. Assured her it was sugar and not cocaine.

She wanted a drink. I gave her sips of water. She was sick.

Kind doctor friends responded, telling me what to do—which was pretty much what I was doing anyway. But a relief to know that sitting or lying probably made no difference, and a big cup of tea was a bad idea until she had been checked, and being awake was important.

I phoned the ambulance service again, told them Mum had been sick. Made it clear that she had been unconscious for a short time, that she seemed muddled. I could hear her chatting to husband, sounding much brighter. I didn’t mention that, I wanted her checked by someone who knew more than me.

Two hours is a long time. We waited, keeping Mum warm, keeping her awake (not easy) trying to appear unconcerned. My mind was full of cracked skulls and internal bleeding and strokes. I talked about the ducks and how naughty the boys were when they were 10, and did she remember her first job? Husband was better at chatting than me, he managed to get her talking, she would only sigh and groan when I tried.

Daughter messaged, suggesting I pack a bag in case the ambulance took her to hospital. I ran around, guessing what might be needed, searching for prescriptions and toothbrushes and clean underwear and something comfy to wear in bed.

The ambulance arrived—a little over two hours. I opened the door, heard the crew share a joke, fought to control my irritation, to remember that this was their job, they couldn’t do everything at a run even if tonight I needed them to.

They came inside, declined a cup of tea, chatted to Mum while they assessed her. They weren’t sure whether they needed to take her to hospital, as it was already more than two hours since the accident, so they left to phone a doctor. I wondered if they would come back, worried some more about all the things that might be happening inside my poor shaken mother.

They came back. Mum needed to go to hospital. They wrapped her in blankets and took her bag, and I watched them lead her away.

“Try to get some sleep,” they said. “The hospital will phone you later.”

Husband told me to eat (a day without dinner) but I was too tense, ate a bowl of cereal, felt better.

I went to bed and didn’t sleep. The guilt was immense. Why hadn’t I been holding her arm? Why had I taken her out in the dark? Why hadn’t I been quicker at trying to catch her? I cried then, and lifted all my guilt and worry upwards, to God, who was big enough to handle it even when I didn’t have the words to explain it.

I must have slept because at 2:30 am the hospital called and woke me. The doctor asked who I was, said he was with my mother—what was her name? I said her name. He asked if I knew what had happened. Somewhere in my sleepy brain an alert sounded—was this a scam? He had given me no information and seemed to be getting lots of details from me. I stopped giving proper answers, started to be equally vague: yes, I knew what had had happened. He paused, considering. (Afterwards, Husband, who was listening, told me that the poor doctor was trying to verify my identity before he gave confidential patient information. But at 2:30 am, this was too subtle for me.)

Mum had a fractured skull and there was a small bleed but they didn’t need to operate.

He told me that they would keep her in for observation, give her medication so nothing got worse, that everything was stable. It didn’t feel stable. The whole world was out of kilter.

*

The rest of the holiday was spent visiting the hospital, and trying to enjoy walks on the beach that weren’t relaxed, staring at pages of college work but not really absorbing anything, planning what would happen if Mum had to stay after our cottage let ended.

But she didn’t. We collected her, and we came home. While the course of pills continued, I wanted her with me, to check on her easily. Mum was tired, and shaken, but not ill.

After a week she moved back to her own house. Gradually her confidence came back, eventually her bounce did too.

She’s okay now…though probably needs a holiday…

Anne E. Thompson
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Assembly Storytime


One of the sessions I attend at Spurgeon’s College is ‘chapel.’ This is basically an Assembly, just the same as every school used to hold at 10am each morning, the whole school gathered to sit on a cold hard floor for a bit of singing, a Bible-related talk and notices for the day. We don’t have to sit on the floor, and no one is glared at for whispering or removed for kicking the person in front, but other than that it’s identical.

One chapel service included a story, which is always my favourite thing. I believe the person leading chapel copied it from someone else, so you might know it already—but stories are meant to be copied and changed and passed on, so I will share it with you. Grab a coffee and settle back, and I will begin…

River Jordan near lake Kinneret Taken from Google Images, (c) copyright 2016 Land of the Bible

We are travelling way back in time, to where John the Baptist is baptising people in the river. Imagine a hot sun shining above, the waves lapping onto the beach, John up to his waist in water, busily baptising.

Hoards of people have come to see the weird-man-who-eats-locusts, they have heard him preach, they want to be dunked under the water to show that they believe what he has said, and they want to change, to be better people. Being baptised—dunked in the water—was not unusual in those days, it was a way to show you were changing something, ‘dying’ to the old way, and starting again. They were being baptised because they knew they were wrong. Try to imagine them, lounging against trees, some sitting on the ground watching, others jostling to a better position.

As I said, hoards of people had come, and there was a bit of pushing, a few mutterings of discontent, a bit of unfair queue-jumping. John is in the river, baptising, saying a few words to each person. The crowd of people waiting grows larger.

While we watch, a woman arrives. She’s an Human Resources manager, complete with clipboard and an officious attitude. She watches the chaos for a few minutes and decides to intervene. Marching to the front of the line, she waves her clipboard at John, and suggests a few changes. He’s a little taken aback, but he agrees she can try to improve things on the shore, while he gets on with baptising.

The woman sets up a table, and tells everyone to form an orderly queue. She then explains that before they are baptised, they will need to tell John they wish to repent of their sin, and it will speed things up considerably if instead of needing to ask, John can see their main sin clearly written on a badge. She places her badge-making kit on the table, and the first person approaches.

“What is your biggest sin?” asks Mrs H.R.

The man at the table hesitates, then confesses, “I had an affair.”

Mrs H.R. writes ADULTERER in large letters, hands him the badge, then calls the next person.

“What is your biggest sin?” she asks.

“I hate my mother-in-law,” whispers the woman in the queue.

Mrs H.R writes HATE on the badge, and the woman pins it to her clothes.

One after another, people arrive at the table, and their main sin is written on a badge, and they walk away, to await baptism. Some have ENVY, some have GOSSIP, some have SELFISH. When it’s their turn, they join John in the water, he checks the badge, asks if they want to repent, then baptises them. It is all very efficient.

Then Jesus arrives at the table.

“What is your biggest sin?” asks Mrs H.R.

“None,” says Jesus.

Mrs H.R. blinks, confused.

“Oh,” she says. “Then what is your smallest sin?”

“None,” says Jesus.

Mrs H.R. frowns, unsure how to proceed. She gestures for Jesus to pass her, and he goes to join the people waiting to be baptised.

“Here,” he says to a man wearing a badge saying MEANNESS. “Let me have your badge,” says Jesus. He takes the badge, and pins it to his tunic. Then he takes the badge saying THIEF from the woman next to him, and the badge saying CRUDE, and a badge saying CRITICAL. Jesus walks through the crowd, taking everyone’s badge, pinning them to his tunic.

Then Jesus walks down, into the water, and faces John, ready to be baptised.

John looks at Jesus. He looks at the badges that cover Jesus’ tunic, and then he says: “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Anne E. Thompson
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Herman Gunkel Examines Psalms


Herman Gunkel’s Psalms

I have just attended a fascinating lecture about Psalms, so I want to tell you about it. (I ought to be writing an essay, but this is more fun.)

When you study at Spurgeon’s College, you are allowed to listen to any of the other lectures that they offer. So although it is not related to my course, when I heard there was a lecture about Old Testament writing, I slunk into the back and took notes. It really was very interesting.

In case you don’t know, Psalms are found in the middle of the Bible, and are songs/poems, expressing emotions and full of metaphors. A chap called Herman Gunkel (can only be German with a brilliant name like that!) decided that rather than fuss about who wrote the Psalms, and which situations they related to, we should simply examine them “sitz im Leben,” which means ‘forget all the things we cannot possibly know, and think about the general setting.’

“Ah,” you might say, “but my Bible tells me who wrote the Psalms, some of them say ‘of David’ in the title.”

Well, that is very misleading. Don’t forget, you are probably reading an English translation. The Hebrew would say:לְדָוִד  which can be translated as ‘of David’ or ‘to David’ or ‘for David’ or ‘the sort of thing that David wrote.’ So a bit uncertain really.

Herman lived about a hundred years ago, but scholars still use his findings today.

Herman Gunkel

He sorted the Psalms into three main types: hymns, laments and thanksgiving. If you pick a Psalm, it will fit into one of those categories. He then divided them up further, saying that each type would have certain features—which makes it easy to categorise them if you have to write an essay or preach a sermon—but is also simply interesting.

As you might remember, I am going to learn some of Psalm 22 every day in Lent, and in preparation I have been reading the English version and learning some of the vocab. This Psalm is a lament. If you look, it fits into the category noticed by Herman. A ‘lament’ has the following form:

*It’s addressed to God. *It describes a terrible situation. *There is a confession of trust. *There is a petition. *There is an appeal to God’s care. *There is a vow of praise. *It finishes with an assurance of being heard.

Pick a Psalm, if you can divide it as above, it is a lament. The other forms (hymns and thanksgiving) also have a set structure. It’s quite fun when you know, because you start to spot the various forms when you are reading them.

However, be careful, because the occasional Psalm doesn’t seem to fit. This is probably because originally, they were two separate Psalms, and an editor has patched them together. (Or I suppose it could be that Herman was wrong, but people who know more than me believe he was correct, so who am I to argue?)

The lecture then talked about all the nasty bits in Psalms, and how we should view them today. We looked at a Psalm that ended with the hope that their enemies would suffer and the heads of their babies would be smashed against rocks. Not something we tend to preach in church today. How should we use the uncomfortable and violent sections of Psalms?

Some people simply ignore those bits, and edit the Psalm so only the ‘nice’ bits are read out. That seems like a cop-out to me.

Some people ‘spiritualise’ the Psalm, and transfer the curse to anything evil, wanting for temptation or greed or hatred to be ‘smashed against rocks.’ Personally, I think there are dangers with spiritualising things that were not meant to be spiritualised—the early writers did want to smash up babies’ heads, that is the era in which they lived and I think we should look at the Bible through the lens of history. That’s what they wanted, we don’t say things like that now, though we understand the sentiment of anger.

Some people use those bits to express anger, even though they wouldn’t actually want to smash heads today—they say the anger is a human condition, and that is still relevant. I’m not sure about that either, because the curse is so violent, I don’t feel it does express my own emotions. What do you think?

Anyway, it was all very interesting, and I think I will gate-crash other lectures in the future. Hope you enjoyed reading about it. Thank you for reading.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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