Can You Bring Some Fish?

I am scribbling this in the few minutes before I nip downstairs to start to cooking dinner. I am meant to be revising. My Greek and Hebrew exams are imminent, and every spare moment is spent chanting words or skim-reading textbooks and trying to make sense of my notes. If there weren’t exams looming, it would be quite fun. If nothing else it provides me with the perfect excuse to not do housework (don’t even think about how dirty my kitchen floor is…)

A selection of language textbooks

Anyway, I am currently translating a passage from John’s Gospel, the very last chapter, when the disciples have gone fishing and Jesus appears on the beach. He asks them if they have caught any fish, and when they say no, he tells them to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat. When they do, they catch so many fish they can barely struggle to shore. Jesus is cooking fish over a fire, and he asks them to bring some of the fish they caught, and eat breakfast with him. He then asks Peter whether he loves him.

Modern fishing boats.

Do you remember the story? Here are some of the things that I notice in the Greek version:

Firstly, the story seems to begin when Peter announces that he is going fishing. This is interesting because he used to be a fisherman, before he started to follow Jesus. Since then he has been a disciple for a few years, culminating in a terrible night when he denies knowing Jesus and then Jesus is killed. But after this, Jesus appears again to the disciples (so Peter knows that Jesus is alive) and Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem. So, when Peter decides to go fishing, he seems to be ignoring the command to stay in the city.

Why would he do that? Perhaps he was fed up with waiting. Perhaps he was bored. Perhaps—because he had failed Jesus so spectacularly—he didn’t think the command applied to him. You can decide.

When Jesus greets the fishermen, he calls them children. A greeting of: “Hey kids, have you caught anything?” Why would he call them children? It doesn’t seem to fit with fishermen. Was he teasing them? It’s too hard to guess from the Greek, so you can decide.

‘The disciple who Jesus loved’ (probably John) realises that it’s Jesus and tells Peter, who grabs his clothes, and leaps into the water. He would have been naked, because in those days, nudity was more convenient than lots of laundry and most active work would have been undertaken without clothes. (The gymnasts all performed naked, it wasn’t a big deal.)

When the disciples arrive on the beach, they find Jesus with a charcoal fire, cooking bread and fish. Where did the fire come from? Where did the bread and fish come from? We don’t know. But I think the really interesting bit is that Jesus then tells the disciples to bring some of the fish that they have just caught, and to come and have breakfast. Now, why did he want them to bring their own fish? Did Jesus not manage to bring enough? Seems unlikely. Did Jesus not realise how many disciples were going to be at the breakfast? Seems unlikely. Therefore, Jesus must have planned to not have enough. He planned to need what the disciples were able to offer (which he had helped them to catch in the first place).

What then, are the implications for us today? I think God chooses to need what we can offer. And if we don’t do our bit, then there won’t be enough. Whatever it is that we have to offer, however pathetic it might seem to us, that is what God needs. God then accepts our help. This is huge. I don’t think God pretends, I think he genuinely does need our help in whatever area we happen to have something to offer. Yes, he could do it all himself, just like Jesus could have produced enough fish along with the bread and the fire—but he didn’t.

I also think, that if we are meant to be following Jesus’ example, living like he did, then we too should be accepting help from others. We are meant to be a team, everyone with something to offer. If we want to help others, we need to also think about how they can help us, because then the relationship is equal. That seems to be the example we were given to follow. Mostly, we’re pretty bad at copying it.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find something to offer–and accept–this week.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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

Greek Bible showing apparatus.

Understanding the Apparatus of the Greek New Testament

An interesting fact: When there were printing presses in the past, the printers used to keep capital letters separately to cursive letters, in cases. The capital letters were usually stored in a case above the cursive letters, and hence they became known as ‘upper case letters.’ Did you know that? I didn’t! It is one of the interesting (but irrelevant) snippets I discovered whilst trying to unravel the apparatus part of my Greek New Testament. (An apparatus is like the key on a map, it gives extra information.)

As part of my course, I was given a copy of the Greek New Testament. It has—as you would expect—the words of the New Testament books written in Greek. It also has, on each page, some tiny writing and symbols in the apparatus. To be honest, I have pretty much tried to ignore this (don’t tell anyone) but as my exam is looming, I realised that I needed to tackle it. What do all those symbols mean, and why do I need to look at them? As a way to help me learn them, I will explain what I have learnt so far.

As I think I told you previously, there is no existing copy of the original New Testament books. What we have are various manuscripts that have been found and translated, and put together to form what we think of as the New Testament. These manuscripts and documents make up the evidence for what was originally written, but they are not identical because they were written at a time when copying was all done by hand. Sometimes the scribes copying the manuscripts corrected the grammar, or added notes in the margin that were later copied as part of the main body of writing. Sometimes they made mistakes, or changed things to suit their own theology. Translators must make decisions, based on these pieces of evidence, as to what should be included.

The copy I have been given allows me to make some choices myself. It has not included every piece of evidence that was ever found, because that would make the book run to many volumes and I would never manage to wade through it all. It has therefore referenced the most important documents, and noted which are the more reliable ones. I can therefore look at the differences (which tend to be very minor, such as whether it should read: ‘he did this sign’ or ‘Jesus did this sign’ or ‘this sign was done.’) My NT has helpful symbols, and tells me what most scholars conclude. An ‘A’ in brackets means they are virtually certain that this is close to the original text, and a ‘D’ means they couldn’t agree. It is of course relative to the documents that have been found at this point (because they might find something older/more reliable) and I have no idea whether ‘A’ means most scholars agree, or whether the most qualified ones agree. (No reason to trust something simply because someone—who you don’t know—tells you it’s correct.) It reminds me of when a pupil at school did something bad, and we were trying to discover who the culprit was– did we trust the majority of the boys, who all said it was X, or did we trust the most reliable boy because he tended to be truthful, or did we listen to the small group who claimed to be eye-witnesses?

In about the 4th century, a version of the NT was produced that took the majority of the documents that were the same. This is known as the ‘Majority Text’ or the ‘Byzantine Text.’ It contains the majority of Greek texts that were available (hence the name majority text). It was the basis for the King James Version of the Bible.

However, since then, more and more manuscripts have been found, many of them much older than the Byzantine texts. Large codices were found, like Codex Sinaiticus. (‘Codex’ is just a fancy name for a collection of manuscripts that hasn’t been bound.) They sometimes differed from the majority texts, and so new translations began to appear. The potentially less reliable texts were moved down into the footnotes, so people could read and compare them. The manuscripts were given names, and these names were then represented by symbols (to take up less space in the apparatus).

Papyrus fragments are denoted by a curly P and a number. Papyri 45, 46, 66, 72 and 75 are the most important.

For example, P45 is from the 3rd century (probably written in about 250 AD, in Egypt so I think is one of our oldest manuscripts) and contains more than one New Testament text (which is unusual for 3rd century manuscripts). It is very concise, as the scribe took out lots of the adjectives, adverbs, pronouns and participles, but he didn’t add anything. It is a manuscript with no ‘fluff’ (which makes me wonder if the scribe was a bit grumpy and austere). However, writing equipment was expensive, and a scribe was paid per line of writing, so maybe he was trying to include as much as possible within a certain price. (I enjoy guessing these things, but I think I am supposed to stick to the facts in an exam.)

Papyrus 45 is badly damaged, and has lots of gaps (called ‘lacunae’).

Papyrus 45, kept mostly in Dublin with a small part in Vienna

The Codex Sinaiticus was shown by an aleph (The Hebrew letter ‘a’) which looks like a curly N.  Important manuscripts include: Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and until Sinaiticus was found, Vaticanus was thought to be most important. They were written in upright block letters on parchment (these documents are called majuscules). They appear in the apparatus as capital letters, or numbers beginning with 0.

There are also manuscripts written in miniscule. This simply means lower-case, or cursive, letters. The miniscule manuscripts were written later than the majuscule (capital letters) documents and were gathered together into families of similar texts. They are shown in the apparatus byƒ and a number.

Next are listed the lectionaries, shown by an ‘l.’ These are the lessons read in churches, and hence the name as they would be rested on the reading desk, or ‘lectern.’ Old manuscripts written in Latin are identified by ‘it’ which stands for Itala (they spoke Latin in Italy, so that’s easy to remember!)

The church fathers also left documents that are used to verify the texts. People like Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret (those names create wonderful images of stooped men in robes writing with a quill).

If documents have been corrected, the uncorrected document is marked with a * and the corrected copy appears with a tiny number next to the letter. If you look at the photo, you can see this with C* and D*. There will be a corresponding letter with a tiny number (the corrected version) and it took me longer than you might think to realise that these might be on the next page!

Greek Bible showing apparatus.
Greek New Testament with apparatus.

In fact, lots about understanding the apparatus has taken me longer than you might think. I feel that I am beginning to understand the bare minimum, but it feels like a physics lesson in my teenage years, when I sort of understood some of it but I hoped and prayed the teacher would never ask me to explain how I had reached my conclusions! Hoping to learn a little more by the end of the month (otherwise I shall have to wing it, which never worked out too well in the past).

Thanks for reading (and if you know more than me, do send help quickly).

Take care.

Love, Anne x

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


More Greek Mishaps and Some Runaway Sheep

Quick Update

Hello, how has your week been? Mine has been extremely busy, and I’m not much enjoying the weather.

I am writing this after the first week of Greek lessons—so brace yourself for some more interesting facts.

Did you know, that originally Greek was written entirely in capital letters, with no gaps between the words? I have taught children who do this, and it doesn’t make for easy reading. Greek later evolved to be written entirely in lower case letters (I’m guessing because they were faster to write). At some point, someone had to go along and put gaps between all the words, which must have involved some decisions, as it wouldn’t have always been obvious. Therefore, even when I am reading the New Testament in ancient Greek, some of it may be different to how the original was written, which I guess means I shouldn’t be too ‘purist’ about the whole thing. Each individual word was obviously not meant to be held in absolute holy awe, it was not dictated by God, it was written by people and has changed over time.

A Greek Temple

I talk of reading the ancient Greek, but of course this is being optimistic, I am currently struggling with remembering the letter sounds and the rather dodgy punctuation. In a bid to help myself practise, I decided it would be a good idea to write the shopping list on the fridge door in Greek letters—not the actual Greek words (because I don’t know them) but the English words written in Greek letters. Good idea, I thought. Except it wasn’t. Husband (bless him!) decided to join in, but he didn’t fully understand the exercise and put all the things he wanted me to buy through a Google Translate app. My shopping list is now full of words that neither of us understand. His writing is bad enough when he’s writing English, so some of the words contain symbols that are not even Greek, so we have no way of knowing what they say!

During a lesson, someone asked whether Jesus spoke Greek. My reaction was that no, we know that he spoke Aramaic. However, I was wrong. Apparently, Jesus probably spoke mainly Aramaic (the language of the Jews of the day) plus he would have read Hebrew (because all Jewish boys learnt Hebrew). But at the time, Israel was under Roman occupation, and they would probably have spoken Greek—so when Jesus spoke to officials, it is likely he would have used the Greek I am learning. (I thought that Romans spoke Latin, but although that was the official language of Rome, most citizens spoke Greek, and even in Rome, Latin was considered the language of the ‘educated’ rather than the common language.) Isn’t that interesting?

I do still have some life apart from Greek, though trying to learn it is very time-consuming and I’m very glad I’m not studying a full theology degree when it would have to fit around a whole lot of other subjects. My learning only has to fit around writing and selling books, and sorting the animals. The animals have been annoying this week, because I planted some bulbs ready for spring, and the chickens saw the freshly dug soil and rushed over to dig them all up again. Most of the bulbs are now kicked into random places and quite a lot of the lovely compost I lugged onto the flowerbed is now scattered across the path.

I am still making sourdough bread, though my enthusiasm is waning as it tends to be very heavy and slightly odd-tasting. I have branched out this week into making naan bread, and attempted peswari naan. It involved liquidizing sultanas and almonds and coconut, and I forgot to shut the lid properly so my kitchen floor is rather gritty. Dogs, it transpires, do not like sultanas.

We have a new flock of sheep in the field adjoining the house. The owner didn’t raise them, and the field is quite big, and he is having trouble catching them (which he needs to do soon because there’s a ram with them, so they’ll be in lamb). He did have a sheep dog, but clearly neither the dog nor the sheep had read the manual on how they are supposed to behave, as the dog responded wonderfully to commands and whistles but the sheep still managed to charge all over the field. We went to help him, and tried to funnel them into a small area of pens. Sheep are mostly pretty stupid animals, and as soon as they got near to the pens they charged away again. I didn’t take Kia because although she’s great with herding poultry, I don’t trust her with sheep and they are big creatures when running straight at you—a charging ram could easily break your leg. We never managed to enclose the flock, so the poor owner will have to find someone more experienced to help. I’ve only ever helped round up flocks that have been raised by the owner, so they follow rather than run away.

I hope your week goes well. Thanks for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading Why not sign up to follow my blog?
Look on your device for this icon (it’s probably right at the bottom of the screen if you scroll down). Follow the link to follow my blog!

Trying to Learn the Greek Alphabet and other interesting stuff

Interesting Greek Facts

A Greek Temple

As I write this, I have managed to survive the introductory ‘Orientation Week’ at Spurgeon’s College and am about to embark on a term of Greek lectures. So far, it has been fine, as the main thing that would terrify me is the logistics—the whole ‘what if the traffic is bad,’ ‘where will I park?’ ‘how do I know where to go/sit/eat,’ ‘what if my brain runs out of energy before the end of a session?’ You can imagine the type of thing. Therefore a term (at least) of all lectures being online, is perfect for me.

Learning Greek

Greek Text Book

I haven’t had any proper lectures yet, but I have enthusiastically started reading the book they sent, and searched the resources they sent for interesting YouTube clips. I have to say, it has proven to be a very interesting week. I hadn’t realised how much of the English I speak has its roots in ancient Greek. Here are some fascinating facts:

The New Testament part of the Bible is written in Koine Greek. ‘Koine’ simply means ‘common’ because it was the common language for about 600 years. Obviously languages evolve—so if I wanted to read Chaucer, I would need to understand the language spoken in that period, whereas Henry VIII spoke a slightly different English. “Ah,” you might say, “but if it’s an ancient language, how do you know how to pronounce it?” Well, I thought the same thing, and the answer is brilliant. Historians study as many sources of the writing as possible—on tombs, and carved onto monuments, and written on manuscripts. They then compare them, and the spelling mistakes give clues about how the words were spoken. Isn’t that great? If you take an English example: “I read the book yesterday,” and find that in 200 instances, the word “read” had been misspelt as “red” then you could conclude that “ea” can be pronounced as the “e” in “red.”

When you learn the Greek alphabet, there are some letters which are very weird, and listed as sounds that we don’t say in English, like Psi. However, the Greek words have evolved into the words that we use today, we simply ignore the bits that we don’t pronounce. So the letter Psi gave us the words for psychology and psychopath and pseudo. (Now you know why they have odd spelling.)

There is a symbol in Greek called a breathing which looks like a tiny ‘c’ and floats above some vowels: αͨ εͨ ιͨ οͨ. When it’s backwards, it’s not pronounced (I don’t yet know what purpose it serves, that will have to be a later blog). But when it’s the correct way round (c) and it’s over a vowel at the start of a word, it adds an ‘h’ sound to the start of the word. In Greek, the letter P is called ‘rho’ and it is apparently a vowel (but only sometimes—again, I can’t yet explain this). This is interesting though, because when it has the breathing over it, an ‘h’ is added to the pronunciation. In English, we don’t say the ‘h’ but it is hidden in words like rheumatism and rhesus and rhetoric.

νόμος (sounds like nom-us) is the Greek word for law. If you add alpha (which looks like a fishy ‘a’ letter) to the front, it means the opposite. So νόμος = law and ανόμος = lawless. We still do this today with some words: symmetrical vs asymmetrical.

The word οͨ means ‘the’ when the word is masculine (I guess like ‘le’ in French, when ‘la’ is feminine) it’s pronounced ‘ho’ because the little ‘c’ adds an ‘h’. The word for God is θεος (‘Theos’) and in the places I’ve found it, it is preceded by the masculine ‘the’—so although I think God is genderless, certainly the Greek word was always masculine. The word θεος appears 1300 times in the New Testament, so I haven’t yet checked them all.

Learning the Greek alphabet in order is, I have decided, impossible. I have managed to learn the letter names (which gives a clue to how they sound) and the symbols for the lower-case letters. Everything I have read so far says not to bother learning capital letters at this stage as they are rarely used, so I have taken this to heart and ignored them completely. What is impossible though is learning the alphabet in order.

α alpha (sounds like ‘a’)

β beta (sounds like ‘b’)

γ gamma (g)

δ delta (d)

ε epsilon (e)

ζ zeta (z)

η eta (a long ‘e’ sound like in ‘air’) this one always confuses me!

θ theta (th)

ι iota (i)

κ kappa (k)

λ lamda (l)

μ mu (m)

ν nu (n) this is a tricky one too

ξ xi (x) easy to remember if you notice it looks like a pair of boobs so is ‘sexy’!

ο omicron (o) I always forget this one. Always.

π pi (p) brings back horrible memories of school mathematics

ρ rho (r) another tricky one because it pretends to be a ‘p’ and really it’s an ‘r’

ς σ sigma (s) this has two symbols, depending on whether it comes in the middle or at the end of a word. It is very hard to remember that σ is ‘s’!

τ tau (t)

υ upsilon (u,y)

φ phi (ph)

χ chi (ch)

ψ psi (ps)

ω omega (o, but a long one like in ‘bone’)

To be honest, I struggle over the order of letters in the English alphabet, and it’s only ever useful when I’m filing (which is never) or looking in a dictionary (which is rare) so why bother? I have tried making useful rhymes to help with the tricky bits: ‘epileptic zebras eat thick ice kittens’ and ‘lovely male nurses x-ray other people’ but I find I start to muddle up the rhymes too. I am shelving it for now and hoping that by the time I do an exam, the lecturer will have moved onto more complicated things and won’t bother to test us for the alphabet.

I sent one of my children a few words written in Greek, wanting to show-off a little. He was able to name all the letters, which was very disappointing (I long for the day I will know something my children don’t know—something beyond what temperature to use on the washing machine or how to hatch an egg). Apparently the Greek alphabet is used a lot in Physics, so he learnt all the letter names and symbols at uni. I think learning to read the language is much more interesting than Physics though, so I have decided that doesn’t count.

I hope you have something interesting too this week.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

Thank you for reading
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

Look on your device for this icon (it’s probably right at the bottom of the screen if you scroll down). Follow the link to follow my blog!