Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction - Austin

My apologies for being so late with this post. My computer is in intensive care at the moment. It looked pretty bleak last night when I finally gave up at 1:00 am, but it is now looking like it might survive. Since I'm in the middle of processing Book Orders for Write Canada, now is NOT a good time for it to die, so here's hoping and praying. I'm posting this from the Library computer at our church -- where they have just installed a bigger monitor for me. What a delight it is.

Stranger Than Fiction
I'm always a bit baffled when people tell me the Bible is boring. Second Kings 6:24-7:20 relates one of those stories that even a fiction writer with a wild imagination would have trouble coming up with. The challenge of reading it in 1611 English adds to the adventure.
A siege in Samaria, probably about 850 B.C. has resulted in a famine so severe "vntill an asses head was solde for foure-score pieces of siluer." Eighty silver coins, about a kilogram of silver. A donkey's head is not a prime cut of meat. I would willingly pass on the hungriest day of my life -- so far. But it gets worse. "The fourth part of a kab of doues doung for fiue pieces of siluer." When I'm hungry enough to pay five silver coins to eat dove's poop, I will dare to use the language of hunger in a different way. But it gets still worse. A woman's complaint as the king passes by stretches credibility. She has joined with a neighbour in eating her son, "boyled," the text tells us. But the neighbour has broken her word and hidden her son. How unfair is that?
We find the king tearing his robes, cursing Elisha and ordering his execution. He is leaning on a messenger's arm as he confronts Elisha, so the record gives convincing evidence the king himself is weak from hunger. Strangely -- in a story full of strange twists, the elders of the city are with Elisha rather than with the king -- and no one makes a move to carry out the ordered execution. Elisha then, in the context of hunger so severe people have turned to cannibalizing their own children, makes the ridiculous claim, "Heareyee the word of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD, To morrowe about this time shal a measure of fine flower be sold for a shekell, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria." When confronted with doubt -- understandable doubt it seems to me -- he informs the man the king has leaned on, "Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eate thereof."
Add lepers to the mix, forbidden from entering the city. But use them as messengers?
Like everyone else, the lepers are dying of hunger. But their very "uncleanness" affords them protection and mobility. They are shut outside the city walls, but shunned even by the enemy. ". . .and they saide one to another. Why sit wee here vntill we die?
If we say, We will enter into the citie, then the famine is in the citie, and wee shall die there: and we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let vs fall vnto the host of the Syrians: if they saue vs aliue, we shall lieu, and if they kill vs, we shall but die."
When lepers enter the camp, stoning is the normal response -- just enough to force them to keep their distance. You'd rather not have a dead body to deal with. But there is not a man in the Syrian camp. They have left their horses and donkeys behind. What kind of army is this? They've abandonded everything and run for their lives. If I'm running for my life, I think I'd rather do it on horseback.
And when the lepers came to the vttermost part of the campe, they went into one tent, and did eate, and drinke, and carried thence siluer, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it, and came againe, and entred into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it.
What do people do with treasure who are forbidden to enter the city -- forbidden commerce with other men? The very gold they touched would be considered contaminated. Yet the story tells us little more about the lepers themselves. We know they had one good meal, hid treasure and clothing. Then, in spite of being outcasts, they shared the good news.
What is the normal response to news too good to be true? A healthy dose of skepticism? Disbelief? Putting someone else at risk while you watch from safety? They send out two chariots, pulled by some of the few remaining horses in the city.
And they went after them vnto Iordane, and loe, all the way was full of garments, and vessels, which the Syrians has cast away in their haste: and the messengers returned, and told the king.
And the people went out and spoiled the tents of the Syrians: So a measure of fine flower was sold for a shekell, and two measures of barley for a shekel; according to the word of the LORD."
It is a bizarre enough story already, but there is one more twist. The man who had questioned Elisha, a man obviously close to the king, is instructed "to haue the charge of the gate: and the people trod vpon him in the gate, and he died, as the man of God had said."
Stranger than fiction? Like many writers I've got an over-active imagination. Slowing it down enough to actually get words on paper or into a computer file often proves a challenge. But could I ever come up with something like this story?
For anyone interested, I have a review of the quoted 1611 King James Bible at Rich with history, and surprisingly modern and readable English once you get used to a few key differences. (1) No "j" in the text, though it does appear in headings at times. An "i" is the normal substitute. (2) Reversal, most of the time, of "u" and "v." (3) Spelling inconsistencies. (You may have noticed 'shekell' and 'shekel' in the same sentences above.) "Jesus" in the New Testament, is usually spelled "Iesvs."
My copy is a First Printing Hendrickson Publisher's Edition -- October 2003
Bonded Leather Hardcover ISBN 1565631609
It is probably the least used Bible in the house, but an incredible treasure to tap into once in a while. For this particular post, I couldn't resist direct quotes.

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