conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Two New Conversations with Not-So-Ancient Texts

with one comment

Not long ago a few of us talked our way through the ancient text of Amos, a minor prophet in the Old Testament. We had a rich conversation as we tried to enter the text and the ancient culture.

I’m in two more of these conversations: in one group we’re working through a fragment from the Apostle John: His account of Jesus’ words just after the last supper but before He was led away to His death. We’re curious why John had all this extra material the other writers telling the same story did not include. But even more, we’re eager to know the ins and outs of talking with God. John’s Jesus had a lot to say about such conversations in that fragment—some of it almost (but not quite) unbelievable.

The other conversation is a manuscript study of Mark’s gospel. We’re committed to turning and prodding and poking and hashing through the text per Professor Agassiz’ recommendation. It could get heated.


The Beauty and Horror of a Text

In the conversation about the fragment from John’s Gospel, one woman said, “It would be so great to actually hear the tone of voice and see the body language behind what He said.” She was right. The problematic phrase: “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know me…?” (John 14.9) Did Jesus use a joking tone, like mock exasperation? Or did he shout it or was there some heat applied in the utterance? It’s hard to tell just from the text. It depends on how you read the story. Another conversation around Mark’s story had us wishing the author was around so we could ask a few questions—like how he knew what he knew.

In both cases, the author was not there. The only thing we have from the author was the text before us, and even that has been put through a translation process long before reaching our eyes and ears. What to do? Maybe if we had Kerri Miller interview the author (Hey, I’d attend that), we’d finally get our questions answered.

Or would we? Possibly the (long-dead) author would have forgotten just what body language or tone was used to make the point. Even if he remembered, would we have more information and would that information supersede the text itself?

Both stories (John and Mark) hold clues in the text that lead me away from wishing Ms. Miller could interview the authors. Interesting question because it points to something Jesus said to his followers in John. There were all twitchy with nerves because Jesus kept talking about leaving. He finally said, Look, You can’t handle the truth right now. I’m doing you a favor by going because God’ll send His Spirit. His Spirit will never leave you, He’ll always be with you, and He’ll actually direct you into the truth.

There’s truth in the text and I’m eager to ferret it out. But there certainly is something special that happens in the conversation around the text. Maybe I’ll invite Ms. Miller back for that.



Written by kirkistan

October 12, 2010 at 11:51 am

Posted in Ancient Text

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. […] the thing that allows me to pack in my own meanings. I’ve noticed this tendency for years reading ancient texts with small groups: the farther we get from the words on the page, the easier it is to attach our […]

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