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I’m continuing to ponder Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenician woman. Here I’m thinking through a thought, rather than presenting any sort of hypothesis: is the reader of Mark really expected to believe that Jesus wasn’t intending to heal the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter?

I ask this because there are many readings of the passage in which the woman is said to change Jesus’ mind.

Let me unpack my ponderances…

  • It’s clear that there are significant historical animosities between the Jews and the repatriated northern kingdom (2 Kings 17), but the woman is not requesting anything that would contravene Jewish law or sensibilities, is she? The reader of Mark knows that Jesus can heal at a distance, and that he is happy to heal unclean demon-possessed people in Gentile territory (Mark 5). Wouldn’t the reader expect the same thing to happen here?
  • The reader of Mark has already come across numerous points at which the ministry of Jesus seems to echo the ministry of Elijah/Elisha, but on a more massive scale: the ministry of John the Baptist; being attended by animals in the wilderness; healing a man with leprosy; multiplying loaves; etc. We have been told explicitly that some people think Jesus is Elijah (6:15). Now we see that Jesus enters the territory where Elijah healed a woman’s child – a fact elsewhere explicitly acknowledged by Jesus (Luke 4). Aren’t we being set up to expect that Jesus will heal the child?
  • The reader of Mark has also already seen that Jesus does not categorise ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ in the way that the Pharisees do (Mark 7). And, as mentioned, we have already seen that Jesus is not put off by the (extreme) uncleanness of an unclean Gentile (Mark 5).
  • Further, the reader of Mark has already become familiar with the pattern of seeing a hurdle placed in front of those who come to Jesus pleading for help, which gives them an opportunity to express bold faith (e.g. the full house; the need for the bleeding woman to go public; the death of Jairus’ daughter). So isn’t it natural for the reader of Mark to suppose that the same thing is happening here, when Jesus offers his initial response?

These things are pushing me to think that the Syrophoenician mother is not changing Jesus’ mind. So what, then, is the point of including this episode in Mark’s Gospel? I think it functions to underline the motif of Jesus as bread for the world. But I’m still thinking that through…

 

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Well I’ve just drawn a random winner for the $100 book prize. I used http://www.miniwebtool.com/random-name-picker/ (just once – no cheating!), and here is what it came up with…

Screenshot 2016-03-30 10.51.13

So Kaye is the winner!

And now here are my own interpretative comments on the poem. In a subsequent post I’ll offer some hermeneutical reflections on what all this illustrates about interpretation. And then I’ll go back to my blogging hiatus!

Interpretative comments

In writing this poem, I didn’t have the end in view at the beginning. I had a sense of what I wanted to explore, but the meaning of the poem came about as I wrote, rather than having an initially clear message that I wanted to dress up in opaque flowery poetic clothes.

I wanted to use a simple rhyming meter, at first because I wanted this to be the sort of very simple poem that anybody could write, but then I came to like the idea of juxtaposing an ambiguously serious subject with a jovial, almost infantile, rhyme. A few of the commenters picked up on this.

One element that became stable during the brief reception history of this poem (i.e. among the commenters) was that it was, at some level, about chickens. This is a solid observation. What you might not know is that we have three pet chickens who live in a nice coop with their own enclosed backyard. But sometimes chickens go broody – that is, they sit in their nesting box 24 hours a day, and refuse to eat or drink. If left in this situation, they will die. (This is particularly true of Silky Chickens, our breed.) The only way I have discovered to shake them out of this broody state is to ensure that they have no opportunity to return to their nesting box, or to create a makeshift nest. So when our chickens go broody, we put them in a rather harsh-looking secondary  coop, made up of bare bars and chicken wire. It’s nowhere near as nice as their regular coop, but after a few days in this cheerless environment, they get shaken out of their death-wish broodiness, and can return to their proper home. We call the harsh coop ‘detention.’ While they are in detention, they are willing to eat and drink… but they act psycho – especially Mandy, who darts around the place, wishing she could go back to her nest.

But there is more to the poem than this. A number of commenters recognised that the language of the poem seemed intentionally evocative of human incarceration – whether prisoners or refugees in detention. There was a clear recognition that the tone of the poem is not happy. Words such as ‘detention,’ ‘bars,’ ‘harsh,’ ‘forbidding,’ seem to go beyond what is required in speaking about chickens. Also, a number of commenters noted that the final line, ‘a little paradigm,’ seems to demand that  the situation with the chickens and the dove be seen as a picture of some bigger reality. These are good insights. That final line is admittedly inelegant, but it attempts to force the reader to go bigger than the chicken/dove scene. If I were to try a second draft of the poem, I would perhaps attempt a more subtle way of doing this than ‘a little paradigm.’

So what ‘bigger reality’ is hinted at here? Given that it’s a poem, there is room for interpretation. Those who pointed to refugees in detention are on the same track as I was in penning the poem, though I have to say that my own sense of how the chicken/dove situation was paradigmatic was hazy as I wrote. I was certainly aware of the ‘peace’ connotations of the dove, and this explains why I referred to it as a ‘dove’ rather than a ‘pigeon.’ In reality I don’t know if those birds that frequently try to share our chickens’ food are doves or pigeons… or even if there’s any difference. But I had a sense – and this has become further clarified as I’ve read others’ comments – that there was something crazy about these death-wish chickens being annoyed that a harbinger of peace would want to share their space by coming into detention. And there might be some similar craziness about Australians (or others) being annoyed that refugees flee here to seek to share our plenty. I’d be more than happy for readers to run further with this in their own readings of the poem – indeed, that was my hope in penning my hazy thoughts.

 

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This is an exercise in hermeneutics. I’ve had an ongoing interest in hermeneutics, which seeks to explore how interpretation and understanding take place. The key value of hermeneutics is listening to the other. I’m curious to explore this further, and I invite your input by offering comments on the poem below that I’ve just written.

So, how do you win a book worth up to $100 of your choice? Well first, let me limit that a bit: it has to be in one of the following fields: history, philosophy, hermeneutics, theology, religious studies, biblical studies. That’s a LOT to choose from! You can be based anywhere in the world for this, so long as Amazon delivers there.

Well, what you need to do is twofold:

  1. Offer an interpretative comment of at least 80 words in the comments below. This could be as basic as saying that you don’t understand the poem at all, and pointing out the bits that you find confusing, or why you find them confusing. Or it could be a fully fledged commentary. Your comment could also take the form of questions – ‘What does this bit mean?’/’Could it be referring to such and such?’ I’m NOT hoping for a ‘right’ answer here, so no interpretative comment will be thought of as silly. I’m just interested to see how people interpret it, and what reasons they give for their interpretations/lack of understanding.
  2. Draw attention to this post, either by Twitter, Facebook, or a blog.

If we get at least a dozen such comments, then – after a couple of weeks – I’ll choose one of the commenters at random, and you’ll win yourself any book from the above categories. I’ll have it posted out to you, brand spanking new, by Amazon.

Without further ado, here’s the short poem:

Feeding Time

I went to see the girls,
But they were in detention.
I guess I should have known,
But Bec had failed to mention.

I went and peered through bars,
And saw their stubborn faces.
These girls are hard to shake
With harsh, forbidding places.

I offered them some scraps,
Which they accepted gladly.
Then Mandy did her laps,
While others stood there sadly.

A dove came in to share –
This happens all the time –
They scared the thing away;
A little paradigm.

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Since October 2015, I’ve been working for Berlitz International, frequently in the AMP building in the picture above (the smaller one in between the two biggest ones). Berlitz is a language-teaching organisation. I’ve been doing one-to-one personal English tutoring, especially for executives from the mining industry. It has been quite enjoyable getting to know a range of people from different cultures, and developing my language skills.

I’m also enrolled in a full time postgraduate course in Professional Education, at the University of Western Australia. This covers issues such as ‘global perspectives in education,’ ‘technology and pedagogy,’ and the like.

Of course, I’m still interested in biblical studies, and I continue to engage in research. But it seems appropriate at this time for this blog to have an extended hiatus. I’ll still be on Twitter, and if anyone would like to be in touch, you can contact me at mattrmalcolm [at] gmail.com. Oh… and those who owe me book reviews are not let off the hook! 😉

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David Seccombe has taken over teaching some units that I used to teach when I was at Trinity Theological College in Perth. He’s a great guy, and I’ve enjoyed using his books in the past. After chatting to him yesterday, I discovered that he’s crowd funding a new book which will be out next month – so I quickly ordered a copy. This will be a scholarly, accessible, useful book. You can find out further details here.

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SPOILER alert: I don’t give away much, but best not to read if you haven’t watched it yet…

A lot of people are saying that, having seen The Force Awakens, they wish the prequels could be remade. But I feel slightly better about the prequels now that I’ve seen the latest instalment. Don’t get me wrong – let me say two points straight away:

  • I was disappointed by the prequels. (All that pod racing!! And those CGI effects!! And the terrible acting by the Anakins!!)
  • I loved The Force Awakens.

In comparison with The Force Awakens, the prequels seem utterly foreign – like a shiny, fake, over-the-top version of the Star Wars reality. It’s like the time I watched live comedy in a particular other country/culture, and couldn’t help but focus on the fact that, although the jokes were recognisable as jokes, they were presented in a way that was startlingly overstated – which is very unlike contemporary Western comedy. But it struck me as I was watching the latest movie that in fact, from the vantage point of episode VII, that’s exactly what the prequel age is: a foreign, over-the-top, era, which is barely imaginable within the present day world. If we think of the prequels as being mythical retellings from the vantage point of Rey’s era, they seem to sit with a little more sense: this could be the way people tell stories that are larger than life – with embellished characters, King James dialogue, and CGI imagination.

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See this tribute to I Howard Marshall by Stanley Porter…

DOMAIN THIRTY-THREE

We are all deeply saddened to hear of the recent death of one of the great New Testament scholars of the post-World War II era, I. Howard Marshall.

Professor Marshall was born 12 January 1934 and died on 12 December 2015. He was primarily educated at the University of Aberdeen (MA, BD, and PhD), along with Cambridge University (BA), and spent virtually his entire academic career at Aberdeen, where he supervised numerous students who have gone on to make contributions to evangelical scholarship. After teaching for a short time at Didsbury Methodist College in Bristol, Professor Marshall began teaching at Aberdeen in 1964 and became Professor of New Testament Exegesis in 1979, a position he held until his retirement in 1999, at which time he became Honorary Research Professor of the University. After his first wife died in 1998, he later married Dr. Maureen Yeung, who had received her PhD…

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