Seventeens in Scripture (6)

Love is:

  1. patient
  2. kind
  3. not envious
  4. not boastful
  5. not proud
  6. not rude
  7. not self-seeking

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Seventeens in Scripture (5)

The roll–call of faith in Hebrews 11 is not only another list of seventeen but is specifically marked at its golden ratio. Look who gets the coveted eleventh spot.

  1. Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel
  2. Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch
  3. Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah
  4. Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham
  5. Hebrews 11:20 By faith Isaac
  6. Hebrews 11:21 By faith Jacob
  7. Hebrews 11:22 By faith Joseph

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Seventeens in Scripture (4)

This is the set of seventeens that started my investigations into its meaning as a metaphor in Scripture. I was reading Joost Smit Sibinga who happened to mention there are 17 instances of the use of ‘Father’ in Matthew’s narration of The Sermon on the Mount. He pointed out they are distributed so that the Lord’s Prayer divides them in the golden ratio. Sibinga was puzzled by the use of 17: was it, he wondered, something to do with the fact the Pythagoreans didn’t use it?

  1. Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
  2. Matthew 5:44-45 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
  3. Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

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Seventeens in Scripture (3)

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεός ἦν ὁ Λόγος

En archē ēn ho Lógos, kai ho Lógos ēn pros ton Theón, kai Theós ēn ho Lógos
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Seventeen words, in both Greek and English. This is the marvellous poem that opens John’s gospel and is sometimes called the ‘Hymn to the Logos‘.

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Seventeens in Scripture (2)

From Acts 2:5–12 NIV—Now there were staying in Jerusalem God–fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?

  1. Parthians
  2. Medes
  3. Elamites
  4. residents of Mesopotamia
  5. Judea
  6. Cappadocia
  7. Pontus

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Seventeens in Scripture (1)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall

1. trouble

2. hardship

3. persecution

4. famine

5. nakedness

6. danger

7. sword?

As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither

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Musings on music and meaning

Sometimes, when I’m editing, I come across an author’s humongously long sentence which rambles on and on—often, so the authors tell me in insouciant comments when I express my concern, because they are imitating the apostle Paul who, after all, wrote excessively long sentences like the famous one at the beginning of his epistle to the Ephesians which is 202 words in length and has such a complex structure that it is actually able to be interpreted more than one way—and when I suggest that paragraph–long sentences are inappropriate in the age of Twitter, they baulk at the thought.

The publisher I work for, however, is delighted. He uses my remark about the age of Twitter to try to get his more verbose authors to see reason. It doesn’t always work. A pity. Because authors who have a significant message are not being given a chance, due to their resistance to cutting the words into bite–size chunks. Communication is important, in whatever age. Since today’s Christians have no idea what 202 means, it’s pointless having such a long sentence. Still I have seen sentences as long as 140 words; they make my effort of 101 words in the first paragraph look a bit puny.

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Discovered or Improvised?

Back when I was at school, algebra was taught as a symbolic language. Over the years, the emphasis changed and, by the time I left mathematics teaching, it was being introduced through arithmetic patterns. Somehow I got the best of both worlds: I was equally at home with algebra as a language or as a system of recognising numerical relationships.

These two ways of thinking about the nature of equations could not be more different but I was fortunate in being able to move from one system to the other without missing a beat. Despite the disdain of modern mathematics educators for symbolic language, I’m deeply grateful I was brought up with it. Because the day came when I realised that, once you are fluent in one symbolic language, you have the essential grammar of them all.

Dream symbols operate according to the same rules of language as algebra; literary symbols often do too, especially when those symbols are ‘invented’ names within a ‘made-up’ plot.

In Discovered or Invented?, I looked at the question which perplexes some very eminent mathematicians: Is mathematics a construction of the human mind or does it exist somewhere ‘out there’, just waiting to be found?

In Discovered or Imagined?, I looked at a similar question in relation to fiction: Do storytellers make up their ‘secondary worlds’ or do the stories exist somewhere ‘out there’, just waiting to be told?

On an even deeper level: Are the names we think we ‘make up’ for characters simply a random conglomeration of suitable syllables or are they already ‘out there’, just waiting to be exposed?

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Discovered or Invented?

Whatever you do, don’t surprise him.’

This sage advice was given to me some years ago by the mother of one of my students. The boy had Aspergers Syndrome.

Had I known that division by zero would come as a surprise, I would have introduced the concept more cautiously. After leaping up with a shout and throwing his chair at his nearest classmate, he picked up his desk ready to smash a window. And no, I’m not exaggerating. ‘Settle down,’ I yelled. ‘And let me explain why it’s not often zero.’

The world of mathematics with its consistent rules and its ‘right’ answers is a great comfort to the average Aspergers kid.

(There’s a modern philosophy afoot in some schools that class consensus is how an answer should be arrived at. I’ve even heard of some kids who’ve been labelled ‘bigots’ for suggesting there is one and only one ‘correct’ answer. This extreme relativistic mindset is immensely stressful for kids like the one I’ve described. For them, security lies in knowing the rules, whether in mathematics or the playground. The supreme order of arithmetic reduces their anxiety considerably. Two and two always equals four—and, trust me, I’ll never even hint at the existence of those branches of mathematics where it doesn’t.)

Mathematics is a genuinely international language. It transcends borders. No matter where you go in the world 2 + 2 is still the same. (And, of course, almost always four.)

It may come as a surprise, therefore, to know that quite a few famous scientists and mathematicians are bemused by the fact that it works so well. With mathematics, we can put a man on the moon and bring him home again. With mathematics, we can predict the trajectory of a baseball, an airliner, a missile or a meteor.

When mathematicians think philosophically, this can be baffling. If mathematics is a man-made construct, there’s no reason it should be as accurate out in the real world as it is. ‘What is it,’ Stephen Hawking asked, ‘that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?’

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In the twelfth century, the legends of King Arthur were enthusiastically embraced by the French. Lancelot appeared and was made famous in The Knight of the Cart, a poem by Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien’s less famous foray into the world of Camelot is his poem, Erec and Enid.

In her essay Erec and Enide—Cosmic Measures in Nature and the Hebrew Heritage, Joan Helm looked at the significance of the numbers 1111 and 1742 within the poem’s structure. She connected 1111 to the mathematics of the City of God in the prophecy of Ezekiel and ultimately to the ‘kiss of heaven and earth’. There are other medieval poems with the same motif and numeric design.

Helm was a scholar at the University of Queensland who became internationally renowned for her discovery of mathematical architecture within Old French texts. She makes the point in Erec and Enid, moreover, that the old English land measurement system is not a hodgepodge but a deliberate construction, meant to reflect Ezekiel’s town plan of the New Jerusalem with its built-in 1111s. It seems to have been an ancient tradition that when heaven comes down to touch earth, somewhere below the orbit of the moon, there was a uniquely appropriate mathematical way to express it: using a series of ones.

Which is why I find this curious fact delightfully amusing: the Hubble Space Telescope weighs 11110 kg.

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The prologue and epilogue to John’s gospel are clearly defined literary sections. The opening, sometimes called the Hymn to the Logos, is composed of 496 syllables while the ending is 496 words in length. So far we’ve looked at five reasons why John might have chosen to highlight this number in order to make a persuasive and compelling ‘numerical literary’ apologetic. It might not impress the average post-modern thinker who grew up in a world where arithmetic and language are completely different subjects. However, even two millennia after it was written, its word-number fusion still retains enough of the ‘wow!’ factor to stop more than a few skeptics in their tracks.

So far we’ve looked at five reasons why John might have chosen to feature 496:

(1)   It’s a ‘perfect’ number.

(2)   It’s a ‘triangular’ number.

(3)   The mathematical structure recalls that of the Immanuel prophecy.

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Traditionally the last words of John the beloved disciple were ‘Little children, love one another.’ It seems a likely story because, after all, he says just that so often in his epistles.

However, it’s worth remembering that Jesus gave him and his brother James the nickname Boanerges, usually translated Sons of Thunder, but perhaps more correctly rendered sons of rage.  So the story that he grabbed his clothes and fled the public baths when he realised the Gnostic teacher Cerinthus was in the same building, just in case God’s wrath was about the turn the place to a cinder, is not altogether far-fetched.

The gospel of John was, in the second century, of uncertain status. Helms points out that some Christians believed it had been written by the apostle as an anti-gnostic anti-Cerinthian work while others considered it had been written by Cerinthus himself!

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