All seated on the ground

As I have been reading texts more carefully (the reasons for which need not detain us at the moment) I have found all kinds of little fragments of language that you can read right through or listen right through and never notice them. But then when you do notice them, they stick out every time you visit the neighborhood.

This will return to Advent, whence it began, but I would like to begin with The Matrix.  [1]  In the last moment of Chapter 1, the Agents ram a phone booth trying to kill Trinity. When they examine the wreckage, they discover that her body is not there. “Well,” says one of the Agents, “She got out.”


Nothing we have seen up to that point suggests that we are looking at anything “inside” in the sense that there is something else “outside;” some “where” to which Trinity could escape. But there is, apparently.  It would be a very short movie if there were not.

In a Bible study class I am teaching here at Holladay Park Plaza, where Bette and I live, we spent a session on the meaning of the Greek word kai, which is normally translated as “and” but in this case (Matthew 1:19) there is a good case for translating it as “but.”

The question is this. Joseph was an upright man. We know that. He also was reluctant to place his apparently unfaithful wife into public disgrace. We know that, too. So what was the relationship between his righteousness and his generosity. Does the generosity flow from the righteousness (kai = and) or does he overcome his righteousness to extend grace to Mary (kai = but).

And? But?”

This came to me this morning when I got to thinking about “all.” The Plaza Singers gave a small Advent concert yesterday and we sang “While shepherds watched their flocks by night.” It is the next line that offers the opportunity for confusion. It says the shepherds watched their flocks. Then it says “all seated on the ground.” Notice the “all.”


sheep 1Who, exactly, was seated on the ground. The structure of the sentence doesn’t say. Shepherds? Sheep? Shepherds and sheep? I trolled around a little to see if this had ever occurred to anyone with more artistic imagination than I have. I wanted a picture of the shepherds  and the sheep seated on the ground and if they were sharing a pot of coffee, so much the better.

Nothing. I did find this picture of a sheep “sitting.” It isn’t the seated crosslegged on the ground that I would prefer, but it is “sitting.”

Clarifying the semantic landscape, one unnecessary ambiguity at a time. A tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Merry Christmas to all.

[1]  We are beginning a study of the gospel of John next and The Matrix will be our primary visual referent.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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