Sunday, March 23, 2014

OSSA 15 JUDGES: The Books of the Old Testament

15 JUDGES The Books of the Old Testament - KJV

Mnemonic Phrases:

1. God’s Excellent Love Never Dies
2. Joshua Judges Ruth
3. Sally (1, 2) Keeps (1, 2) Cookies (1, 2)
4. Elephant Named Esther’s Job Pays Peanuts Every Saturday
5. I Jog Late Every Day
6. Hungry Joel Ate Oranges
7. Jonah Made Ninevah Heed
8. Zebras Have Zebra Mamas

When I was around 12 years old, my parents, hitherto content to spend Sundays engaged in such heathen rituals as late pancake breakfasts and yard work, had a twinge of doubt as to our family's immortal souls and thereby announced we would now be spending our Sundays going to "Sunday School" and "Church Services" at Park City Baptist Church. This announcement was met with predictable groans from myself and my sister. Regardless, the following Sunday, we were dressed in our finest little outfits and dutifully escorted into the Sunday School section of the church to attend our class.

Park City was a large church in a wealthy part of Dallas. Going to church was very much a social affair. The charismatic Reverend Minister drove a Cadillac, dressed in custom-tailored suits and wore a Rolex watch - all of this remarked in whispers to me by my mother. Most of the congregation was the same. The entrance to parking lot must have been an eye of a needle wide enough to allow the largest luxury automobile. There was a gym where you could roller skate, a game room with pool tables and a small diner with a sour-faced cook that served hamburgers and fries and had a sign that charitably said, "In God we trust, all others pay cash."

Young and deficient as I was in the ways of the Southern Baptist God, I still sensed something was not quite right with Park City Baptist Church. There I sat in my Sunday School classroom with a kitschy poster of a blue-eyed Caucasian Jesus, holding an awkward and frightened lamb, gazing down on me with hazily rendered placidity, my hair crisp with VO5 hairspray, dress shoes too tight, clip-on necktie itching. I felt utterly sick unto my soul with uncomfortableness. Add to this the nascent disapproval of the young spawn of the Dallas social elite and the sickly smell of aftershave and hair-gel emanating from the Sunday School teachers. The sum of it all was that I developed a Pavlovian dislike for church. Once I was even dismissed from class for non-stop sneezing and sniffing my nose. I later told my parents I was becoming allergic to God.

I can remember almost every teacher I have had since first-grade, but I cannot recall a single name of any teacher from any Sunday "education." As a whole, there were all - and this is to put it lightly - horrible teachers. Horrible not due to any overt acts of malevolence. No they were horrible in the mindless simplicity of their belief and the banality of their teaching of it. Having endured an adequate public school education for over half my young life still gave me enough discernment to detect a phony and a fake, a teacher of false authority who had no clue about what he was teaching.

And these sickeningly pious proselytizers of pathetic faith were entrusted to imprint upon my, supposedly tender, impressionable and pious young mind the ways and mysteries of the One True God and His Only Son Who Died for My Sins? I was lucky to have survived with all of my religion intact.

Years later, the old story: the Reverend Cadillac Rolex Minister was caught molesting young boys. I am confident that he moved on to a more lucrative congregation somewhere in the deeper south of Hell. However, Park City Baptist Church still stands as a proud sanctuary for Dallas High Social Christianity, a gleaming Temple of Mammon in a City of the Damned.

All of this as preface to the memorization of the Books of the Old Testament. Why?

One dismal Sunday, one of the nameless revolving roster of Men of Wretched Faith, announced to us, his young uninspired flock, that he had a challenge. If we could memorize all of the books of the Old Testament, he would buy us a case of the soda of our choice. A whole case of soda pop! As if this was what you drink while lounging about for time never ending in Heaven with all your lost pets.

But it was something new in the dead world of Sunday School. Enough to pull my thoughts away from the window and to attend to what was going on. He then proceeded to slowly and monotonously recite all of the books of the Old Testament for our listening pleasure. I do not recall if there was applause. But I do remember his self-satisfied smile.

I suspect much of the genesis of his challenge was rooted in the desire to have an occasion to show off his memory skills. I have slight sympathy here. I am all too aware that no one is ever interested in listening to a recitation of all of the books of the Bible or all of Shakespeare's plays, etc. I begrudge the guy some credit for finding a captive audience of the young, bored and uncomfortable upon which to subject his dubious accomplishment.

The rest of the class, stimulated at the prospect of gaining the unimaginable joy of a case of soda pop, asked him how it did it - with genuine curiosity and hunger to learn. And here is the beauty of it, the epitome of my Sunday School education: he told us we just had to sit down and repeat each of the books over and over until they were fixed in our memory. That's it: "just keep saying them out loud until it sinks in." No discussion of what a mnemonic was and how it might help. No examples using melody and song. No suggestions about visual associations and creating a narrative. There was no relevant instruction regarding the writing of the Old Testament, about history, about religion. Nothing. Just pound it in into your stubborn little brain with brute memorization.

Later in church, while the minister sermonized his usual analogies between the Dallas Cowboys and our eternal salvation, I opened one of the Bibles in the pews to consider the Books of the Old Testament. The list seemed long and forbidding. The names strange and unpronounceable. I could see no way I would be able to memorize all of that.

I told my parents about it and my mother helpfully suggested making it a song. But multi-syllabic words do not a simple song make. I made it to the eighth book, Ruth, assisted as all are by the lovely phrase: Joshua Judges Ruth.

Now, years later, deep into my memory practice, as I am working on the Ossa, the Bones, Systems of Thought, underlying structures, archetypal forms with many lists, I remember the Old Testament Challenge. A quick internet search for classic mnemonics, supplies me with eight memorable phrases:

1. God’s Excellent Love Never Dies
2. Joshua Judges Ruth
3. Sally (1,2) Keeps (1,2) Cookies (1,2)
4. Elephant Named Esther’s Job Pays Peanuts Every Saturday
5. I Jog Late Every Day
6. Hungry Joel Ate Oranges
7. Jonah Made Ninevah Heed
8. Zebras Have Zebra Mamas

Of course, each word stands for a Book - with the simple exception of the third phrase and it's pairs of books all together. In the end, you have all 39 Books of the Old Testament KJV. The phrases are all vivid with imagery and have strong narrative. And there is enough of a link between them to keep them straight: God’s Excellent Love Never Dies however Joshua Judges Ruth because Sally Keeps Cookies and the Elephant Named Esther’s Job Pays Peanuts Every Saturday, etc., etc..

In 15 minutes, I had memorized all of the Books of the Old Testament. It was easy. And it would have been so easy to have taught this method with all of its natural mnemonic charm to a group of Sunday School children, to have made it a fun, a game. And I know the world is full of excellent teachers that instruct their student in this way. These mnemonic phrases have been around for ages.

Unfortunately, there are also bad teachers who fail to educate with even the simplest of learning tools. Sunday School at Park City was, thankfully, not typical of my overall education. I was given an excellent higher education - especially at the Greenhill School in Dallas, extending also to Southern Methodist University, The University of Dallas and the University of Texas. I labor this to make a point: at none of these fine centers of education was I adequately instructed in the development and use of my memory. And if I, who was privileged enough to receive the education that I did, was still not provided with even the rudiments of an adequate training of the memory, I despair to think what most students suffer through in the name of Education these days.

Marshall McLuhan explored the "extensions of man:" the hammer extends the hand, the car extends the feet, writing and books extend our memory. With each extension, we surrender autonomy in exchange for greater efficiency and power. Yet, at the same time, we still use our hands and feet. If we do not have access to a hammer or a car, we are still able to function in the world. However, when the extensions of memory - writing, books, the internet - are unaccessible, we are increasingly at a loss. With the rise of smart phones to place calls - few people actually remember phone numbers these days. Beyond this trivial example, our interior world has become increasingly impoverished and empty.

We no longer know the greatest poems and prose "by heart." We no longer have at hand quotation, reference and theme of the great works of literature that have not only shaped and strengthened our culture but have also defined who and what we are. Instead, our memory theaters - if they can justify that phrase - are filled with trivia about celebrities and sporting events, the lyrics to mindless pop songs and quotes from blockbuster movies. It is tragic and darkening to consider that we have extended our memory into plastic, superficial and meaningless playpens, thereby reduced ourselves to intellectual cripples, with no memory abilities, utterly dependent upon our crutches, doomed to atrophy in our wheelchairs, dead in the mind at age 12, fated to live out a quiet and desperate life in an increasingly diseased and decaying body.

Thus I state my belief in the benefits of Memory Practice. And there is more to say. But not here and not now.

See also:

Introduction: When the Canaries Stop Singing
Three Criteria for the Memorization of a Poem
For this invention will produce forgetfulness

1. Genesis God’s Excellent Love Never Dies
2. Exodus
3. Leviticus
4. Numbers
5. Deuteronomy
6. Joshua Joshua Judges Ruth
7. Judges
8. Ruth
9. 1 Samuel Sally Keeps Cookies
10. 2 Samuel
11. 1 Kings
12. 2 Kings
13. 1 Chronicles
14. 2 Chronicles
15. Ezra Elephant Named Esther’s Job Pays Peanuts Every Saturday
16. Nehemiah
17. Esther
18. Job
19. Psalms
20. Proverbs
21. Ecclesiastes
22. The Song of Solomon
23. Isaiah I Jog Late Every Day
24. Jeremiah
25. Lamentations
26. Ezekiel
27. Daniel
28. Hosea Hungry Joel Ate Oranges
29. Joel
30. Amos
31. Obadiah
32. Jonah Jonah Made Ninevah Heed
33. Micah
34. Nahum
35. Habakkuk
36. Zephaniah Zebras Have Zebra Mamas
37. Haggai
38. Zechariah
39. Malachi

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