The Crown Virus

Do you know what COVID-19 looks like?

If you were to look closely – and I mean really closely – with a scanning electron microscope, you’d see a shape like this:

corona
Image credit NIAID-RML

The virus is a bundle of proteins and RNA, held together with fats which dissolve when you wash with soap. It is called a coronavirus because some of the proteins stick out like the points of a crown.

Here’s the curious thing: crown is essentially the same word as corona. I hadn’t made that linguistic connection before last month. I knew that corona was a shape made around the sun in a total eclipse, and that the beer of the same name has a logo with a crown on it. But I do love learning, and I especially love words, so I investigated.

The root words

The word corona goes back a long way, and has cognates in many languages. This is because corona is Latin for ‘crown’,

which sounds like the ancient Greek κορώνη (korṓnē) for ‘curved’,

but means more like the ancient Greek κορυφή (koruphḗ): ‘garland, wreath or crown’.

The two Greek words look and sound a bit similar, but are not identical. 

κορώνη sounds like corona and actually means all kinds of things which are not crowns but which have hooked or curved features. For example: crows, door handles, the tip of a bow on which the string is hooked, the curved stern of a ship, but also various other examples.

κορυφή, which is nearer in meaning, also indicates the top of a head or a mountain, the vertex of a triangle or a most excellent thing.

You could see how both words could combine in people’s minds to mean a physical crown. A curved reward for excellence, placed on the top of someone’s head.

File:Bust woman mosaic Met 38.11.12.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Corona glory

I couldn’t stop there though. 

As a biblical scholar, I wondered whether these Greek words appear in the New Testament at all. After all, crowns certainly do. 

It turns out, they don’t. Not properly. If you want more on this, see ‘a diversion for etymologists’ below. 

Perhaps the root of the word is not the way to look at this. Perhaps we should look at the word ‘crown’ itself in the Bible if we want to learn something interesting. 

Crowns

This is, in fact, where the studying becomes more relevant and helpful. 

The Hebrew of the OT and the Greek of the NT are full of examples of crowns and references to crowning. Overwhelmingly, these crowns have positive connotations.

Kings are crowned.

Esther receives a royal crown.

Mankind is crowned with glory and honour (Psalm 8), with love and compassion (Psalm 103), with everlasting joy (Isaiah 51) and with beauty instead of ashes (Isaiah 61).

Paul and James and Peter talk of crowns of reward for those who persevere (1 Corinthians 9, 2 Timothy 2, James 1, 1 Peter 5).

The most startling crown though was the crown which Jesus wore in the gospels.

It was not an athlete’s garland or a royal circlet. It was a cruel crown.

A crown of thorns. A crown which mocked him and humbled him.

A crown I would never want to wear.  

A crown, however, which arrests the attention of all who look at it. What is that doing there? A reverse crown. An anti-glory moment. Pure humiliation.

We’ve just experienced the most unusual Easter of our lifetimes. A crowned virus threatens us and mocks our normal routines. Those in power are shown to be as weak as the rest of us, and the new heroes are the small people in society. The ones who keep us alive, fed and resourced.

Coronavirus has turned society upside down and shown us where crowns truly belong. 

Not with the strong, but the weak, the humble and the ones who love at all costs. Where we once wanted to celebrate the biggest and bravest, we find common respect for and applaud those who give everything for others.

A crown of thorns is not a sign of humiliation when you consider it properly. It is a sign that God comes alongside those who offer everything and does exactly the same.

Personal Reflection | “believe, teach, and confess”

 

 

 


 

A diversion for etymologists

The koine Greek of the New Testament uses two other words for ‘crown’. Most of the time στέφανος (stéphanos) indicating a reward, and a few times in Revelation διάδημα (diádēma), a royal crown.

In Luke 12 ravens feature as a topic for consideration: even without sowing or reaping they are fed. The word used in the Greek in Luke is κόρᾰξ (kórax), cognate with κορώνη – the nearest you’ll find to corona in the New Testament.

I did find that in the Greek translation of the Old Testament – the Septuagint – which predates the New Testament writings, our two Greek corona terms are used a handful of times. 

κορώνη is used in Jeremiah 3:2 where the word actually refers to a kind of highwayman. Not particularly helpful, you’d suppose. It is possible that a highwayman is being compared to a crow or raven, of course, reaping where it did not sow. 

κορυφή is found six times in the Septuagint, each time used to translate the Hebrew lemma root רֹאשׁ (rosh) demonstrating some variations in meaning found across both words: 

  • the summit or peak of a mountain (Exodus 17: 9,10; 19:20) 
  • top of the head (Genesis 49:26, Deuteronomy 33:16)
  • the head itself (Proverbs 1:9).

Lovely. What does all this prove though?

It tells me that the roots of the word ‘corona’ do not have a helpful biblical background if you want to prove anything. There is not even a clear connection with רֹאשׁ as this lemma is used 599 times in the OT, and only translated to κορυφή on six occasions. 

The Myrrh and The Gold

Last year I was published twice in anthologies produced by the Association of Christian Writers, which was a great big step for a fledgling writer like me. It helped my writing esteem enormously and gave me a feel for some of the other elements involved in producing a book; behind the scenes several friends worked long hours proofing, editing and typesetting. When I got my copies I learned about marketing and selling dozens of copies of each.

Click on the links below for the Kindle versions. Print copies are available too, and I have one remaining copy for anyone local to me who asks quickly enough on the Christmas book.

New Life: Reflections for Lent by [Jones, Wendy H., Robinson, Amy]            Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections by [Jones, Wendy H.]

As I was researching and writing about frankincense for Merry Christmas Everyone, I considered also writing about the other two gifts the Magi presented to Jesus in Matthew 2. Getting under the skin of a biblical passage is a real passion of mine, and presenting information in original ways. I had written a poem about frankincense, which is a dried resin used for lots of purposes, but principally known as a fragrant material for burning in religious ceremonies. If there was intended meaning behind the gift, as many believe there was, the symbolism may well have concerned priesthood.

The symbolism of gold is far easier to connect to, as we recognise its potent regal connotations across many cultures and times. Gold represents majesty, honour and treasure.

Myrrh is a more strange material; it is also a gum from a tree, and produced for medicinal and religious purposes, but it has a strong association with ancient embalming, and has traditionally been held to represent the importance of the death of Jesus as a sacrifice.

Strange gifts for a young child, and certainly things to give Mary reason to ponder. Each of these elements were present in prophecies about the coming Messiah in the Jewish scriptures, and each featured in the way Jesus lived his life on earth. A king. A priest. A sacrifice.

Frankincense, growing in Socotra Island, Yemen

You’ll need to get hold of a copy of Merry Christmas Everybody to read my poem in there about frankincense, but here to complete the set are the other two poems.

May you have a blessed and joyful Epiphany!

 

The Myrrh

The soldiers showed no mercy when they came
and murdered David’s sons inside our town;
the orders of an angry king to blame –
despising any who could take his crown.

The merchants saw them first, as daylight broke:
on horseback, wearing armour, wielding swords;
the little boys were sleeping. We awoke
to screams and murmured prayers and broken cords.

The mothers who had fed these sons from birth
(their hopes and futures, joys, inheritance),
traded their blessings and exchanged young mirth
for myrtle baths, and wept at the expense.

My God, my God, do not forsake these ones,
whose myrrh and tears embrace their precious sons.

Commiphora myrrha - Somaliland - Nov 2014 - 04 - natural exudation

 

 

The Gold

We were given gold
and told to leave the land of Egypt,
so we ran from slavery
bravely, fearfully, tearfully,
carrying our treasures close to our hearts.

And journeyed into furnaces of sand.

We learned in pain that gods of gold
had not received us, saved us.
Melting
in our shame,
we learned the Name alone
– not gold –
was pure,
bright, heavy, sure,
carrying His treasure close to His heart.

We built a tent and used our gold
to show our gratitude.
We covered all the wood –
made ornaments and bells,
to show our worship for our King.

He took us from the furnace to the land.

The tent came too. But,
so confused by gods of other clans
we looked to gold for answers,
carrying our hearts close to our treasures.

Measuring ourselves with others.

We want a king!

You have a King.

No – a king like all the others.
Give us a king.
With a crown.
A crown of gold.
We’ll build him a gilded palace.
We cannot see our King.
How can he save us?

I will give them a king. A boy from Bethlehem
who carries me close to his heart.

Our kings had golden crowns
and splendid rooms
and saved us sometimes.
And sometimes broke us.

There was a golden temple too
(our King was there).
But other temples grew
and who knew what was true?

Until armies came from the East.

They took our gold,
gold from our temple,
carried it close to their hearts,
back to their temples where they worshipped the stars.

We want a king!
A king who will save us.

I will give them a king. A boy from Bethlehem
who carries me close to his heart.

We journeyed from our land, as slaves again.

Our captured hearts sang songs of times of gold,
and how our King had saved us once before.

And when our hearts, refined, were moved to Him,
He took us home.

And we were given gold,
restored to us,
and told to build our land again.
Bravely, fearfully, tearfully, we went,
carrying our Treasure close to our hearts.

Humbled and tested, and tested again, and humbled.

More kings, and battles, and languages and rules
and every king so hungry
for power, wealth
or taxes.
Our humble heads hung low –
we didn’t see the star
that told of Treasure coming to our hearts.

They came with gifts of gold.

capitonet_babylon_bangles_641.641

 

 

Giving up giving up

Ooooh, it’s Lent.

And today it’s also the Feast of St Valentine, which conveniently has Lent right there in the middle of it.

Or, if you like, A loveseat tent sniff, which is a useful anagram for the day.

Not often that Lent starts on Valentine’s Day, and as Easter Sunday falls on 1st April, this year Lent is bookended with love and joy.

I like that.

Image result for psalm 90 14

A lot of people I know try and discipline themselves over the season of Lent by giving something up. While their efforts are laudable, sensible and often far too health-conscious for regular humans like me, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of refraining from something I enjoy and feel nourished or sustained by, unless I feel convicted by God to do it (i.e. fasting, from food, drink, social media or the like). There are times when God asserts his place by insisting on our attentions. Food, drink, even facebook, are not to become more important than God. But neither are those other precious things in life: partners, children or oxygen. And while I put God ahead of my husband, my children and the air I breathe, I don’t honestly think he is asking me to forgo them for six weeks. The family may be a little confused and upset, for a start.

Fasting has its place. Giving something up for Lent often has its place when God convicts us, but if it is about a personal detox, it is not a spiritual endeavour. Perhaps some people, in their earnest desires to improve themselves, have made ‘giving up’ a bigger deal than ‘getting close to God’. They want to see whether they can manage to accomplish something valuable but difficult. Great. For me though, I want a closer relationship with God. Sometimes he will want me to give something up. Sometimes he will want me to take something up.

For me, Jesus took up human flesh and frailty. For me, he took up the cross. In my experience, God has been wonderfully generous through the many ups and downs of life; multiplying grace and love over and over. He has sometimes put barriers up, but these have been wise and reasonable, even when I did not like them. He has sometimes allowed times of pain, but his presence has been close and his promises have endured.

In Jewish thought, the idea of stopping on the Sabbath and not working is not viewed as negative, but positive. The Sabbath rest is a proactive feasting and renewing time. Our best celebrations do the same.

So I will give up giving up. This Lent I am going to try finishing a few tasks.

  • I want to finish sorting the children’s artwork from the past ten years.
  • I want to finish getting the garage in order.
  • I want to complete several books I am in the middle of. And get promised book reviews to Amazon.

I am a great starter of tasks. Now I am going to learn to be a great finisher of tasks too. God has shown me that he continues with me, though I am still a work in progress. He will complete the task and what he starts, he finishes.

What about you? Have you got any tasks you are hoping to complete over Lent? Or any interesting Lent activities or fasts you are taking part in? Do comment below!

 

International Poetry Day

I felt compelled today to edit and republish a poem I first put out three years ago on my personal blog jamandgiraffes, in honour of International Poetry Day and because Easter is coming. Spring is now here and while flowers smell of hope and joy, Easter tells a more humbling story and I had been looking back at the gospels and wondering what it all smelt like. Feel free to use this, although if you do, please do credit me.

wash

 

Smelly Week

It all started when the jar of nard parted
Jarred, barred, open-hearted, broken-hearted,
What a strange smell, filling the house from roof to foot,
Smell of treasure, smell of death (tarted up).

Then branches waving in the king, palms up, palms down
Crunching under simple hooves, hay, swaying fresh and fuzzy.

Smelly feet, incomplete, bread and the vineyard and olives and torches –
Feast or final meal, more blood, more fire and the plaintive crow crow crowing.

Unknowing. Smell of fear, of sweat, of thorns and wood,
Smell of your trade, made rough, tough nails rusty, musty dust.
Smell of pain, again, again, again, sweat, blood, vinegar and hyssop.
Hyssop? Cleanse me too – blood rolling like tears, metallic, organic to the ground.

Bound, in myrrh, in aloe, from head to toe, so so dead. No!

No.

And then you said ‘why are you crying?’

And my world of tears and mud and blood split open and I breathed a different air. It smelt of life.

And it smelt good.

Mrs Zebedee’s Fish Stall

Today I was really excited to see my name in print in the Association of Christian Writers’ magazine, with my winning story from a competition last year. Now that it is in print, here it is in full for readers who won’t have accessed it through the ACW magazine.

IMG_3658

 

“Fish!” muttered Mrs Zebedee, wiping her hands on her apron. “Don’t talk to me about fish!” she hissed, shaking her head and slopping the big white box on to a table. She grabbed her knife and glared at her boys. “It’s practically mid-morning; how am I supposed to sell these now?”

She sliced her anger through the fish-heads. Chop, slide, chop.

“John, get that other knife, I can’t do all this,” she ordered, “it’s full and you’ve not put enough ice on. Have you forgotten how to fish, boys?”

Her sons looked at each other. Big men in their late twenties, broad and bronzed, their tiny mother could silence them with a face like a burnt thundercloud. She got stuck in to the gutting, wincing as she cut.

“The chefs have been round. The early customers have gone elsewhere. Even the cats have given up waiting. Why didn’t you call?”

“I’m sorry mother. We didn’t mean to be this late,” John said, strapping on his own apron.

“It was an awful night,” added James. “Not a thing before dawn. I’m getting back to the van. You tell her.”

Mrs Zebedee looked up. Her eyes were red with fatigue and confusion. She had returned reluctantly to her old job, summoning her sons back from the capital to work on the night fishing boats when no one else would. John and James had arrived in town the previous night and got straight on the trawler with Thomas and Pete and a few of the others. John could see her frustrations. He smiled.

“Come here, mother,” said the big man, opening his wide arms and ignoring the fish guts and eyes as he pulled her close. “We had to stop. We’d had an exhausting night. And – well, have you eaten? I saved you a bit of breakfast-”

She pulled away, tightened her eyes and glared at him again.

“Jonathan Theodore Zebedee – are you telling me that you deliberately delayed getting here with my catch?”

“Mother, listen,” he replied, his eyes still grinning, digging in his pocket for a crusty roll with a barbecued fillet inside. “It was him.”

Mrs Zebedee stared at the roll in John’s weathered hand and remembered another one just like it. On a grassy hill. In a large crowd. Not too far away, a year or two before; everyone had had one. They’d said the same thing that day too: ‘It was him!

James swung round the corner with another large case of fish and plonked it next to the first. John slapped his back.

“I told you we saw him last week in the city. And the week before. We’re not making this up. Ask James. Even ask Tom – he wouldn’t joke about this.”

Mrs Zebedee took a cautious bite. The bread was soft inside, and something in her wanted to harden, but she kept listening and James headed back to the van again.

“I didn’t believe you the first time John, because I was there. I saw him when he…” and she turned her head away and wiped her face with her sleeve.

“I was there too,” said John gently. “I was there – I saw him die. I saw the blood and the water come from his body.” He picked up a cloth and wiped the table. “But I also saw him since then. You have to believe me. Who else makes breakfast like this? And where do you think all these fish came from?”

“Three boxes?”

“Three? No, more than that! Come and see!” he said, and led her round to the van. She blinked. It was absolutely full of large, white boxes. For once, Mrs Zebedee was lost for words.

“We’ve never caught that much before in one night,” John said, leaning against the wall and rubbing his hands. “And all at the last minute too; it was bizarre. We were on the boat, the sky was glowing red, we were cold, tired and hungry. We’d caught nothing. Mother, I felt I’d forgotten the one thing I know how to do well.”

He straightened up.

“Then there was this voice from the shore, and we saw a man crouching, then standing up, waving over to us. He shouted to keep going and to try fishing from the wrong side of the boat. In the shallows. You know what Pete’s like, he got straight on it. When the nets hit the water – wow – the boat just rocked with the weight of fish; I thought we’d tip over! Some of us jumped out and we gripped the ropes and pulled so hard. It was crazy, there was no way we could lift the nets up into the boat, they were so full.”

John grinned and his mother softened. He touched her arm as James carried another box past them.

“I looked at the man on the shore and he started laughing at us! That’s when I realised it was him. That laugh…you know what I mean.”

Mrs Zebedee knew that laugh. She took another bite of the flaky, charred fish.

“Pete didn’t hang around. He just jumped out and waded over there. He forgot the rest of us still had to tow the boat and the net. The fish were wriggling and jumping and kicking about. Took forever; look, my hands are raw! But they did wade in and help after they’d finished laughing at us. And even though we’d got such a large catch, he’d already caught a few himself and prepared us breakfast. Best breakfast ever. It’s good, isn’t it?”

Mrs Zebedee wiped her mouth.

“Yes,” she admitted. “It is good. But boys, what are we going to do with all these fish? We’ll be giving these away at this rate.”

Friday 500 – Avoiding the teacher

Deep in the house, members of the fraternity gathered around a large table and Nico handed round drinks. The room stank of testosterone, yeast and sweat, several members having run directly from late lectures or driven straight over from collegiate matches. No one had wanted to miss this meeting and the younger pledges were standing against the walls, leaning back on brightly coloured pennants and flexing their necks.

ju

Cai called everyone to attention.

“We’ve got a problem,” he began. “This new tutor, this jumped up teacher. He’s stirring up trouble, telling lies about our fraternity. You know who I mean.” There were grunts of assent around the room.

“Since the start of semester, he seems to have had it in for us. He doesn’t appreciate the system and he is not interested in Greek life. We don’t think he has any fraternity affiliations, but we are getting concerned about the impact he’s having. People are ignoring us because of him and we’re getting a bad name across campus. What do we know so far? Anyone got anything on him? What’s with all his tricks?”

“He’s pretty scathing about us, that’s for sure,” a sophomore answered, “and he won’t answer us straight, especially when there’s a crowd around.”

“There’s always a crowd around,” another voice jumped in, “you can’t get him alone.”

“That’s not true; Simon had him round last week,” said another.

“Simon?” asked Cai, and thirty heads turned and looked in his direction.

“Well, a bit of a party in our hall for some of the new staff actually. I asked him along so I could find out more about his views – trying to understand what his issue with us is. He hardly spoke to me, except to accuse me in front of other people. Spent more time talking with a hooker – no idea who invited her. Pointless exercise.”

“But what’s the problem with him?” asked Joe, a clean cut rich boy from upstate. “He’s popular, he doesn’t like frats – not everyone does. What’s the deal?”

“The problem is he’s insulting us and telling people we’re not clever or a big deal. His popularity makes us look small. We can’t just whitewash over it – teachers usually realise they shouldn’t interfere with the status quo. He won’t do anything for us when we’re around, and he ridicules us behind our backs, to large groups – lots of students are signing up to his classes now and we don’t get it. Doesn’t he understand our traditions and heritage?” Cai was clearly getting rather irritated.

“So let him have his own views and his own following and see what happens.”

“No one will respect us Joe. No one will come to our barbecues, pizza nights, luaus; they think we’re pathetic!”

“We can’t exactly haze him – he’s not one of us,” a senior said, carefully. “For now, I suggest we intimidate or avoid him.”

Nico looked down at his drink.

“OK, we avoid him,” Cai stated. “Got it? We don’t want trouble. Not yet.”

Just playing around with the lightbox, no artistic intent