The Bible in the News: So It Sayeth

From the November/December 2016 Biblical Archaeology Review

Leonard J. GreenspoonRecently I was working through a thorny Biblical passage. What struck me as I surveyed the versions is how some expressions that entered English through translation have essentially shed their Biblical origin, as, for example, “eat, drink and be merry” (from Ecclesiastes 8:15) or “see eye to eye” (from Isaiah 52:8).

But there are others—for example, “eye for an eye” (Matthew 5:38, alluding to Exodus 21:24) and “writing on the wall” (see Daniel 5)—that retain their scriptural setting among large swaths of readers. This is also true for single words that appeared in 15th- and 16th-century literature, like “beget,” “covet” and “sayeth” (or “saieth”), with or without the preceding adverb “thus.” It is to this last term that we now turn: What does the popular press say about “sayeth” and the Bible?

The connection is clearest when it is explicit. We have this story from the Times of London: “So it sayeth in the Bible … ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to’ etc. But for camel’s milk? The rich are all over that. … Yup. Going for up to £19 for 500 ml of raw camel milk imported into the UK from a grass-fed Dutch herd.”

Moving right along, here’s a Bible- and business-related report from New York City’s Daily News: “If Jesus had a marketing guru, he might have hired the same guys as Citibank. ‘Do not lay up your treasures on Earth where moth and dust doth corrupt,’ says Jesus. ‘He who dies with the most toys is still dead,’ says the Citibank billboard. … ‘I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I have,’ sayeth the Good Book. ‘A sure way to get rich quick: Count your blessings,’ sayeth Citibank. And by the way, Citibank addeth for good measure, ‘Live richly.’”

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I’m itching to check out the words of sports scribes, who have typically been a veritable mother lode for this writer. Let us look first at a column (from June 2014) by the syndicated writer Charles Krauthammer: “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. And although retribution shall surely come in the fullness of time, a ballplayer can only wait so long.” He explicates: “We Americans, children of so young a country, can barely fathom ineradicable grievances [of the sort that characterize European feuds]. No. We’ll do our vengeance on the playing field, thank you.”

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This copy of the Gutenberg Bible is in the collection of the Library of Congress. Photo: Raul654’s image is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The connection between verb and Holy Word remains intact even when Scripture is somewhat scrambled. Let’s stay within the realm of sports, moving from baseball diamond to football (in this case, soccer) field: “As the good book sayeth: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the Sam Maguire Cup but lose his sheep?’ That was written about 5,000 years ago or something, but it’s still every bit as true now as it was then. It’s hard to believe that a football-mad sheep farmer from Donegal is risking eternal damnation for a seat in the Canal End on Sunday—have the Hills gone totally crazy with football fever?” (as queried in the Irish News).

There are many places where the “sayeth” Scripture connection is illusive and implicit—but nonetheless intended. Here is an example taken from the world of entertainment: “Rich people are not always happy people. Wealth can, indeed, be a burden. So sayeth Madonna, whose revelations about riches and ‘tristesse’ will come in the last of the singer-cum-writer’s five-book children’s series” (Knight Ridder Newspapers).

The headline to the next example brings together one of show business’s more storied, if troubled, couples: “Elvis Preaching? So Sayeth Priscilla.” In what follows we learn these tidbits: “Were he [still alive] he’d still be singin’—and preaching … She said the King of Rock would eschew rock: ‘I think that maybe he’d be going into gospel. Maybe even preaching a little bit. He loved to teach and loved the Bible.”

We conclude with what I term a feel-good, win-win story: “Divine inspiration has prompted the creation of a Make-Your-Own-Bible-Trailer Workshop next month. Sunday Afternoon Cycling Church ‘Pope’ Steven Muir says the workshop will teach participants how to construct a bike trailer out of recycled materials: ‘The word of the Lord came to me in this year 2005 A.D., the 30th year after the first oil price shocks and at the beginning of peak oil. Thus sayeth the Lord, I have seen the greed and over-consumption of the people of the Earth, and behold I am most displeased … ’ And the Lord revealed the mechanism by which the people of the Earth should transport their goods, and behold it was a bike trailer” (from the Press, Christchurch, New Zealand).

This is the last in the long-running series of “Bible in the News” columns. We deeply appreciate Leonard Greenspoon’s years of service, as do his loyal readers.—H.S.

Strata: “The Bible in the News: So It Sayeth” by Leonard J. Greenspoon originally appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2016.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Overcoming Religious Illiteracy: Not as Simple as A, B or C by Leonard Greenspoon

Analyzing Biblical Psychoanalysis by Leonard Greenspoon

Defining Biblical Hermeneutics


3 Responses

  1. Kevin Obermeyer says:

    As a minister, I appreciate the levity of this article. It is funny how society often draws ignorantly from the Bible. It’s also somewhat funny how most people don’t even properly understand King James English and its grammar, or even the proper “A.D. 2005” vs. “2005 A.D.” If people would use the grammar rules of German for a start, they might sound a little better in their efforts. But anyway, I hadn’t really thought much about how often words like “sayeth” with quasi Biblical references do show up in today’s world. Thank you for this interesting piece. Blessings!

  2. C.B.Ross says:

    Neither ” “sayeth” (or “saieth”),” according to my KJV, but “saith”! What is it about American spelling, that it seems unable to stick to the, apparently, original?!

    By the way, just checked, and my RV also uses “saith”!

  3. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    I am so ticked that BAR arbitrarily canceled Dr. Greenspoon’s column!

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