Saturday, 19 November 2016

Named and Numbered

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Matthew 10: 29-31
One of the more curious Bible passages, that, especially when viewed from 2016. Viewed from 2016 in Britain, I should say, where the farthing is long gone, as is the slaughter, sale, and consumption of small wild birds. (Though this is a vice to which our continental cousins are still prone. Ever read about the eating of the ortolan by French gastronauts? Blimey! Exterminate all the brutes! And I don't mean the ortolans...).

For example, that suggestion of some kind of quantum entanglement of sparrows with your father. Sparrow falls over, Dad falls over; and possibly vice versa? And why is the link with just one of the farthing two-fer pair? Can the other one fall down whenever it feels the need, without paternal consequence? Although it's possible the translation is lacking something. Like comprehensibility, say.

What a disturbing thought, too, those numbered hairs! I've run a sample of mine through a microscope a few times, half-expecting (like that scene in Blade Runner) to come across a maker's mark, but... Nothing visible, at least to the human eye. How short can a hair be cut, I wonder, before an angel can no longer read its unique barcode? Unless, of course, the ID runs through it, like seaside rock, rather than along it? One for Thomas Aquinas, I think.

And that "many" in verse 31... Not "most", or even "all", but "many"! You mean there are some sparrows, perhaps a significant minority, that are worth more than a human – you, specifically – either in monetary terms, or (given Jesus's tendency to stretch his metaphors) morally? And this has something to do with how many hairs you have on your head? Or their numbering? Now that's an even more intriguing linkage, and it's no wonder those appalling French bird-gobblers cover their balding skulls in shame.

Did you know there is a toll of twenty-five million migrating wild birds every year trapped and killed by "hunters" around the Mediterranean? Twenty-five million! Of course, at a rate of two for a farthing, that's a mere £13,000-worth. Although I suspect that inflation since around 30 CE, both monetary and moral, will have raised that valuation more than somewhat. But, whatever its market value, that astonishing butcher's bill must mean there are an awful lot of fathers unexpectedly falling over somewhere.


amolitor said...

I saw a video once of some idiot celebrity chef taking part in the ortolan ritual. He made fatuous reference to a certain gamey flavor and speculated that it might be the liver.

I remember thinking and possibly saying out loud 'no, that's poo. You're tasting the bird's poo.'

Mike C. said...


Hopefully you're right! Given how little actual meat there is on, say, a cleaned pheasant, I cannot imagine what else other than guts and bones there is to eat on a small bird. Probably accounts for why the smaller hawks look so grumpy.


Anonymous said...

Funny and sad. Too many humans for there to be any longer a more worthy bird.