The Truth, Mainly - 05/01/2000

Sermon on the Mount addendum plays havoc
by Leon Satterfield

At issue [in a soon-to-be-decided Supreme Court case involving a Texas public school] is whether public school districts can allow students to initiate and lead prayers over the public-address system before football games.

—Associated Press, Mar. 27, 2000

The annual meeting of the National Association of Biblical Exegetes and Hermeneuts (NABEH) was rocked last week by the discovery of what some are calling the greatest Biblical find since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Prior to the revelation of the discovery, the convention's most hotly disputed issue was the annual volleyball game between the Hermeneuts (wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with the words "Holy Hermeneutics!") and the Exegetes (whose tee-shirts proclaimed "Exegesis Saves").

But the volleyball game was quickly forgotten as word spread of the unearthing of what's being called the "Texas Addendum to the Sermon on the Mount."

The addendum radically challenges traditional interpretations of that portion of the Sermon in which Jesus instructs the disciples in how they should pray:

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6: 5-6, King James Version).

"We've always found that passage to be equating public prayer with hypocrisy," one of the Exegetes told reporters. "Praying in public, the text suggests, signifies a desire to be seen by others as a paragon of piety."

"Yes," agreed one of the Hermeneuts, "and the proper place for prayer, the passage rather clearly says, is in the closet, the opposite of in a public place."

But the addendum may change all that. It was purportedly discovered at sunrise on Easter Morning by two Texas high school football players. They held a press conference to announce their find.

"We was shining our flashlight down the casing of a dry oil well, see," said Ananias Leffingwell, "looking for divine inspiration. We often do that just before church and football games. And there it was, sort of wadded up and stuck about ten feet down."

"So we fished it out with a fish hook tied to a string," said Billy Bob Busbee. "Just like the fishers of men Jesus told us to be."

"We figure," Ananias told reporters, "that it's a letter from Jesus to the disciples. Because of what it says at the top here: 'To My disciples, re: Addendum to the Sermon on the Mount.' It's dated, see, 'A little while before Easter, 30 Anna Domino.' And it's signed 'Jesus H. Christ.'"

The document the boys held up to reporters quoted Matthew 6: 5-6 (with a few variant spellings), then ended with the addendum itself: "Nothing in the above instructions shalt be construed to forbid student-led prayers over the P.A. system before public high school football games in the Republic of Texas. Verily I say unto you, nothing pleaseth Me more than high school students praying to Me in front of bleachers packed with football fans. Y'all hear?"

One of the Exegetes attending the conference said the addendum made sense to him: "After all, where are you going to find more religious zeal, more earnest prayers of supplication, than at Texas high school football games?"

But a Hermeneut named Herman Hermanski observed that the addendum seemed to contradict the intent of the original passage.

"What," he asked rhetorically, "could be a more public place to pray than in front of packed bleachers? What could be a less private—a less closeted—method of prayer than speaking into a microphone connected to a public address system? Is God hearing-impaired?"

At which point, tempers flared.

"You know what you're doing?" Ananias said. "You're reading Matthew too literally. And you call yourself a Hermeneut."

"Yeah," said Billy Bob. "It's like a whatchamacallit. You know, a metaphor? Where you say one thing and mean another thing? Back in Jesus' time, a closet was a metaphor for a football stadium full of fans. Jeez, don't they teach you nothing in hermeneutic school?"

And when an Exegete questioned the authenticity of the addendum by pointing out that it was written in red crayon on lined Red Chief tablet paper , Billy Bob's daddy took offense.

He called the Exegete "an over-educated infidel" and brought the full weight of scriptural authority into play by bonking him upside the head with a Texas-sized Bible grown even larger by the addition of the Texas Addendum to the Sermon on the Mount.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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