Mrs Mary Dymock had worked in Caxton College for 20 years, and was now in charge of the very important department that catered for staff and student meals. Dr Quinton was a dear friend of hers, and every afternoon at 3 p.m. promptly she would take him a cup of tea and a scone.
“Ah, Mary, is it really 3 o’clock?”
“Yes, sir. . . . You look as though you’ve been burying your head in a study book. Found anything interesting?” she asked, standing there by his table in the corner of the LibraryAnnexe.
“Yes and no,” he said, taking off his silver-rimmed owl spectacles, and squinting at her. “Something’s coming, but I’m afraid it’s only half arrived.”
“Well, I think maybe you’ll have to stop for a little while. There’s a couple of first year students arguing away outside the Library, and I heard them say they were coming to you to be sorted out.” She laughed. It was in fact quite a common occurrence in the College.
“Bless my soul,” said the Doctor, “they start their wrangling so quickly after arriving at College, don’t they? Why, here they are. . . . Let me see now, I think it’s Morgan and Whitting.”
“May we disturb you, sir?” they asked, as Mary retired quietly to the less-argumentative domain of the Refectory kitchens.
“Yes, of course, . . . Come in, come in. . . . Draw up a couple of chairs. . . . That’s right. Now what seems to be the problem?”
“Well, sir, it’s like this,” said Morgan, who seemed to be the spokesman. “We’ve been listening to Dr Marple’s lecture on faith, and he naturally focused attention on Hebrews 11, and all was well until he got to the bit about Sarah, and then we were surprised to hear him actuallychange the Greek text to say something that’s not there.”
“Yes, there’s too much playing around with Scripture these days, sir,” said Whitting, “what with all these new translations. Surely evangelicals must stick by the actual Greek text, shouldn’t they?”
“Oh dear,” said Quinton, settling his glasses back on his nose, and eyeing the two lads closely. “Have you asked him about it?”
“No, sir,” said Morgan a little sheepishly. “We sensed he was not open to discussion. We thought it would be better to get your opinion first. A second year student advised us to come and see you.”
“Yes, yes, of course. Now tell me, what sort of investigation have you yourselves made ?”
“We’ve looked at the Greek and it clearly speaks about Sarah’s faith,” said Whitting, “but Dr Marple maintained it could never have been the true original reading because the sentiments spoken belong only to Abraham. He alone could found seed, not Sarah, according to Hebrew law, or so he said.”
“True, true,” said the Doctor. “There’s no doubt about that.”
“Then, . . . then, . . . you agree with him, sir?” asked Morgan, somewhat distressed.
“Yes, but I didn’t say I agree about tampering with the text,” answered the Doctor with a smile. “Perhaps there’s an answer that has so far eluded you both, . . . and perhaps it may even have eluded Dr Marple as well.”
“Please could you explain, sir,” said Whitting, eager at the prospect of resolving the problem.
“Well now, perhaps you’ll tell me exactly what the text says. Is that an Authorised Version you’ve got there?”
“Yes, sir,” said Morgan. “It reads ‘by faith Sara herself received strength to conceive seed.'”
“Strength, you say? What is the Greek word, my lad?”
“DUNAMIS, sir, the normal word for power.”
“Yes, I thought so. Now here’s a strange thing indeed. I would have thought that Sara’sconception came about as a result of a miracle on her womb, rather than a show of power, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, . . . yes, . . . I suppose so. How does that affect the reading?” asked Whitting, frowning.
“It makes me ask exactly what Sara had faith in. She laughed at the idea of having a baby, didn’t she? So she must have had faith in something else the Lord told her. I wonder what itwas? . . . You say the text speaks about conception?” asked the Doctor.
“Yes, sir,” said Morgan. “The Greek word is KATABOLEE.”
“Is it now? . . . How interesting, “said the Doctor with a distinct twinkle in his eye. “And what does KATABOLEE mean?”
“KATA is the prefix meaning ‘down’,” said Whitting, “and BOLEE comes from BALLO to ‘throw’.”
“I see you’ve begun to master your Greek quite quickly. . . Good. . . . Yes, you’re right, of course. So Sara had faith, to receive power, to throw down seed, . . . rather than conceiveseed. Is that correct?”
“Well, . . . yes, . . . I suppose so,” said Morgan. “But what does ‘throwing down seed’ mean?”
“I suggest you go and ask Mrs Dymock in the Refectory if she can spare us just a few minutes. I have a feeling she will be able to settle this one in a capable manner.” . . . . . . . . . . .
“You called for me?” asked the lady, wiping her hands on a towel.
“Yes, Mary. These two excellent young men have come up against a problem to do with childbirth, and I doubt whether they have got round to discussing problems of obstetrics yet. So perhaps you can help us.” The Doctor smiled benignly, and then explained the gist of the matter to her, and she nodded in an amused fashion.
“Well now, it’s like this,” she said, addressing the two lads. “In the ancient world, when a woman was about to give birth, she wouldn’t be lying on a bed as in modern practice. Oh, if only I had known about this before having my own three sons, but leaving that aside, let me explain that the process of birth requires great strength and concentration, especially in the last stages before the actual birth. As I was saying, in the ancient days they used to deliver their babies in a kneeling position, on a pair of stools, and the midwife or other attendant would catch the baby as it fell. The final push to eject the baby would be like a throwing down, and of course, in that position, it was helped by gravity.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed Morgan. “That’s the answer! They’ve all got it wrong. It had nothing to do with conception at all. Sarah was troubled whether she would have physical strength to deliverthe baby, and God must have spoken to her, assuring her that all would be well. She remembered that word, and held on to the promise.”
“Bravo!” said Doc. “Now you’ve got it! Thank you Mary. You must have been reading about ancient practices, if I’m right?”
“Yes, sir. It’s a fascinating subject. In the western world labour in the horizontal position was not adopted until about the middle of the 18th century.”
“Well now,” said Doc, “I think perhaps a word to the wise might bring a smile from Dr Marple.”